Texas A&M to link seafaring teacher to classrooms via web

November 29, 2000

COLLEGE STATION - A Houston schoolteacher will soon forsake her comfortable retirement to ship out on the world's largest science vessel, the JOIDES Resolution, in a bid to bring oceanography alive for rural Texas junior high school students.

To do that, the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) at Texas A&M University has trained former teacher Joan Linsley to use the latest Web-based instructional tools and resources so her shipboard broadcasts can help other Texas science teachers and their students take advantage of the same technology. The adventure in learning begins in January.

"We're bringing exciting research into the classroom," said Jack Baldauf, ODP deputy director and co-principal investigator for the Ocean Drilling Learning Program in Middle School Earth Science. "We want students to get a gleam in their eyes where science is concerned."

ODP, College of Geosciences and College of Education staff, with contributions from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, spent the past year writing curriculum enrichment modules to be used in Texas middle schools. Teachers will use the modules to lead students through Web-based exercises integrating state-of-the-art scientific data collected from selected locations around the world. The modules will support traditional earth science curriculum units in such areas as climate change, sea level fluctuations, geologic time, and sediment distribution.

"Since Texas curriculum requirements parallel national educational standards, in the future we could even go nationwide," Baldauf observed.

"The idea is to make science more interactive and engaging," said Jon Denton, a professor in the College of Education and the other principal investigator involved in this project. "At the elementary school level, you can provide a kid with a 'gee whiz, isn't that neat' kind of experience. If you wait until high school, it's too much of an uphill battle to light those fires of enthusiasm. But middle school is just right to ignite an interest in science that can last a lifetime."

Last June, 18 teachers from 15 rural Texas school districts spent a week on the Texas A&M campus, giving feedback about module content and doing hands-on science themselves. The teachers reviewed the proposed instructional materials and learned how to create Web-based science lessons using the instructional software programs Trackstar and QuizStar. For example, teachers learned to download data from buoys in the Houston ship channel -- the buoys contain tidal gauges -- and use the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program to translate that data into graphs and charts for classroom use. Then they moved to the ODP offices, where they studied ocean sediment cores kept at the facility's core repository, learning how scientists analyze the samples.

"The June workshop was extremely successful," Baldauf observed. "In fact, response was so good that our project timetable is being squeezed to move things along faster. We had initially planned for the entire project to take three years, but now, after just one year, we're looking at a January launch date for our next phase."

That next phase will put Linsley on the JOIDES Resolution to broadcast directly to classrooms in the 15 participating districts for 20 minutes once a week. Her real time broadcasts will cover shipboard research activities keyed to the lessons being covered in the classroom, and students will be able to ask questions over the computer link.

"In January, the JOIDES Resolution will be in waters off northeast Australia," Baldauf said. "Data gathered there fits well into curriculum units on climate change, providing information about changes in sea level, rock samples, and reefs.

"ODP's selection of Joan Linsley to go on the January cruise at this point is seen as a one-time, proof-of-concept event," he observed. "The January broadcasts will help us judge how well our equipment works and how well data sent matches with instructional unit content."

Funding for the project includes money to equip each selected school with a digital camera, scanner, projection system and five computer workstations linked to the Internet and the software necessary to receive broadcasts, communicate with the ship, and produce additional science lesson material.

"Right now we have a small budget, and the type of broadcasts we can do is limited to what the ship's available equipment and software can handle," Denton said. "However, we are seeking additional funding for years two and three of the project. Our project vision includes eventually archiving broadcasts on a CD for use in the classroom and building the on-site interactive idea into the curriculum itself."
School districts participating are Menard ISD, North Zulch ISD, San Isidro ISD, Motley County ISD, Pittsburg ISD, Marlin ISD, Carrizo Springs Consolidated ISD, Happy ISD, Beeville ISD, Charlotte ISD, Crystal City ISD, Jefferson ISD, Navasota ISD, Poteet ISD, and Rocksprings ISD. Texas A&M members of the project team included Trina Davis, Ben Smith, and Arlen Strader from the College of Education and Thomas Davies, John Firth and Erik Mortgat from ODP.

The Ocean Drilling Learning Program in Middle School Earth Science is funded by Texas A&M, the Ocean Drilling Program, the College of Geosciences, the Kay and Jerry Cox Middle School Endowment from the College of Education, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Board and the U.S. Department of Education. The project is a collaboration between the education and outreach components of the National Biomedical Space Research Institute at Texas A&M University, The South Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium at Texas A&M and the Texas Rural Systematic Initiative of the Texas A&M University System.

Contact: Judith White, 979-845-4641, jw@univrel.tamu.edu;
Jack Baldauf, Ocean Drilling Program, 979-845-9297, baldauf@odpemail.tamu.edu

Texas A&M University

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