Project Child: A Decade of Success for Young Children
D'es technology make a difference in helping children acquire the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics? Yes, according to a decade of research on a computer-integrated instructional program called Project CHILD (Computers Helping Instruction and Learning Development).
The CHILD model incorporates computers in transformed learning environments. Project CHILD was developed in 1988 at Florida State University to create innovative classrooms where technology integration would be the norm (Butzin 1997). The program is currently being disseminated by the Institute for School Innovation, a private non-profit organization in Tallahassee, Florida.
A few recent samples of test score comparisons from Project CHILD classrooms in Florida and Georgia can be seen in Figures 1, 2 and 3. These scores from the 1998-99 school year compare students who participated in Project CHILD classrooms with students within the same school in traditional self-contained classrooms.
Project CHILD focuses on grades K-5. Teachers form cross-grade clusters (K-2 or 3-5), with each teacher in the cluster focusing on one of the basic subject areas - reading, writing or mathematics. Each classroom in the cluster is equipped with learning stations, including a computer station with three to six computers. Children spend one hour a day in each of the cluster classrooms.
Project CHILD is designed to facilitate several key components for learning success:
- Motivation. Project CHILD materials (CHILD Learning Activities Guides and Station Activities Resource Books) enable teachers to plan interesting lessons and integrate stimulating software and hands-on activities to intensify learning objectives.
- Involvement. Project CHILD students are actively engaged in a variety of learning tasks at six different learning stations. There is a Computer Station for correlated software lessons, a Text Station for written activities, and several Exploration Stations for hands-on exploratory projects. The Stations are designed not only to involve students in interesting tasks, but to utilize multiple learning styles. Students stay focused by using work logs called Passports to set goals and track their learning activities.
- Feedback. Students receive constant feedback in a CHILD classroom. There is immediate feedback when using instructional software, as well as feedback from peers at the learning stations. The teacher circulates about the classroom as students work at the learning stations to become the "guide on the side" to provide additional feedback. Some teachers also use a Teacher Station for small group work.
A CHILD Classroom
Let's look at a Project CHILD classroom scenario. A class period begins with the teacher conducting a whole group lesson - let's say an introduction to fractions. After about 10 minutes of direct instruction, the students fan out to their first assigned learning station. Each station will have an activity related to fractions. Some stations will focus on skill practice, while others will focus on concept development. The station activities encompass kinesthetic (hands-on) learning as well as auditory and visual modalities. The teacher assigns instructional software at each computer station to tie in with the lesson objectives.
As student groups work at their stations, the teacher circulates to help, probe, assess, and encourage students as they work on their assigned tasks. When a student finishes an activity, there is no wasted time. The student checks his or her Passport to see which station to visit next, and moves on as needed. At the end of the period, the teacher gathers the class together for reflection and discussion on the day's activities.
The systematic design of Project CHILD enhances technology integration. The computer becomes an integral tool rather than a peripheral distraction. The main impact of technology in Project CHILD is to reinforce and extend instructional objectives, maximize time-on-task, and provide timely learning feedback.
By focusing on one subject area and working with children for three years, CHILD teachers are able to integrate effective software in their area of expertise and allow children to move at their own pace. Through the team approach, children have access to computers every day in one subject or the other. And the learning station approach, along with a structured classroom management system, enables equitable access to computers for all students, not just the few who "finish their work."
Project CHILD also provides a full year of training and classroom coaching, along with research-based materials to help teachers plan interesting lessons and integrate effective instructional software. Software correlations for a growing list of excellent third-party software are updated annually. (See www.ifsi.org for a complete list of correlated software.)
Researched and Evaluated
The CHILD model has been evaluated for over a decade by independent evaluators. Their reports have consistently shown that CHILD students have higher test scores and better discipline than their counterparts in traditional self-contained classrooms. The original research, which began in 1988, was conducted at two very different elementary schools in Florida. One was a very high achieving school in the Florida panhandle, and the other a low achieving school on Florida's east coast. The results at both sites were positive (Orr 1991).
