Arlene Brown & Chris Rose's 4th Grade, Mary Fisk Elementary School
Fourth grade students at the Mary Fisk Elementary School are always excited when they find out they are going to be in Chris Rose's class. From the time they enter the first grade, Mr. Rose shares his love of literature with them, reading stories in their classrooms, at school assemblies and gatherings, and even at the local bookstore. Though he is not as well known for his science lessons, he usually makes science just as exciting for his students as literature--except for his unit on living things; this is one area that Rose hasn't enjoyed teaching and feels that his students haven't enjoyed learning about. When the school's media specialist, Arlene Brown, asked Rose if he would like to try integrating technology into this unit, he jumped at the chance. Though he had recently been trained as a technology mentor for his school, Rose had not yet put his new knowledge into practice. "I hadn't used technology very effectively," Rose explains, "and I thought the opportunity to use it in my science unit would be a great benefit for me."
Brown had already worked with many Fisk teachers in the library and the classroom to integrate information skills into their curriculum. She had also brought many useful educational technology tools into the library. However, in recent years she had begun trying to increase the use of technology in her school's classrooms as well. Before beginning her collaboration with Rose, Brown had participated in a Designing for Technology Integration (DTI) workshop sponsored by The Northeast and Islands Regional Technology Consortium (NEIRTEC), which provided her with some additional insights about how best to use technology as a teaching and learning tool. She was eager to share these insights with Rose during their planning. "The most effective way of integrating technology into the curriculum is to find a teacher with a problem and solve it with technology," she explains. Having previously collaborated on several research projects with Chris Rose, Brown thought that this would be an excellent opportunity for both teachers to work together effectively--this time focusing on technology!
Brown and Rose began their work on this unit by identifying what science and information skills they wanted the students to learn, and then fine-tuning these expectations after consulting the New Hampshire Frameworks and their own district's list of fourth grade proficiencies. First, they decided, students should be able to identify living things by their characteristics as plants or animals. Then they should be able to compare and contrast life processes in plants and animals. Finally, they should be able to use research techniques to locate, evaluate, and synthesize information.
Brown and Rose decided that the first lesson of the unit should involve brainstorming with students to determine what they already knew about what makes something alive. Then students would need to compare plant and animal cells and determine how they are alike and different. Following the principles of constructive learning, they determined that the best way for students to learn the parts of cells was for them to make models of both plant and animal cells and compare them. Working in cooperative learning groups, Brown and Rose's students will spend time in the library researching organisms and finding examples of the five basic life functions: growing and developing, using energy, reproducing, responding to the environment, and getting rid of waste. Finally, students will use what they have learned in these activities to discover the similarities and differences between plants and animals.
Armed with these initial plans, Brown set to work finding the best technology resources for this unit. Her first step was to network with colleagues. She was concerned about integrating technology appropriately. "Think of using technology as you would a pencil. It's just another tool you use to teach and learn," explained her district's Director of Media and Technology, Arthur Berlin. Kathy Gallo, the district's software integration specialist, suggested attending one of her workshops on Inspiration, a software product that is perfect for classroom brainstorming activities. Gallo also introduced Brown to interactive CD-ROMs that enhance the use of the students' science textbooks. Brown then spent some time reviewing Web sites on cells as well as sites students could use for their research on organisms.
At their next meeting, Rose and Brown evaluated each component of the unit and discussed which technologies would work best. They decided that brainstorming answers to the question "How are you like a tree?" using Inspiration would make an effective pre- and post-unit activity. Working with a projection system, Brown plans to use Inspiration to quickly type in students' ideas. Inspiration facilitates the organization of these ideas and shows commonalties among them.
As a precursor to the cell model activity, Brown and Rose decided to use an animated cell Web site that helps students learn the parts of plant and animal cells. They plan to display this site on the school's projection system and lead students through it. Students will then visit other Web sites to research their individual organisms. Since Rose's classroom has only one computer, students can use the library computers as well as other resources to complete their research.
Assessment is always a critical part of the planning of a new unit. Brown and Rose wanted to use a variety of assessment methods on this project, and they used technology to help them. Brown has always used a rubric to evaluate student research in the library; it helps her to assess students' time on task, their use of resources, and the quality of information they've gathered. For this unit, however, Brown and Rose decided that they would also use a rubric to assess students' cell models. For help in creating this new rubric, they turned to the rubric creation tool "RubiStar," available for free at http://rubistar.4teachers.org. This was the first time that either teacher had used this versatile tool to create a rubric. "I was amazed at how easy it was to customize a rubric that works perfectly for our assessment needs," says Brown. In addition to evaluating their students' work with these two rubrics, Rose and Brown will also read their students' daily entries in their science journals for additional insights into what and how students are learning. Finally, the students themselves will be able to assess their own knowledge by comparing the Inspiration chart they complete at the beginning of the unit to the one they complete at the end. These charts from the pre-unit and post-unit activity will provide students with tangible proof of what they have learned.
Now that the plans are complete for their newly adapted science unit, Brown and Rose look forward to testing it out in a real classroom. They hope that integrating technology into a formerly lackluster unit will not only grab the attention of their students but also help to develop their content knowledge and research skills. Brown and Rose's goal is a unit on living things that truly makes the subject come to life.
Click here to download a PDF version of Brown and Rose's new unit.