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QTL > News > Article Summaries > Current Article
Experiment "Levels the Playing Field"
for Science Fair Participants
Spring 2005

(ELIZABETH CITY, NC) - This year's Science Fair at River Road Middle School was experimental in more ways than one. While students tested their own theories and hypotheses, school leaders were testing how the appropriate use of technology can improve student learning.

QTL™ participants work on activities that involve the use of a digital camera and a GPS device. River Road QTL™ team member Ron Fry (right) says the professional development opened new doors for him and for his students. He's pictured with Perquimans Middle School principal Melvin Hawkins.

Principal Carolyn Jennings and four staff members attended the Quality Teaching and Learning (QTL™) program last spring, then returned to River Road and put new ideas to work. The result was an inspiring Science Fair success story that school leaders are now sharing with everyone from community groups to school accreditation teams.

Five days of intensive professional development in a model classroom showed River Road's QTL™ team how using technology in conjunction with research-based teaching practices can engage students and transform classrooms. After those initial five days, the program continues with a collaborative project that team members plan and complete back in their school.

The River Road team wanted to help close the technology gap for students who didn't have access to technology at home. So they designed a project that focused on improving science fair projects by improving students' access to technology and information. They believed better tools would result in better science projects - and their experiment proved they were right.

The first step was setting aside an 18-computer lab similar to the Perquimans Middle School QTL™ Center where they attended the program. Then the team applied for and received a $2,500 Dominion Power Grant to buy additional equipment and supplies.

Next, they went to work showing fellow teachers how to get the most out of the new resources - giving students weekly access to digital microscopes and cameras, scientific field kits, software for collecting and displaying data, and other tools.

"The students used this lab to work on their science fair projects including research on the Internet, word processing, graphing, etc.," says Jennings. "We purchased microscopes that attach to the computers, digital cameras, scanners, etc. so that these materials would be available to all students. The idea was to level the playing field for all our students to have quality science fair projects."

River Road Middle School principal Carolyn Jennings goes dockside to collect a water sample that will be viewed through a digital microscope.

The process involved teachers across curriculum. Math and science teachers led research, experiments, data collection and the graphing of results. Communication skills and social studies teachers helped with writing and presentation of the final projects.

The Science Fair went so much better this year that the QTL™ team put together a PowerPoint presentation about the project's success. They showed it to the SACS review committee looking at the school's accreditation. They've used it for orientation of new sixth graders. They've shown it to local civic clubs and presented it at an Education After Hours reception for the business community. And Jennings has shared it with middle school principals across the state at the Principal's Executive Program.

But the lab's use and QTL's impact didn't end with the Science Fair. Technology assistant Michael Owney says members of the QTL™ team have passed their enthusiasm on to their peers.

"Their excitement has been contagious to the point that other teachers who were not part of the team have been inspired and challenged to explore how they too can include technology into their classrooms," Owney says. "I know the program had a profound positive affect on those who took part in it, and that affect is rippling through the staff at RRMS, as well as through the student body."

River Road's teachers now rotate their classes through the new lab, using programs like Inspiration and PowerPoint for student work. Students now may see lessons delivered with PowerPoint and displayed on a television screen. Digital cameras are increasingly used for curriculum-based projects throughout the school. And eighth grade students are better prepared for computer competency testing, thanks to the integration of technology into core subjects like math, reading and history.

QTL™ team member Ron Fry, who teaches North Carolina history, says he enjoyed the training and learned much from instructor Susan Herring that he has been able to apply - from delivering lessons with PowerPoint to having students create their own presentations using technology and other tools.

"Just this week I added a Vizcam to my classroom workcenter to allow the students to share supplemental information with their classmates," he says. "The kids love using the technology."

The success to this point makes some teachers eager to get more tools in their hands. "If teachers could get four or five computers in each classroom, we could do so much more differentiation, enrichment, and remediation than we can now with only one computer per class," says Carol Kutchenriter, another QTL™ team member.

"Student learning has been impacted with an increase by all our teachers using technology in their content areas," says Jennings. "The QTL team has been critical in helping other teachers to become more comfortable and knowledgeable in using technology. Projects such as PowerPoint, Inspiration activities, etc. are becoming commonplace in all classes as well as the use of the digital cameras. Students love the hands-on experiences with the technology and do a great job incorporating it in their schoolwork as well as extra-curricular activities."

Jennings says she looks forward to sending more teams through QTL™ as funding becomes available, and would encourage all schools to do the same.


For more information, contact Robin Fred via e-mail at or call him at 888.507.3800.

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