Bastrop Independent School District
Students Experience WOW (World of Work) at Bastrop I.S.D. Bastrop ISD is a rural school district outside of Austin, Texas, that encompasses more than 450 square miles. Forty-three percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price meals; 15% are in special education. The student population is 50% White, 25% African American, 24% Hispanic, 1% Asian. For some students, English is their second language. Despite the proliferation of high-tech jobs in Austin, a 45-minute drive away, relatively few students have access to computers at home. In fact, nearly a third of them don't even have electricity.
In this environment, one might assume that a computer class would be popular, if only for the novelty it offered. Yet Bastrop Middle School reported high absenteeism among both students and teachers in its seventh-grade computer literacy skills class, and 50% of the students who took the required course failed it. In 1993, school and district leaders met to determine what could be done about these problems. The class in question consisted of a six-week word processing unit followed by a database unit, then a spreadsheet unit. Students worked in isolation, doing projects for the sake of using the technology. School and district staff brainstormed together. Under the leadership of newly hired district technology director Lori Lusk, the district made sweeping changes in the computer course. The benefits were so great that the model that grew out of the initial brainstorming session has been adopted for computer courses in grades 6-12.
After reviewing information about what other schools are doing in the area of technology, school and district staff decided to change the course to a student-centered, problem-based class that provides real-world experience and skills in a cooperative setting. Students would now form companies of five individuals, each constituting an "advertising agency" in competition with each other. Each of the five students assumed one primary job responsibility, such as CEO or graphic designer, which he or she would then teach to the rest of the company. Technology would be used as a learning tool -- not as an end in itself. Learning would be centered on solving a problem -- not solely on using the computer.
The teachers and the district technology director worked that summer to create a new curriculum to assist in implementing the plan. Training was also done on changing to a constructivist environment. A new way of arranging the classroom was planned so that the setting would be more like an office. The school district replaced outdated hardware and software and used local tax revenue funds to construct office cubicles for the students. Funding was tight; teachers voluntarily attended hardware and software training sessions led by Lusk.
Project WOW (World of Work), as this new class came to be known, was an overwhelming success. Student absenteeism, tardies, and discipline problems were down dramatically, decreasing as much as 43%. Teacher satisfaction and morale were high. Parents and the community became involved in the project, resulting in more involvement in the school itself and higher satisfaction with the school district. More important, student achievement soared. In a benchmark test given the first year of the project, students who were in the Project WOW class scored an average of 22% higher than similar students who were still taking the course the old way.
Implementing Project WOW required a commitment by both teachers and administrators to change to a "guide on the side" teaching style, as opposed to a "sage on the stage" approach. It also required an understanding that the room's noise level would increase as students engaged in problem-solving discussions. Teachers practiced team teaching in classrooms that often had as many as 50 students. Block scheduling meant that classes would meet for 90 minutes every other day. This extended class time allowed for more complexity in the projects being done.
Changes that began with a seventh-grade computer class back in 1993 have carried over into other grade levels throughout the district. The new teaching model is now used for required ninth-grade computer courses as well as for elective computer classes offered in grades 6-12. The district reports no attendance problems -- in fact, the elective computer classes are always full. Team teaching methods pioneered in the technology department have since spilled over into other academic disciplines: Teachers in language arts, math, science, and social studies have adopted this approach for particular units of study.