Teachers' collaborative project takes flight
April 21, 2004
(LUMBERTON, NC) -- Teachers at schools across Robeson County are learning to collaborate on projects after participating in an intensive professional development program called "Quality Teaching & Learning™" or "QTL™." And the result has been some intriguing projects and learning opportunities for children.
"When the kids are having fun and learning it is not tedious for them," says Dr. Juanita Clark, principal at West Lumberton Elementary. "If they're excited, they're going to learn more and reflect on it more. And when teachers are excited, that enthusiasm is contagious."
Dr. Clark and her staff have seen that concept in action this spring. More than three dozen West Lumberton students visited the "Magic Wings" butterfly house at the Museum of Life and Science on April 20 th as part of an ongoing collaborative effort by kindergarten and third grade teachers at the school. Coordinated activities before and after the visit have emphasized the science of life cycles -- but students and their teachers have learned a lot more in the process.
"We've done so many things in school to get ready for this," says Pam Day, who teaches exceptional children. "They've been SO excited to see this, we've had to keep telling them, 'just wait!'"
Projects leading up to the visit included traditional activities like making a papier mache' chrysalis and egg carton caterpillars, reading books on the subject, and ordering butterfly kits so students can watch butterflies emerge from their cocoons. But teachers also incorporated high-tech projects, from taking digital pictures of the different stages of life to using software to create postcards about butterflies. Students did research on the Internet. Teachers used document cameras to show the whole class pictures and specimens. Media specialist Traci Byrd even built a web site to chronicle the students' experiences.
"This is something that WOULD NOT have happened if we hadn't gone through the (QTL™) program," Byrd says. She got the idea while completing a QTL™ assignment to use PowerPoint to create a postcard about butterflies. "Technology has been big," she says. "We didn't know what a document camera was when we started."
But the bigger impact may be the teacher teamwork that resulted. Byrd and Day and fellow teachers Erica Rock and Ginger Gavaghan started the effort after being assigned to plan a collaborative project at the end of their QTL™ training. But others quickly jumped on board. "Collaboration has definitely increased," she says. "To be so small, we have not done it enough in the past."
The students themselves have collaborated as well. Kindergarteners were paired with third graders as "Butterfly Buddies." They studied together, and rode together on the bus to Durham. Teachers say both groups loved the interaction. "The third graders are quick to teach the little ones," says Byrd. "We saw the mother hen come out in most of them."
Third grader Justin, who was assigned to two kindergartners, confirms that. "It's been great. I taught them stuff about butterflies and their life cycles," he says, before going on to enthuse about butterflies. "Their enemies try to eat them, they have a special kind of poison!"
Justin's "Butterfly Buddy" Alex chimes in: "They eat their shell! They lay their eggs on milkweed."
From here, students will continue individual projects including building a large 'model' butterfly and growing some real ones. A school-wide celebration is planned on 'release day' when the butterflies emerge, sometime in May.
Byrd says the success of this effort is likely to increase collaboration at the school next year. "We have had a blast with this project."
Other schools have had similar experiences after QTL™. At Magnolia Elementary, the entire student body participated in activities planned around Native American Month in November. What they produced was so impressive they've been asked to present it to the Robeson School Board in May.
Meanwhile at Piney Grove Elementary, kindergartners joined fourth and fifth graders for a study of clouds. The youngest students took digital photos of clouds, drew clouds, and wrote about clouds. Fourth graders did all that, plus prepared for fourth grade writing tests by writing fantasy stories about clouds. Fifth graders created cloud logs, studying water cycles and different types of clouds. They used tech tools including Kidspiration software and Alphasmart keyboards for recording their thoughts and observations.
QTL™ instructor Kathy Blades was impressed by the results. "The students were engaged," she says. "And they learned about clouds. The teachers say the kids now come in and say 'Oh did you see the cumulus clouds.' They notice clouds now."
Blades says activities like all of these help schools meet the challenge of No Child Left Behind legislation by addressing the needs of students who have different learning styles or skills. "This makes children happy, excited, and they want to come to school."
Dr. Clark of West Lumberton echoes that. "This has been a diverse learning activity that addressed the needs of diverse students. It integrated subjects across the curriculum. The atmosphere of the butterflies has connected throughout the school. We're all into it."
Hundreds of Robeson County teachers are getting the opportunity to experience the QTL™ program during a two-year period, thanks to a partnership between the Public Schools of Robeson County and the Raleigh-based non-profit ExplorNet's Centers for Quality Teaching & Learning.
|For more information, contact Robin Fred via e-mail at or call him at 888.507.3800.
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