IT TEAMS: Saving The World Through Authentic Challenging Tasks
by Shayne Russell
Library Media Specialist & KidsConnect Volunteer, Mt. Laurel Hartford School • Mt. Laurel, New Jersey
Meg Warren 
Manager, Collaborative Technology Projects • Earthwatch Institute
MultiMedia Schools • March/April 2000
[Editor’s Note: We all want to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes the challenges we face within our classrooms, our libraries, our networks eclipse the fact that our Earth is in trouble, too! Critics decry the isolating tendencies of technology, as though the computer represents an obstacle inserted between the learner and “real life.” However, the Earthwatch experiences of thousands of educators and students speak eloquently to the contrary. There is little more “real” than the field research these students and teachers have conducted with Earthwatch. Their ability to harness technology to translate these life-changing experiences into opportunities for learning breathes new life into the adage “Think globally, act locally.” Previously in MMS, we’ve taken the position that by working together, school library/media specialists, classroom teachers, and technology coordinators can change the world. Earthwatch demonstrates that it may even be possible for these teams to save our world—and you can help!]

Earthwatch Team Wins 1999 ICPrize

Shayne Russell, library media specialist—Mount Laurel Hartford School, Mount Laurel, New Jersey (be sure to visit her Library Without Walls:

Diane Hallisey, library media specialist—Plymouth River School, Hingham, Massachusetts 

Suzy Calvert, Gifted & Talented teacher—Maxwell Hill Gifted Center, Beckley, West Virginia 

Moacyr Santizo, 2nd Grade Bilingual teacher—Potter Road Elementary School, Framingham, Massachusetts

This team of library/media specialists and classroom educators was awarded the 1999 IC Prize for their “Native American Unit.” Using video they filmed at an archeological site in Arizona, the team introduced a multidisciplinary study of Native Americans to students at their respective schools. Five ICPrizes to support the use of Internet technology in the school library media program were announced by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

The annual ICPrize is awarded as part of AASL’s ICONnect technology initiative (see the September/October 1999 MMS). The I and C represent the basic elements of the ICPrize: Information, Integration, Innovation, Curriculum, Collaboration, and Connection—all integral parts of an ICPrize-winning curriculum unit. Each ICPrize recipient received $1,000 to be used toward the purchase of technology for use in the library media center or to support travel to attend a state or national conference. The applying school library media specialist was required to be an ALA/AASL member and to collaborate with a teacher on the curriculum project submitted. The curriculum project had to include the use of Internet resources. For more information about the ICPrize, visit

In July, 1997 I worked as an Earthwatch volunteer on an archeological expedition in Springerville, Arizona, with archeologists who were trying to identify ties between the prehistoric people who lived in Casa Malpais (see Figure 1) and the present day Hopi and Zuni cultures. This unique research experience was made possible through Earthwatch’s Education Awards Program and generous funding from Bell Atlantic. Click for Full-size Image As part of the project, our team made a commitment to develop a collaborative, Web-based project through which to share our experience with our students back home.

Our team, comprised of two library/media specialists and two classroom educators, planned to provide our students with a valuable research experience, exposing them to online and periodical resources, in addition to the basic print resources already familiar to them. We wanted to show how information literacy, hands-on science, and collaborative learning can extend the experience of a small group of educators to a potentially limitless audience through the integration of technology and information literacy skills into the curriculum.

Earthwatch Institute is a coalition of citizens and scientists working together to sustain the world’s environment, monitor global change, conserve endangered habitats, explore the heritage of our peoples, and foster world health and international cooperation. Since 1971, more than 8,000 educators have participated in Earthwatch Institute expeditions. Teachers, library/media specialists, administrators, and high school students make up 20 percent of the 4,000 volunteers who join Earthwatch Institute expeditions each year. In most cases, no special skills are required. The only requirements are a fascination with the Earth, a desire to know how it works, and the drive to help solve its problems.

Knowledge Building Through Information Literacy
I use the Big6 as the research process I teach kids at school and I’ve taught it through archeology every year since my participation at Casa Malpais in 1997. What a difference it makes! I explain to kids how the process that archeologists use to do their research is exactly the same as the process we use in the media center; then I prove it by showing videos from the dig or using a HyperStudio stack with pictures from the dig to explain each step. Then we compare what we would be doing in the media center. It makes it so “real” to the kids—it’s not just “library stuff” anymore.

One of the areas I thought was especially exciting about the project was the way kids were able to reach beyond our own schools (there were four schools involved) to get the information they needed for their particular topics. I had two girls in my school who wanted to learn about the Zuni language, and we couldn’t find anything anywhere. I sent out an e-mail message to someone who had a broken link to a Web page that sounded promising, but that person sent a message out to someone else, who passed it on to someone else, etc. In the end, I got an e-mail message from Christopher Lewis, a teacher and a Zuni Indian, in Zuni, New Mexico. His students offered to help my students. They even sent us a great videotape showing us their school and the area it is located in, including in it some of the lessons in which their students were learning to speak Zuni. Click for Full-size ImageI had a couple of other students who were researching rock art (see Figure 2). They sent an e-mail message to an Earthwatch scientist I’d met at an Earthwatch conference who leads an Earthwatch project that studies rock art and she answered the students’ questions. A few years ago, we would have never had access to resources like that!

