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Skyline Elementary School

California Model Technology School site for science. The teacher-developed TOPS (Technology Optimizes Performance in Science) model combines high levels of technology use with hands-on science activities.


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Context

Skyline Elementary School is located in a working-class neighborhood of homes and apartments along the border between Daly City and South San Francisco. Many of the students' parents are employed in industries related to the nearby San Francisco airport. Of the 575 students, approximately 25% are eligible for free or reduced lunch and 11% are identified as limited or non-English proficient. Sixty-seven percent of the students are Asian/Pacific Islander; 12 % are Hispanic; 11% are Caucasian, Non-Hispanic; 9% are African American; and 1% are Native American. Nineteen certified teachers serve on Skyline's faculty. Although Skyline is in a modest neighborhood, teachers estimate that over 50% of the students have computers in their homes.


Reform History

The technology innovations at Skyline were initiated by a tightly knit core of teachers who were early computer users convinced of technology's capabilities to promote students' higher-order thinking. Skyline's principal supported the teachers' willingness to take advantage of district-offered training in technology and grant writing. After several teachers took a computer class in 1979, they applied for Chapter 2 funds to purchase a computer for the school. Impressed, the principal set the goal of getting as many students on computers as possible. The school pursued technology through the district's Computer Cadre as well as through state funding for a project to analyze software for activities that would promote the thinking skills addressed in Skyline's problem-solving curriculum in grades 4-6.

By 1983, all 19 of Skyline's teachers were active computer users. Building on their technology experience and the science expertise of one of the teachers, Skyline successfully competed for a state Level II Model Technology Schools (MTS) grant in science. The program Skyline developed, Technology Optimizes Performance in Science (TOPS), extends throughout the elementary school (K-6). The grant supported a project coordinator position shared by two teachers, a central repository for science software and curriculum materials, special activities, and professional development.


Reform Features

Skyline stands out in terms of the degree of coherence in its approach and its integration of technology across grade levels and subject areas. A significant influence has been the state curriculum frameworks that urge higher-order thinking, constructivist teaching and learning approaches, and cross-disciplinary projects. Skyline teachers have been active in many of the state reform initiatives, including the state science project and development and field testing of science and math portions of a statewide performance-based assessment system. Skyline teachers also participated in the state's Technology Leadership Academy for science and social science and the Educational Technology Summit. In keeping with state frameworks, the TOPS project emphasizes hands-on science and integration of science with other parts of the curriculum.

Although Skyline has not attempted major changes in its basic structure (such as multi-age grouping), the functioning and climate of the school have been significantly affected by TOPS activities. By supporting the project coordinator position and a project room, featuring an area set up for hands-on science activities (as well as a software library and 14 networked PCs), TOPS has provided opportunities for teachers to observe and support each other's work in conducting project-based and technology-supported activities. The technology coordinator may team teach a lesson with the regular teacher; alternatively, she may take over the class while the regular teacher observes a technology-using teacher at Skyline or elsewhere.

In a typical lesson, a third-grade teacher introduced her class to the topic of decay in a whole-class discussion format, using the chalkboard to write down key concepts. She reinforced these concepts with images and video clips from a laser disc attached to a large monitor (an apple decomposing and a graphic close-up of a dead rat swelling and exploding). A Micro/Macro video projection system was used to show living bacteria collected from classroom air molecules. On the next day, the theme was followed up in the project room, where the teacher and technology coordinator conducted hands-on explorations of classroom bacteria.

Skyline classes have access also to computers in "mobile labs"--Macintoshes on wheeled carts. In one fifth-grade class, students worked on multimedia HyperStudio science and language arts presentations using word processing programs, microphones to record sound, draw programs or Kid Pix to create graphics, and a Canon Xap Shot Still Video Camera attached to a Macintosh to import photographs. While half of the 32 students collaborated in small groups at computers located around the room's perimeter, the other half work individually at their desks. At the bell, teams of four students, quite serious about their charge, gingerly shepherded the computer carts safely to the next classroom, supervised by the "step monitor" who guided the teams down the classroom steps and made sure that a tarp protected the computer in the rain.

In general, the opportunities for teachers to observe one another have led to more consistency and connections across classrooms. Many teachers use the same group structures and role assignments for small-group lessons. Articulation within and between grade levels is reinforced by teachers' frequent references to the content and activities of other classes and grades.


Technology Supports

Skyline illustrates the strength of home-grown expertise. A core of teachers took it upon themselves to become knowledgeable about computers and their instructional applications. With the support of the district, the staff have been aggressive and successful in going after state grants to fund the technology coordinator position and in-service training and release time. The commitment and ever-increasing knowledge of this core group overcame the trepidation of more timid colleagues and the shifting agendas of multiple principals.


Outcomes

In its Model Technology Schools Self Study, Skyline documents improved achievement in science content measured by the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) and on a test of basic process skills in science (BAPS). Increased motivation was noted when nearly all sixth graders completed science projects, and 9 of 13 students won awards in the county science fair, when no students had even entered in previous years. Student surveys showed that 65% of students thought that technology had improved their problem solving, writing, and reading skills. A majority also said that use of technology led to higher grades, more enjoyment of classes, and improved ability to work with others. Teachers reported that students appeared to take more responsibility for their own learning.


Contact Information:

55 Christen Avenue
Daly City, CA 94015
Contact: Lyn Chan
T: (415) 878-0176
F: (415) 878-0176
E-mail: LCHAN0680@AOL.COM


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