Web as Resource
School Web Sites
School Web sites offer a means of communicating directly with students, staff, parents, and the larger community. School sites can include interactive elements, photo galleries, and other multimedia content, as well as individual pages published by teachers. Some schools enlist students to design and maintain Web sites, giving students opportunities to use their technical and creative skills for an authentic purpose. The best school sites are the ones that offer students, parents, and other community members compelling reasons for returning.
Students exhibit learning at a high school science fair for the community
Carly Elliot teaches science at a high school that emphasizes inquiry learning and celebrating success as strategies for improving student achievement. Since the start of the year, she has been working with her 10th-graders on science research investigations relating to water quality. They use the area's watershed-lakes, rivers, streams-for field-testing their hypotheses.
The school is getting ready to host a science fair. This event will give students a chance to share their research projects with an audience of parents, younger students, and the community. Being able to communicate scientific understanding and discoveries is an indicator of scientific literacy. The more opportunities students have to describe their thinking, the better they are at understanding and applying the underlying scientific concepts. For students who hope to go on to compete in a regional science fair, the school fair will provide a dress rehearsal and chance to practice their presentations and answer questions.
In her science classes, Elliot makes a point to show the connection between effort and achievement. She frequently shares stories about scientists who had to overcome roadblocks and setbacks on their way to discoveries. She also maintains a Web site from previous classes, so current students can see how their peers persisted on difficult research projects. Such examples show students that scientific breakthroughs are not the result of luck or chance, but come about from applying what scientists call "habits of mind."
The school's principal sees the fair as a way to build student interest in the sciences. He has convinced the PTA to help fund the event, including certificates for students whose projects meet standards of quality (including a well-designed hypothesis and accurate data-collection methods). The decision to reward projects that meet standards of quality-not simply participation-is also supported by research.
Technology helps Elliot and her principal let the community know about the science fair. They use the school Web site to promote the event to parents, students, and other interested community members. Elliot also sends an e-mail about the fair to all the parents who have given her their e-mail address. In addition, she sends e-mail invitations to adults in the community who have been supportive of students' science research projects.
Local scientists working in forestry, water quality, or other fields have helped to answer students' research questions and provided them with access to laboratory equipment. Having these "real" scientists attend the fair and ask questions will be another way to provide students with recognition.
Using technology to communicate about the fair is a natural extension of how Elliot has been using technology throughout the year. For example, on her class Web site, Elliot archives information about research projects students have done in previous years. Current students can view short video clips and learn more about the effort involved in completing a successful project. The clips portray Elliot's former students, whose first-person stories are more compelling than any lecture she could deliver.
Elliot's students have also used technology as a tool for inquiry. Their investigations have taken advantage of the portability of handhelds and probes for gathering field data. Back in the classroom, students have used their field data to generate graphs that help them analyze the information they have collected. At the science fair, students make use of these graphs as illustrations for their presentations. By the end of the year, Elliot's students are accustomed to using technology as a tool to assist them during all the stages of science research-hypothesizing, investigating, observing, analyzing, and finally, communicating results.
At the school's first science fair, Elliot's students had the opportunity to explain their projects to people with a wide range of scientific knowledge-from younger students who were just beginning to learn about science to working scientists who asked detailed questions about their research methods and conclusions. Elliot enlisted several volunteers to take digital photos to use on the school Web site and on her class site as another way to recognize student effort. In addition, she had volunteers videotape student presentations. Later, she planned to review the videotapes with students who were going on to enter their projects in the regional science fair. Critiquing their presentations would provide them with useful feedback for improving their presentations, and would offer students another reminder of the many ways technology can improve their results.