Project Child (Changing How Instruction for Learning is Delivered) The Perfect Fit for Multimedia Elementary Schools
By Sarah M. Butzin Institute for School Innovation, Tallahassee, Florida
MultiMedia Schools November 2002  
Project CHILD educators in grades K-5 are engaged in a quiet revolution to tap technology's potential. Through a triangulated team teaching/learning station model, CHILD teachers incorporate computers and hands-on activities into daily classroom instruction. The current school year finds more than 450 teachers and 12,000 students implementing this unique teaching and learning system.

Computers as an Add-On in Traditional Classrooms

For most teachers in elementary schools, technology remains a mere distraction. Even initiatives to link every classroom to the Internet have generated little enthusiasm from America's teachers. Lack of training, lack of access, and lack of technical support are often cited as the reasons for educational technology's failure to live up to its promise.

However, I see a more fundamental reason. The problem is that schools keep trying to retrofit new technologies into an outmoded instructional model. It's like trying to drive a high-powered car on a dirt road. It's possible to make the journey, but you can never take advantage of the speed and excitement of operating the car on a properly designed highway.

In most schools, didactic teaching remains the dominant instructional model. Children are expected to listen passively while the teacher instructs the whole class and then to work quietly at their desks when the teacher is working with small reading groups. This leaves little time for computer activities, except for those lucky few who may finish their textbook lesson and then get to "play" on the computer.

Most classrooms have only a few computers available, so access is very limited. Teachers are reluctant to let children work collaboratively on the computers (which would increase access) because of the distracting noise being generated. Furthermore, elementary teachers who must cover multiple subjects have a daunting task to keep current with software for reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. And few teachers are trained to integrate this wide array of software into the curriculum.

On the other extreme are the "classrooms of tomorrow" and "model technology schools" that have sprung up from state to state. These pilot programs are very technology-intensive and use constructivist learning strategies that are off the radar screen of the average teacher trying to manage 25-30 diverse students. Using another highway analogy, it's like having a superhighway with few cars to use it.

What has been missing is an instructional model to bridge the gap from the traditional "sit and git" learning model to the constructivist, self-paced learning that technology can facilitate. That is what Project CHILD is all about. Project CHILD is the bridge to the future—the perfect fit for the multimedia school.

The CHILD Model: How It Works

The CHILD model changes the traditional elementary school instructional model, but not so radically that conventional teachers can't cope. CHILD provides a well-developed system of materials, training, and coaching to help teachers get started on their journey into the 21st century. Here's how it works.

Three cross-grade classrooms form a CHILD cluster, K-2 for primary and 3-5 for intermediate. Each teacher in the cluster teaches one of the core subject areas—reading, writing, or mathematics for all three grade levels.

Students rotate through the three cluster classrooms for instruction in each basic subject. Each CHILD classroom is set up with six learning stations: a Computer Station for learning with instructional software; a Teacher Station for small-group tutorials; a Textbook Station for written work; a Challenge Station for learning in a gamelike format; an Exploration Station for hands-on activities and projects; and an Imagination Station for creative expression.

After a brief whole-group lesson, students work at the stations to practice and apply the lesson content. The teacher assigns students to their beginning stations, but they move independently at their own pace as they finish the assigned task. Students spend 1 hour in each of the cluster classrooms, returning to the cluster classroom that serves as their "home base" for instruction in science and social studies.

The Power of Three

The triangulated CHILD instructional model takes team teaching and looping to a new level. Triangulation taps the "power of three" to enhance academic performance by having:

  • three subject-focused expert teachers
  • three grade levels for standards-based skill articulation and curriculum coordination
  • three hours of in-depth diversified learning at six learning stations
  • three types of learning modes (technology, hands-on, paper/pencil)
  • three years to work with students

CHILD transforms classrooms from rows of desks into multi-dimensional learning stations that promote collaborative active learning. CHILD classrooms contain skill-based and exploratory learning stations for in-depth practice in each subject area. Students have multiple opportunities to learn a particular skill or concept using computers and hands-on activities along with textbook work.

Specially trained teachers use research-based CHILD Planning Guides that correlate a wide array of instructional software with lesson objectives. The guides also coordinate instruction across the three grade levels, offering numerous suggestions for standards-based, hands-on station activities.

While whole-group instruction is still appropriate, it does not dominate as in the didactic classroom. "Seatwork" becomes enriched and broadened as station activities and engaging software encourage children to think creatively and apply the skills the teacher has presented.

The teacher moves around the classroom, interacting with students at the stations. Noise becomes less of an issue as teachers become more comfortable with the low hum of active children engaged in collaborative station work. And as teachers begin to feel more comfortable working alongside the children and away from the spotlight, they move toward constructivist teaching.

A Student's View

A fourth grade student describes a day when her dad visited her classroom, concerned that she was having "too much fun" at school.

We got my dad an extra chair so he could sit at our table. Ms. Bronson started off with a lesson about measurement—we'll be studying about different ways to measure things for this unit. We all brought in different measurement tools for homework. What a collection! We had lots of rulers, a bathroom scale, a metric stick, two yardsticks, three kinds of balance scales, and a couple of measuring tapes. We talked about all the different tools and what we could use them for. We made a big chart with all the different measuring terms: centimeters, decimeters, meters, inches, yards, pounds, ounces, etc. Then we made a list of ways we use measurement tools. I never knew you measured so many things. Dad whispered to me, "You're right, there is a lot of learning going on. I had forgotten how little a centimeter was." Ms. Bronson asked Todd to put all the tools in the Exploration Station for us to use for a measuring activity.

I show my dad the six different stations that we go to. We have work to do at all these stations. There's a task card that tells you what to do. You can't just mess around. It's good to practice at stations because we can learn more about measurement in lots of ways—using the computer programs, working on our textbook pages, using "manipulatives" (that's a math teacher's word for math equipment), and getting lessons from the teacher.

I go to the Computer Station first and work with my partner, Anna. We're working on a program where we have to estimate height and length. It is a challenge and we get better each time! I show my dad how I record the work I'm doing in my Passport. I record "estimating using centimeters." He said it looks like I'm learning how to be responsible and he likes that.

Ms. Bronson tells us that tomorrow we will begin our class measurement graph. We will measure everyone in class using three different measurement systems—the American, Metric, and Greek. She said for homework find out all you can about the Greeks' measurement system. I don't have a clue!

I love working at stations. I tell my dad that Project CHILD is all about spending more time learning and less time waiting around for everyone else to get done with their work.

Conclusion

More than 10 years of evaluations across numerous school sites have demonstrated that CHILD students consistently perform significantly higher on standardized tests, have far fewer discipline problems, and have high rates of attendance. Parent satisfaction is always extremely high. Numerous groups, including the National Diffusion Network, the Florida Department of Education, and the Georgia Department of Education, have validated the effectiveness of the CHILD program.

CHILD works for all types of students, whether identified as gifted, at-risk, or average. The CHILD model also works very well as an inclusion model for children with special needs and speakers of other languages. Visit our Web site at http://www.ifsi.org for evaluation reports and more information.

Project CHILD is not for every school. It requires hard work, a commitment to meaningful change, an ability to work as a cooperative team member, and an abiding faith in young children. CHILD teachers firmly believe that children can be trusted to make good choices when guided by a caring team of teachers.

All it takes to get started is three innovative teachers with committed leadership from their principal. If you think your school is the perfect fit, we'd love to hear from you.


Communications to the author may be directed to Sarah M. Butzin, the Institute for School Innovation, Tallahassee, Florida; 800/940-6985; Web site: http://www.ifsi.org; e-mail: sbutzin@ ifsi.org.

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