Putting Trust in Change: A Partnership for Better Science Education

AMANDA PRYOR, Hi-C Research Group The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Mich. ROBERT GALARDI, Principal Pioneer High School Ann Arbor, Mich. JUDITH CONGER, Dean KATHE BLUE HETTER, Teacher MADELINE HUEBEL-DRAKE, Teacher MICHAEL MOURADIAN, Teacher ELIZABETH STERN, Teacher Community High School Ann Arbor, Mich. JOSEPH RILEY, K-12 Science Coordinator Dept. of Curriculum, Ann Arbor Public Schools DR. ELLIOT SOLOWAY, Director Hi-C Research Group (Highly Interactive Computing) University of Michigan, Ann Arbor When bringing change to any situation, whether it be to one’s job, one’s home or one’s education, the change cannot take place unless everyone involved believes in the change, and trusts each other. The Foundations Of Science course at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been developed through a unique partnership between the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor Public Schools in an effort to allow all students to develop a deep understanding of science and technology. We have changed the face of science education at Community High School, but this change could never have taken place without the implicit trust of each person in every other person involved. History Science teachers at Community High School were frustrated with students asking them "Why do we need to learn this?" and "What good is this going to do me?" The truth was that the materials and the methods of learning were both out of date. They needed something new. Elliot Soloway and his Hi-C Research Group at the University of Michigan wanted to develop software that would allow high school students to use the same methods and tools as professional scientists, without needing extensive training. He believed technology was coming to make this possible. But he needed students: to use the software, to critique it and to learn from it. Three science teachers -- Madeline Drake, Mike Mouradian and Liz Stern -- met with Soloway in fall of 1992. They discussed their needs and how the needs of both groups might be met if they were to work together. Soloway introduced the teachers to J'e Krajcik and Liza Finkel, who are part of the Project-Based Science group at the University of Michigan. By combining technology with a project-based approach to education in an integrated science curriculum, Foundations of Science was born. The choice of Community High School (CHS) was not a random one. For the previous four years, Soloway and his research group had worked with CHS students and teachers on other technology and education projects. Bob Galardi, then principal of CHS, was there to urge these efforts on. From these experiences, a baseline of trust had been established among all the involved parties. While there had been ups and downs, flared tempers and big smiles, there was an unspoken but clear commitment that we were in this together and were truly making headway in providing positive learning experiences for CHS students. Moving Forward Even with a history of trust and successful innovation, the project we were about to embark upon was not an easy one. Turning Foundations of Science from an experimental pilot project into a full-scale three-year core curriculum requirement was a terrifying, and exhilarating, step to take. The teachers trusted the university, not only for sustaining their commitment, but for their professional experience and advice. The university researchers respected the teachers’ expertise in classroom practices and curriculum development. This trust between the high school teachers and university staff was based upon mutual respect and recognition for each other’s areas of expertise. The fact was -- we needed each other. FOS, One Face of Change Foundations of Science integrates the traditional sequence of earth science, biology and chemistry into a three-year, project-based course focusing on authentic science investigations. "Authentic science" means that students use the methods and tools of real scientists to examine real-life phenomena that have an impact on their lives and their community. Foundations of Science (FOS) students are provided with portable computers and a wide variety of software to support them in all aspects of their investigations. This includes project planning, data gathering and analysis, visualizing and modeling data sets, creating multimedia presentations, and publishing research findings on the Internet. Software (ScienceWare) designed by the University of Michigan’s Hi-C Research Group provides FOS students with the scaffolding necessary to engage in complex tasks as their skills and understanding progress to higher and higher levels of expertise. Technology embedded in the FOS classroom mediates the scientific-inquiry activities in which the students participate, allowing them to begin to understand scientific phenomena without being intimidated by the processes behind it. Technological resources like the Internet provide students with a forum in which to discuss scientific research, as well as a database in which to search for information. Classrooms still have blackboards, but no longer are these covered with lecture notes and book chapters to read for homework. Instead one sees a variety of the Internet Web addresses that students have found relating to their current project, displayed as suggested resources for their peers to use. Students in the Foundations of Science classroom no longer see textbooks and teachers as primary sources of information. Students say that information is harder to find on the Internet, but once found it is more detailed and up to date than in any textbook. Students no longer have to wait for a new edition of a textbook to be published. Students in the Foundations of Science classroom no longer see textbooks and teachers as primary sources of information. They no longer expect information and answers to just be handed to them. Instead, they actively pursue external resources such as the Internet and professionals within their community to find the answers and information they need. They learn how to actually do things rather than simply memorize isolated facts. As one student notes, "For once, I seem to be actually teaching myself something instead of being fed information." Results After Three Years After three full years of the Foundations of Science (FOS) program, we have seen tremendous growth in our students. They work together more efficiently in groups. They have improved both their written and verbal communication skills. They are much more at ease with