September The students from 7-2 team at Grissom Junior High have started the school year by sending e-mail messages about themselves to sixth graders at a Chicago public school and high school students in Nashville. They have sent a message about how they are looking forward to sharing ideas on astronomy and short biography about Grissom and themselves. They hope to set up a project with the two schools. Other students want to know if other schools around the world could be contacted. The math teacher says she will try to make arrangements but to see if they could come up with some ideas on ways they could contact other schools themselves.
Astronomy is part of the seventh grade science curriculum. This year, the social studies, art and math teachers would like to have the students plan a project that covers the same material emphasizing engaged learningwith the best use of technology. This integrated unit has been planned with the social studies, art, math and science classes able to interact not only with one another but using telecommunications to interact with other students and with math and science experts. The inquiry project may last seven to ten weeks depending on the students' research of astronomy and the space station program, how the program affects their world and designing their own space stations based on their research. The teachers want the students to analyze the data they collect through inquiry using the Internet, through mentoring and learning from their e-mail students, and by collaborating with one another. The project offers the students an opportunity to direct their own learning. The students will then share their experiences with their class and with the other schools. This presentation could be shared through the Internet Web pages, e-mail or videoconferencing. The teachers start planning how frequently their students need to meet. It is decided that initially the students will need time to decide their team, plan what project they are going to do, and how they are going to complete their project. The teachers decide the students should complete a daily log. This will enable the students to better access the Internet and facilitate engaged learning.
The students have been studying astronomy in science. While in math, they have been reviewing basic facts. During the third week in September, students notice a new bulletin board in science containing just two words, "Space Station." The next day the word "International" appears above Space Station. Again, nothing more is said. On the third day, the students walk in and notice the following words under the three: "Starting in October." On the next day, the teacher finally mentions the bulletin board, starting a class discussion on the International Space Station. "Has anyone heard about it?" he asks. Students mention MIR. The teacher responds with "Yes, that is a space station but does anyone know about one that is not in space yet?" Students start sharing information, but it seems they really do not know much about it. One student suggests using the Internet to find out more. Another student agrees and says that the Internet would probably give more current information than trying to use an encyclopedia. Two students start doing a search; within minutes they share NASA's Web page with the other students. Another discussion follows on the space station. The class decides to follow the progress of the space station.
October: The students are still learning about astronomy. They are also using Hands-on-Universe and the Internet to collect data about magnitudes, distances, and are learning how to request images. In math they are using this data with comparing numbers in scientific notation clarifying their knowledge on magnitudes. They have used their problem-solving skills to determine a height of a solar flare, and have used data collected from images they have downloaded to plot graphs determining how "bright"some stars appear. (The students have been shown how to use the software by students who are now in eighth grade who learned how to use it last year.)
In science, the students are deciding how they are going to research and complete projects about space stations. The teacher asks them to share with one another any information they have on the progress of the International Space Station. Each group discusses any information they have found and then each group shares with the entire class. One group mentions that one of them has Internet access at home and mentioned that the space station is starting to be built this month; another group who was online yesterday mentioned the latest information that NASA had. Then the students went up to the mini-computer lab. The teacher gives them directions on creating a bookmark for the beginning student project page and mentions that they are to read what is on the Web page. The students begin the project.
November: Groups of students are working on their space station projects. In science, one group has been arranging when they will e-mail students in Japan. Another group has been in contact with their keypals in Nashville. Another group has had problems setting up a survey about what their countries' students know about their space programs. Another group wants to make sure that the questions can be perfectly understood, and they are worried that when they "Ask an Expert" they will not respond back. Another group is working on their space station design during art class using the scale they developed during math class.
While in social studies, two letters from senators from Illinois have arrived with opposing viewpoints regarding funding of the space program. One is very positive for the government to continue supporting the program. The other letter states an opposite position regarding funding. Permission is obtained to put them on Web pages to share with their keypals. The two letters are discussed with their keypals through e-mail and students decide to research how much money is needed to fund the space program, what the space program will mean to the population, locally and worldwide. The students contact the senators through e-mail with their findings.
December: The students are completing their projects. They are analyzing information from their keypals, research, and data collecting. They are creating Web pages for their presentations. They are taking digital images of their models and are scanning their drawings into images for the pages. Team projects are assessed through presentations. Some teams are still working on the Web pages they are going to put on the Internet to share with their keypals.
The teachers would like see the projects shared with the rest of the school. Many of the projects have Web pages that the students have completed showing their research, space station designs and how the space program is relevant to their lives. They ask for student volunteers for finding ways to send their research to NASA, other countries, and the government. The students start getting into their groups to discuss this. A new project seems to be developing.