The Institute for the Learning Sciences, Northwestern University
1890 Maple Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202 USA
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Larry Genl, a teacher at Evanston Township High SchooI in Evanston, Illinois, is only just beginning to grapple with the very difficult task of restructuring his classroom. A participant in the Collaborative Visualization (CoVis) project funded by NSF’s Program in Applications of Advanced Technology, Larry is working to recast his science courses toward project-based and collaborative learning approaches, and away from the more traditional teacher-led approach upon which he had previously relied.
Greg Lockett is a teacher at West Valley High School in Cottonwood, California. As a participant in TERC’s LabNet Project, Greg developed a great deal of expertise in the design and management of project-based science classrooms. Using the Internet, the CoVis project was able to unite the expertise of Greg Lockett with the needs of Larry Genl.
Although the two teachers have met briefly on two occasions, their most significant conversations are carried out on a special Usenet news group set up for the CoVis project. Larry introduced one topic by saying, “The real topic I want to discuss is, as always, student motivation, and what role I should play in enhancing it…. The truth is, even as I write this stuff I recognize that I have ideas about how to deal with this problem, but I am very interested in hearing the opinions of people who have been doing this for a while.” Greg responds with a story from his own experience: “I help each student to -d something that is personally captivating and compelling to explore… I give time for this. In my nine week project cycle in physics, students are given three weeks for just this task”
Although reluctant at first to give up so much time for students to mull over projects, a few more exchanges prompted Larry to try experiment with his current class: “I’d like to share a process I’m experimenting with…. My goal is to get students to come up with interesting questions which might lead to project topics…. For the last two days, I had my… classes “browsing” through [library] books. Their instructions were: (1) Don’t choose a topic. Just grab book after book that strikes your fancy, all different topics, and browse through them, noticing where you want to stop and investigate; (2) Make a list of… open ended questions, with no obvious answers… that you would sincerely like to find out answers to…. That is, questions that might lead to some inquiry, some activity, some learning.”
With Greg’s help, Larry has traveled a great distance towards successfully restructuring his classroom. In one particularly poignant message posted on the news group, Larry thanked Greg for his ideas: “Let me just say that I can’t tell you how meaningful and important your comments and advice and encouragement are to me. Without this kind of support.. I would be very seriously questioning the personal price it takes to make these changes. As you write about your experience and your approach, the philosophy becomes real, and I can begin to see what shape it might take for me. Thank you.”
Larry and Greg, separated by thousands of miles, are just two of twelve teachers currently exploring project science as part of the CoVis Project, and getting support from each other via the Internet. The CoVis project, directed by Roy Pea at Northwestern University’s Institute for the Learning Sciences, is an effort to design a test-bed to explore next- generation uses of networking for enhancing educational practice. The resources of the Internet lie at the heart of this effort.
For additional information contact:
Dr. Roy Pea
John Evans, Professor of Education
The Institute for the Learning Sciences
1890 Maple Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
v: (708) 491-3500
f: (708) 491-5258