Our Earthwatch team shared its excitement and knowledge with students in a constructivist manner. My 18 classes of fifth grade students from Mount Laurel Hartford School, 125 third graders from Plymouth, Massachusetts, 2nd graders from Framingham, Massachusetts, and 6th graders from West Virginia collaborated to create many of our Web pages. From the students, we learn that the dry climate of the American Southwest has helped preserve the antiquities that open the door to our understanding of ancient civilizations. Our student authors were careful to provide bibliographies so users know upon what authority the information was based. We also got a glimpse into what it is to be a real-life archeologist.

Chris Adams, one of the archeologists at Casa Malpais in Springerville, Arizona, was responsible for the reconstruction of the site’s “Great Kiva” and the enclosing wall. He also discovered that the area once thought to be an animal pen was actually a solstice calendar.

Asked what the most important or interesting part of his discovery and work was, Chris responds, “I would have to say it’s the people that I meet along the way, and that’s usually the Native American people. Usually when you meet them they don’t talk to you very much, but after you gain their trust they will sometimes take you to places that you didn’t know existed. That is what I treasure the most. Artifacts are one thing, but it’s the people themselves that are tied to these old areas that we go to that’s most important—their friendship—and knowing a little bit about them.”


There are three basic aspects to Earthwatch’s program: research, conservation and education.

The cornerstone of science is basic research, the gathering of comprehensive data on a subject without regard to how that information might be ultimately used. Earthwatch supports basic research in many fields, from archeology to zoology, learning about rainforests mechanics, ancient civilizations, and dozens of other subjects.

Earthwatch’s conservation projects have resulted in the creation of eight national parks, several conservation awards, and the rescue of dozens of endangered species.

Every Earthwatch volunteer not only learns a huge number of facts, but perhaps more importantly, gets a context for those facts and a perspective that Earthwatch feels is essential for creating a sustainable future. Because they feel this kind of education is so important, Earthwatch offers scholarships to educators, students, and in-country conservation workers to multiply the effect of their experience through their respective constituents.

How You and Your Students Can Get Involved
Click for Full-size ImageFull-time K-12 educators of any discipline and high school students, age 16 and above, are eligible to apply for a fellowship to participate in a variety of Earthwatch research projects, ranging from monitoring Blue Ridge black bears, or tracking Baja sea turtles, to studying Costa Rican caterpillars.

For more information, including an Awards Application that can be downloaded, visit the Earthwatch Institute Web site ( and Earthwatch Global Classroom. Or, contact Brian Barry, Education Awards Program Manager via telephone (800/776-0188 x118) or e-mail (

Click for Full-size ImageYou can also participate online in a Virtual Field Trip or Online Science Expedition through the Earthwatch Global Classroom ( (see Figure 3). Current expeditions include interviews with Earthwatch scientists (Saving Sea Turtles (see Figure 4), Tracking Mexican Wild Cats) and research activity “live” from the field with Delaware and Massachusetts Teacher Fellows (Brazil’s Rainforest Wildlife, Wild Dolphin Societies).

Membership in Earthwatch Institute is $35 per year, but teachers may receive a free sample copy of the full-color Expedition Guide.

The Big6—Dig It!

The Big6 process is modeled for students at At this site, students are asked:

Did you know that the process you use to do research in the school media center is very much like the process scientists use in the field? The “BIG SIX” is a step-by-step method for solving “information problems.” If you follow these six important steps, when it comes time to pull that school research project together, you’ll have all the pieces you need!

Here’s what those six steps might involve if you were an archeologist working on the Casa Malpais/Earthwatch archeological expedition in Springerville, Arizona, as well as what they mean for you in your school media center!


“This experience radically changed my views of science. Hands-on participation in research gave me a much clearer picture of what science is all about. I realized I had misunderstood it in school. Science is really about experimentation and thinking creatively and independently. Being a good scientist requires as much creativity and originality as being an artist or writer. I now see science as a method of inquiry rather than a textbook full of facts, and it is suddenly fascinating to me.”

Wendy Antibus, Bluffton, Ohio, Student 
Challenge Award Program Recipient
“Rock Art in the Malheur Marshland”

“The students brought unbelievable energy and enthusiasm to the project. Their abilities in math, especially geometry, helped us enormously in our complex mapping needs and facilitated our accurately completing work in a kiva and opening a new area of excavation ahead of time.”

Dr. E. Charles Adams, University of Arizona
Homol’ovi I: An Ancestral Hopi Village


Communications to the authors may be addressed to Shayne Russell, Library Media Specialist, Mount Laurel Hartford School, 397 Hartford Road, Mount Laurel NJ 08054; phone: 856/231-5899; fax: 856/222-1221; e-mail:; Meg Warren, Earthwatch Global Classroom & Collaborative Technology Projects, Earthwatch Institute; phone: 800/776-0188; e-mail:; Web:

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