After the initial three-year pilot at these two schools, the research expanded into nine diverse elementary schools throughout Florida, involving over 1,500 Project CHILD students. Again, the results were positive. The Project CHILD students had better test scores in reading, language arts, and mathematics than did their counterparts in traditional classrooms. In addition, the evaluators reported other positive effects of the program such as reduced discipline problems, better attitudes toward school and learning, and positive comments from parents on random surveys (King and Butzin 1992).
A follow-up evaluation at these same sites for two more subsequent years showed that the positive effects increased over time. For example, by the third year, effect sizes at the nine sites (determined by subtracting the mean non-CHILD scores from the mean CHILD scores divided by the pooled standard deviation) showed 15 positive effects and zero negative effects across all subjects and grades (Kromhout 1993).
As a result of these positive effects across all nine sites, Project CHILD was validated as an effective program by the U.S. Department of Education's National Diffusion Network, and received funding to disseminate the program nationwide. Schools in 10 states, as well as in Alberta, Canada have since adopted Project CHILD. Currently there are 60 schools across the country with Project CHILD classrooms, including several schoolwide adoptions. A list of National Demonstration Sites with links to the school home pages is included on our Web site at www.ifsi.org.
CHILD's Staying Power
Two longitudinal studies have also supported the staying power of Project CHILD. The first study involved 360 sixth grade students at two middle schools in Okaloosa County, Florida. One hundred eighty students who had participated in Project CHILD in elementary school were matched with students from traditional, self-contained classrooms. The CHILD students had higher grade point averages, higher standardized test scores, and more enrollments in advanced mathematics classes (Gill 1995).
A subsequent longitudinal study compared 25 students in Hernando County, Florida, who had participated in Project CHILD classrooms from kindergarten through fifth grade with 25 matched students from traditional, self-contained classrooms. By fifth grade the CHILD students had higher standardized test scores in reading, language arts, and the total battery. The most significant differences were in math concepts and reading comprehension (Gill 1998).
The Institute for School Innovation is currently engaged in a research study to determine the effects of class size on learning using the Project CHILD model. We will compare the results from larger classes using the technology-infused Project CHILD model with smaller classrooms using the traditional, self-contained classrooms. Florida TaxWatch is conducting the evaluation. Watch our Web site for updated reports. The first phase report will be published during the summer of 2000.
Project CHILD has achieved a decade of success for young children. The goal has been to instill a love of learning, a feeling of empowerment and self-confidence, and a firm foundation in the basic skills for all students completing the elementary grades. The research data, along with comments from parents and students, gives us great hope for the next decade and years to come.
Dr. Sarah Butzin is Executive Director of the Institute for School Innovation in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the developer of the Project CHILD program, and co-developer of Project TEAMS, a similar program for middle school students. More information about the Institute and its programs can be found at www.ifsi.org.
E-mail: [email protected]
Butzin, S. 1997. Whatever Happened to Project CHILD? Learning and Leading With Technology, Vol. 24, No. 6, 24-27.
Gill, B. 1995. Project CHILD Middle School Follow-up Evaluation: Final Report. Daniel Memorial Institute, Jacksonville, FL.
Gill, B. 1998. Hernando County 1997 test score comparisons for fifth grade students enrolled in Project CHILD from kindergarten through grade 5. Report to Hernando County School Board, FL.
King, F.J. and Butzin, S. 1992. An Evaluation of Project CHILD. Florida Technology in Education Quarterly, Vol. 4, No.4, 45-63.
Kromhout, O. and Butzin, S. 1993. Integrating Computers into the Elementary School Curriculum: An Evaluation of Nine Project CHILD Model Schools. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, Vol. 26, No. 1, 55-69.
Kromhout, O. 1993. Evaluation Report: Project CHILD 1992-1993. Report to Daniel Memorial Institute, Jacksonville, FL.
Orr, C. 1991. Evaluating Restructured Elementary Classes: Project CHILD Summative Evaluation. Paper presented at the Southeast Evaluation Association, Tallahassee, FL.
This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.