Grant Catapults Student Research To Cutting Edge

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There's a new line parents can add to the list of reasons why their early lives were tougher than that of their offspring.

In addition to the likes of "I had to walk to school 20 miles in the snow," they can now say, "I had to walk all the way to the library to do research for my homework, and sometimes it took weeks to complete."

Thanks to a recent "Teach to the Future" program grant from the Intel Corporation and the Bill and Melinda Gates (as in Microsoft) Foundation, students at Payson Elementary School don't have to leave their desks to do all the research they need ... and they can do it in a matter of hours.

"This program will not alter just the way kids learn, but also how I teach a lot," said PES first- and second-grade teacher Dan Reid of the new, worldwide Teach to the Future program.

"The technology expands the information available to both students and teachers, broadening the research and discovery aspects especially."

Before PES was accepted into the program, Reid said, if he wanted a student to do a research project, they'd go to the library, go through the card catalog, maybe never find what they're looking for, lose lots of time and definitely lose lots of interest.

"But with computer technology, the information is just immediate, from all kinds of sources. It used to take them weeks to retrieve all the information they needed; now it takes them hours. And it's a lot more fun than thumbing through encyclopedias."

Another reason the program is so valuable, Reid added, is that "computer knowledge is something kids are going to really need. There's hardly a business or profession anymore that doesn't use computers. Before, teachers didn't have to worry about that. Now we do."

In addition to giving Reid free training as PES's "Master Teacher" he's the guy who teaches the program to the other teachers the Intel/Gates grant gave Reid's classroom the $7,000 to spend on technology equipment such as digital cameras, printers and scanners.

The Teach to the Future program seeks to tear down the barriers teachers face in effectively applying computer technology to improve student learning. Over the next three years, 400,000 classroom teachers in 20 countries around the world will be trained through Teach to the Future, 100,000 of which will be in the U.S.

"Some 4,000 teachers in Arizona applied, and (Intel) selected 100 that met their minimum requirements," Reid said. "They were looking for people who had already integrated technology into their classrooms and who had some computer experience."

In its advance research for the project, Intel performed a survey in which it was revealed that while 85 percent of all teachers use a computer at home, only 25 percent felt prepared enough to use it in the classroom.

Hence, the goal of the new program is to train classroom teachers to promote inquiry-based learning and effectively integrate the use of computers into their existing curriculum to increase their students' learning and achievement.

Now in its first year, training is taking place in Arizona, Northern California, Oregon, and Texas. In 2001, the program will expand to New Mexico, Washington, Massachusetts, the Washington D.C. area, and other areas not yet determined.

The program was built on the successes of the 1998 and 1999 Intel Applying Computers in Education (ACE) Project, which trained over 3,300 teachers in eight states including Arizona. Over 95 percent of those participants reported that they'd learned new skills that would directly benefit their students, and nine months later, 84 percent reported that using computers had improved their instruction.

If an eligible school district meets all of the requirements of the Teach to the Future program and is accepted, the benefits, in addition to those already mentioned, are estimable: Forty hours of free state-of-the-art technology training for participating teachers; free training for Master Teachers; a laptop computer and CD-ROM "burner" to be used for training; and the right to purchase one high-end PC for $750 for each teacher.

The icing on the cake, however, is evident in the words of Master Teacher Dan Reid's 22 teacher/students.

"All of us were in the same boat," said fourth-grade teacher Dennis Pownall. "All we knew was how to turn a computer on, and we screwed that up half the time. But now, we're not just limited to our textbooks; we're on the Internet, we can give our students easy access to a whole world of information."

Donna Reid, a PES first-grade teacher and Dan Reid's wife, could not agree more enthusiastically.

"Before this class, my computer knowledge on a scale of one to ten was, oh, minus five," she said. "But this program has taught us how to search for Web sites we can put our children on, at their level, in the classroom. And teachers can go to the Web sites of other schools, where we can share ideas and unit plans, or get pen pals for their students," Reid said.

"There are just so many things we can do that we couldn't do before."

Although Master Teachers and districts have already been selected for this year, applications for next year's Learn to the Future program can be obtained by contacting Debra Lorenzen, Program Coordinator , at Arizona School Services Through Educational Technology (ASSET), Box 871405, Tempe, AZ 85287-1405; by telephone at (480) 727-6408; or by e-mail at debra.lorenzen@asu.edu.

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