technology and eager to learn more. Students who would have fallen through the cracks in a more traditional curriculum are finding success in all arenas. Students in the FOS program are no longer sitting with their hands quietly folded listening to a teacher drone on and on; rather, they are active in the classroom, in their homes, in the field, studying important issues such as local water quality, and developing scientifically rich understandings of biology, chemistry and earth science. The FOS teachers, the faculty and students from the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools administration, and the FOS students and their parents are constantly working together to rethink their goals and tasks. Through Foundations of Science we have created and are sustaining an educational innovation that is serving our students well. Benefits Beyond the Science Classroom Other classes at Community High School are also benefiting from the technology. Special education students are able to learn such advanced subjects as chemistry; they never could do this before since safety and other regulations meant their "specialness" kept them out of strict chemistry classrooms. Students in composition courses use the computers for word processing, and students in the Model UN Project conduct research on the Web. Students once afraid of technology no longer want to live without it, but incorporate it into every facet of their lives. Technology is contagious, and access to the computers is universal. Any student can check them out for daytime or overnight use. The Foundations of Science classrooms have become the new library at Community High School. Students who are not even enrolled in FOS come into classrooms during their lunch hour, or after school, to use the computers as research tools for assignments in other classes. Students enrolled in FOS use the computers for their other classes as well, as can be seen by the stacks of folders within students’ personal folders, designated for English, Math, etc. A common site in Community High is students sitting on the floor in the halls between classes, typing away on their laptop computers. When asked what they are working on, it is just as often an assignment for their English class as it is for Science. And these are not just the "A" students, but all students, working hard, and using the technology to better understand topics they are studying, and to better express the knowledge they gain. Bringing Change to Other Schools Over the last three years, the FOS program at Community High has grown: a fourth science teacher, Kathe Hetter, has been successfully integrated into the project, and a new school dean, Judy Conger, has helped shape and expand the program. Moreover, FOS serves as a model for the rest of the district. J'e Riley, the district’s Science Coordinator, has embraced the project-based science approach and is helping to see that the FOS tools and curriculum are making their way into other Ann Arbor schools. For example, Huron and Pioneer High Schools have incorporated aspects of the FOS program (including the ScienceWare software and pieces of the curriculum) into their own science programs. Students at Tappan and Slauson Middle Schools are using the University of Michigan’s Digital Library and the ScienceWare tool suite to carry out authentic science-inquiry projects. And this is just the beginning. As our experience in Foundations of Science continues to grow, and our methods and tools become more concrete, we intend to carry our message and methods out into other schools and districts across the country. Trusting Change In just three years, science education at this school has been drastically changed. We have trusted each other to do our part to make change possible. The teachers trusted the university not to abandon them once the project had begun; the university trusted the teachers to implement the change needed in order for the ScienceWare software that their faculty created to be useful to students. It’s been hard work, but we have made the change. Teachers have welcomed the University of Michigan researchers into their classrooms, allowing the researchers to pry into the smallest details of their thinking, planning and instruction. Teachers, researchers and students have met in a variety of settings (from informal to formal), on a regular basis, to share their ideas and impressions of the class. These discussions have led to even more changes in what happens in the classroom, in the research that is being conducted there, and in the types of software developed at the university. Still further, the FOS effort has received the active support from district leaders such as superintendent Dr. John O. Simpson, and associate superintendent Dr. William Wade. This model of cooperation between researchers, practitioners and administrators is the key to success. CHS teachers and university researchers are charged up. We are on a mission that is challenging us in every way. Our ideas can have real impact -- that is both thrilling and frightening. In our success lies the next challenge: to truly change the nature of education, we need to look beyond schools and into the communities of which schools are a part. We feel we have something important to say, to contribute: education can be different, technology can play a key role, and people from diverse perspectives can work together to make that all happen. This project has been supported in part by the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the National Science Foundation. Amanda Pryor is the public relations coordinator for the Hi-C Research Group at the The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. E-mail: [email protected] Judith Conger is dean of Community High School in Ann Arbor, Mich. Robert Galardi is the principal of Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. E-mail: [email protected] Kathe Blue Hetter is a science teacher at Community High School. E-mail: [email protected] Madeline Huebel-Drake is a science teacher at Community High School. E-mail: [email protected] Michael Mouradian is a science teacher at Community High School. E-mail: [email protected] Joseph Riley is the K-12 science coordinator in the department of Curriculum for Ann Arbor Public Schools. Elliot Soloway is director of the Hi-C Research Group (Highly Interactive Computing) and a professor of Engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. E-mail: [email protected] Elizabeth Stern is a science teacher at Community High School. E-mail: [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.