Welcome to my Journal: One Teacher's Experience

"A Teacher's Journal: New Beginnings: Reflections on Block Scheduling"
Every year, a new school begins and the teacher has a chance to present a new image of himself. As the years add up, new skills are acquired and refined. It is 2002, and at the end of this year, I will have completed almost two decades as an educator. Many trends and come and gone during my career, but one seems as though it's here to stay: block scheduling. Teaching within the 90-minute module won't be new to me since my old school district in Washington County, Maryland made the switch in 1999. I placed all my new lesson plans for US Government, US History, and Computer Applications on my website. After signing with Loudoun County in 2000, I returned to the 45-minute period at Sterling Middle School under the umbrella of US History. The transition basically meant that every 90-minute plan would have to be divided into two lessons. I longed for the 90-minute module because more could be achieved in the way of student research and student publishing via the Internet.

In 1994, I discovered the educational power of the Internet. I was new to computing, but it became apparent that a global medium was in the making, and that my students and I could be a part of it if we could only gain the right hardware, software and skills. The other commodity we needed was time. I needed time to learn the software, to develop the projects, and a place in cyberspace to post our final product. Slowly but surely it all came together in my classroom at North Hagerstown High School. I was assigned to a computer applications course, which gave me the human resources to develop graphics and text for the school's website. Then we gathered old, obsolete computers and networked them so they could be turned into web page producing stations. When the school went to the block schedule, I was able to devote large chunks of class time to showing computer and social studies students how to develop meaningful web content that enhanced the respective curriculum being taught. 

Social Studies classes went to work on researching and creating web pages on the Civil Rights Movement. The final product was the Black History Celebration that now resides a http://www.cyberlearning-world.com/nhhs/project/civrts.htm on the Cyberlearning-world.com website. Computer Applications students were assigned an aspect of their state to research, and they posted their findings at http://www.cyberlearning-world.com/nhhs/atlas/front.htm as part of the Interactive Atlas of Western Maryland. Students also developed their own mini-research projects to create the Student Website Workshop (http://www.cyberlearning-world.com/nhhs/compapps/workshop/webwork.htm). These projects would have taken more than twice as long were it not for the block schedule. 

Bringing web technology into the classroom also invites the use of cooperative learning. Students must decide which role they will play in the development of the website. All students must contribute to the research, but this take place in many forms. One student may conduct text-based research using note cards, while another locates a database on the World Wide Web. Yet another may be consulting an atlas, print and electronic map resources, or an encyclopedia to complete research. Once the data has been collected, the group must collaborate to develop a design for the website. They must agree on the project's colors, layout, and editorial content. Then it becomes time to develop a proposal and submit it to the teacher, who will suggest amendments. Students who have word processing skills can begin the process of putting thoughts on disk. Other students can draw original artwork or surf the web for copyright-free clip art and photographic images. Student then provide links to other Internet resources and post a bibliography to show accountability and document their resources.

The entire process takes weeks depending on the scope of the project, but it goes much smoother when students can work within the 90-minute block. Gaining the technical skills to develop graphics and text that make up web pages, not to mention higher order technical tricks such as JavaScript roll-overs and Java applets, moves along much more smoothly when a 90-minute block is allotted to learning. And students gain a sense of pride when they work together in the development of a product that they know they will be sharing with the world. The classroom engaged in the development of a website, especially a powerful one that deals with critical issues such as prejudice reduction or violence in youth culture, takes on the collaborative air of a newsroom editorial office. The students know they are emulating adult processes that they will turn into reality when they reach the world of work. They have fun as they achieve technical success but they do so with a sense of mission. And the students coach each other and are coached by mentors as they communicate with reviewers and project participants from around the world.

Telecommunications projects hold an enduring fascination for me, and I hope to implement them as often as once per semester as I develop the unit plans for American Civics on the eighth grade level. The World Wide Web is an underutilized resource on the student publishing end, and its use as a medium for student expression employs many of the new approaches in modern teaching methodology. Basic facts are gathered in the research phase. Students must analyze their data and synthesize a new product, which they must then evaluate as a resource on the Internet. Visitors from all over the world can also evaluate student effort, even though their comments have no impact on student grades. Students must collaborate, cooperate, and co-manage their projects which includes writing, artistic, visual, and sometimes auditory data. Since they are trying to reach a global audience, their message must take into account multiple cultural perspectives as well as academic accuracy and integrity. Student publishing on the web holds students to the highest standard of learning while implementing the state's standards of learning.

Thanks for reading...

Email: George Cassutto