FOSSconnect


A Tree Grows in Portland: An Intel®Teach to the Future Project

Leigh Agler, FOSS Developer, Anacortes, Washington
March 21, 2003 | FOSS in Schools

Many years ago, the Friends of Trees in Portland, Oregon, planted hundreds of trees, including several in the neighborhood of the Duniway Elementary School. Now Jan Barkhurst's kindergarteners acknowledge the gift of trees from the Friends of Trees each year with a published booklet describing the life of one of the trees throughout the seasons. The booklets are just one of several technologically enhanced facets Jan has integrated into the FOSS Trees Module as part of an Intel®Teach to the Future class project.

The Intel®Teach to the Future program is a worldwide effort to help teachers integrate technology into instruction and enhance student learning. Already, more than 650,000 teachers residing in 26 countries have completed the program; Intel hopes that one million teachers will complete the program by the end of this year. While Intel has invested millions of dollars' worth of cash, equipment, and staff, Microsoft, Premio Computers, SmarterKids Foundation, SMART Technologies Inc., and the Texas Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund have contributed substantially to make the program free to teachers and easily accessible.

Participants receive 40 hours of extensive training from other teachers in effective uses of technology in the classroom. Through incorporating the use of the Internet, Web page design, and student projects, participants learn how, when, and where to integrate technology to enhance student learning. Instruction is also given in how to create assessment tools and align lessons with educational learning goals and standards. All that is required by the participating teachers is an Internet-connected computer in the classroom capable of utilizing Microsoft Office XP. Teachers receive a Teach to the Future manual and software for use in developing their projects. In addition, many districts offer a classroom computer or course credit through participating universities.

Jan Barkhurst's project, entitled Seasoning the School Year is one of several exemplary projects highlighted on Intel's website, www.intel.com/education/unitplans. In the beginning of each school year, students in Jan's class carry home a professional-looking "Seasons of the Year" brochure that introduces the year-long module and informs parents of ways they can help participate in their children's learning. As students get to know their class's adopted tree and follow it through the seasons, they dictate their observations and add graphics and scanned images to a parent newsletter, including a picture of the tree for that season.

Jan also incorporated computer-generated graphs into their seasonal observations. Working together, students plot high and low temperatures through the year and compare them to temperatures in Australia, provided by a Web search. Another graph records the students clothing choices as the seasons change.

Each season has the class creating a Signs of the Season in the Park book. Pages are scanned from each seasonal book into a PowerPoint slide show that eventually holds the year's selected observations. By the end of the year, groups of students are challenged with the task of contributing one slide for the culminating slide show. They plan what they want to see on the slide, choose the art and sounds, and dictate or write the text. The result can run as part of a year-end program or promotion ceremony or be copied and brought home.

Amy Chua, of Mukilteo, Washington, completed the Intel program last year. "We went for 8 four-hour sessions and one full Saturday. The goal of the class was to design a unit you could teach in your class that would effectively integrate technology. Although we had just started using FOSS, it looked like a natural match." Amy's unit for the New Plants Module has first-grade students recording the growth of their plants and displaying their photos and descriptions on PowerPoint presentations—a perfect venue for summarizing the abundant observations students make during the module.

While Amy was just getting to know the FOSS modules during her Intel project, more often the projects are a way for experienced FOSS users to truly make the module "their own." If you have taught a module two or three years, you have probably taken some tucks, made some tweaks, and sprinkled into the module several extensions and connections of your own. You've personalized the unit to fit your expertise and changed it as you continue to master new skills. Opportunities like the Teach to the Future training, while enhancing teachers' skills, can also result in adding one's own personal touch to a well-worn, familiar FOSS module.

Marge Stembel has led her classes through the FOSS Solar Energy investigations for many years. Planning to teach the module with technology in mind had both practical and academic benefits. Practically speaking, Marge had a year's worth of curriculum goals in mind, which included several computer skills to be developed. Her Intel project, Plugging Into the Sun, has students creating their own solar cookers at the end of the module. They surf the Web for resources, compare and select a design, then construct and test it out. In the process, they learn to find north by plotting the Sun shadows with a gnomon and take digital photos of their project. Soon, she plans to have students graph the temperature changes in their cookers using Excel software. Students can choose how they will present their project, as a PowerPoint presentation, Web page, or brochure. Their Solar Energy projects in the fall provide a motivating context for introductory lessons in the use of technological tools. The same skills are developed throughout the year and come in handy once more when a similar project takes place in the spring. Having several opportunities to add to the class website or create presentations allows Marge and her students to assess and take pride in their progress.

Graph: Heating Our Cooker

Plugging Into the Sun also addressed a concern Marge had with the Solar Energy Module. In the process of teaching the module for several years, she noted that her students lacked understanding of Earth's motion around the Sun. "I could rotate on my axis in front of the class all day and they still weren't getting it," she relates. Her fifth-grade students thought the concept was pretty simple and worthy of little effort, but she knew it to be fundamental and really quite difficult to grasp. The solar cooker projects provided a key element. Student-led inquiry and the interactive nature of computer projects had students applying what they had learned in the module as they asked and sought solutions to their own solar cooking challenge. And when it came to locating and positioning their cookers, they wanted to come to terms with that motion around the Sun. As part of her Intel project, Marge developed PowerPoint presentations that helped lead discussion of key concepts and guide student projects, and she developed assessments and an assessment rubric to better track student understanding.

The Intel®Teach to the Future program is a unique opportunity to gain technology skills, enhance student learning, and personalize your FOSS modules. For more information about the Teach to the Future and programs in your area, check www.intel.com/education. You can download the lesson plans for Jan Barkhurst's Seasoning the School Year and Marge Stembel's Plugging Into the Sun and view many more exemplary projects.