Welcome to the real world

12th September 2003 at 01:00
An exciting technology-charged pilot project is linking pupils around the globe and helping them understand the relevance of science.

Lawrence Williams reports

But, you're a scientist, so you must know!" "No. I am a scientist, because I don't know. But I do know how to find things out."

These words, by Joe Kolecki, NASA Mars Pathfinder scientist, form the basis of the scientific thinking behind the latest project ICT being developed at the Holy Cross School in New Malden, Surrey, in partnership with the NASA Glenn Learning Technologies Project (LTP), Cleveland, Ohio.

The STAR (Science Through Arts) project is an exciting new multi-disciplinary, multilingual, science-based ICT project. It has been designed to increase students' enthusiasm for "real-world" science by using NASA's online materials as the stimulus for creative activities across the whole secondary school curriculum. The exploration of Mars was chosen as the topic.

The pilot project, which ran from last September to this May, included junior and secondary schools in the US, the UK and Japan.

More than 200 students used NASA web materials as a source of science information and Powerpoint to assemble their research. They also used email, word processing and desktop publishing packages, music software and video-conferencing equipment to develop their creative narrative, musical and artistic skills.

Joe Kolecki provided professional scientific teaching through video-conferences with all of the schools involved. He also emailed some students and their teachers with detailed Word documents and Powerpoint files.

Ruth Petersen, who is education co-ordinator at the NASAGlenn LTP, developed the content of the STAR website and also co-ordinated the work of the American schools and the final presentations. She says: "Through the horizontal integration of science with the arts in the year-long STAR project, students began to see the relevance of science to the world at large. The technologically charged learning experience allowed students to collaborate, while being guided by online mentors and their teachers as access providers, giving them the opportunity to use technologies both in and outside of the classroom, to complete their learning activities."

The pilot project culminated in a technical tour de force. An amazing global exchange took place that was live across three continents, in which the students' scientific learning outcomes were shared in a final presentation session using video-conferencing (combined ISDN and IP) and web-casting. Joe Radke at Baylor University in Texas provided brilliant technical bridging support for this aspect of the project.

One of Holy Cross's Year 7 students describes what she did in her lessons:

"ICT: we searched the NASA websites about Mars. We used Powerpoint and Microsoft Word to create stories. We downloaded music, pictures and data, and linked pages together with the music. We learned how to use Flaming Text, clip art, email, video-conferencing, and animation.

"English: we wrote scientific Mars stories. We improved our sentences and learned some hot tips for our writing. We looked at sentence and story endings and the use of descriptive language. We also read a copy of Joe Kolecki's story The Once and Noble Race and studied his science notes about it.

"Art: in groups we made landscape pictures of Mars using pastels, paint, collage and mosaic. We also discussed the different textures of the surface.

"Science: we checked the facts in our Mars stories and learned new facts about Mars and space. We used the internet, science books and Joe Kolecki to find and check out the facts.

"Music: we used music keyboards to make our own different tunes and songs to show things happening on Mars and in space.

"Religious education: we debated whether people should go to Mars and, if we found life there, would we bring it back? Also, if it were safe to live on Mars, what religion would it become?

"The thing I liked doing best was the Powerpoint story, because it was fun to download sounds and animations. I am pleased with the final result and I enjoyed doing it very much."

One of the stories, Mars, Lost and Found, by 11-year-old Katie Noon, is now proudly displayed on the NASA STAR website, along with instructions on how other schools can become involved.

Ikeda Senior High School in Osaka (the Japanese "sister school" to Holy Cross) contributed Powerpoint stories in English and in Japanese, as well as a website. Head of music at Ikeda, Ryuzo Tanaka-san was "moved to tears" by this sharing of ideas across the world. "I am convinced of the greatness of this project and the wonderful international network of members," he says.

Students at Holy Cross were given musical advice from their friends in Japan, via video-conference, on what might be added to their Powerpoint stories. "It was great fun working on the music with the Ikeda students," says Lizzie Mason of Year 7.

The American schools also presented a range of scientific work and Mike Terrell summed up the reaction in Michigan: "We definitely want to continue our involvement with STAR in the future. It's a great way to learn science."

And there are wider issues, too. As Professor Hiro Tanaka of Osaka Kyoiku University says: "I do hope that the Ikeda students will become a new type of scientist in the near future and contribute to the development of science, and to world peace as well."

Ayako Amano and Erika Fujimura, who are students at Ikeda Senior High School in Osaka, agree: "This project gave us a very special and rare experience, especially for one of our members, because his dream changed.

He wants to work at NASA in the future."

Endorsement of the project has come from The British Council, which published an article about STAR in its international Science Education Newsletter (edition 158), and from the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), which included details about STAR on its ICTAdvice For Teachers website www.ictadvice.org.ukindex.php?section=tlamp;cat=001002009amp;rid=656 and at www.ictadvice.org.ukindex.php?section=ilamp;cat=008003000NoNostars The STAR website was launched in Europe, in April, at the international Poskole Conference 2003 at Charles University in Prague. It was recently relaunched in America by Ruth Petersen and me at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC 2003).

Why not join us? You can email the project directors from the STAR websites below.

Lawrence Williams is assistant headteacher at The Holy Cross School, New Malden, Surrey, where he teaches English, music and ICT

WEBSITES * Katie's science fiction story, with its backdrop is at www.grc.nasa.govWWWK-12STARHolyCrossProjects.htm

* For STAR's title page, which features some of the Japanese students'

music, visit www.grc.nasa.govWWWK-12STAR

* General information for schools wishing to participate in STAR is at www.grc.nasa.govWWWK-12STARmain.htm

* Previous collaborative project work, in science and ICT, between Holy Cross and NASA Glenn LTP (the Science, Creativity and the Young Mind Workshop, with Dr Eric Albone, Bristol), can be seen at www.grc.nasa.govWWWK-12MarsVposkole.htm

Various ICT papers detailing the development of the educational concepts behind STAR, are posted on the MirandaNet website at www.mirandanet.ac.ukpubswilliams.htm

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