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QTL > News > Article Summaries > Current Article
NC school soars with project-based learning
March 2004

WILLIAMSTON, NC - A Martin County Elementary School is in the middle of a bold and exciting transition that has students and teachers buzzing with excitement and anticipating success.

As a result of focused professional development for its staff, E.J. Hayes Elementary is moving toward project-based learning in an effort to engage every student. For teachers it's a dramatic change. They have improved their understanding of research-based educational practices and learned how to use technology as an effective classroom tool.

Teachers' collaborative project gave E.J. Hayes students a chance to sit inside a Blackhawk helicopter.

Students have also responded significantly as the school recorded an increase in attendance since changing its approach to learning. "The kids just want to come to school," says school instructional technology facilitator Theresa Bell. "They want to know what they're going to do next!"

The school launched a flurry of project-based collaborative efforts that have sent children to the Outer Banks, brought Blackhawk helicopters to the school grounds, and turned teachers into active learners engaged in a variety of technology-focused programs. "The teachers have all accepted this change so well," says Susan C. Peele, E.J. Hayes' principal. "They've been risk takers, not afraid of the process. We've been astonished by their creativity."

A pivotal element in the school's transformation took place in Fall 2002 when a small team of educators from E.J. Hayes attended ExplorNet's QTL™program. The intensive seven-day professional development cycle is offered through ExplorNet's Centers for Quality Teaching & Learning™, one of which is located at the Northeast Technology & Business Center in Williamston in a partnership with the Northeast Region Education Service Alliance and Martin County Schools.

E.J. Hayes took part in the QTL™ program after being awarded a $450,000 IMPACT grant. The federally funded, state awarded grant for low-wealth schools targets increased and effective use of technology in the classroom.

One quarter of IMPACT money must be spent on professional development, a stipulation that school media coordinator Janet Smith says makes perfect sense. "We feel like staff development is important," she says, "because if the teachers aren't comfortable with the technology, they're not going to use it."

So the school's first step was to send all its teachers through QTL™, which prepares schools to meet the challenges of federal No Child Left Behind legislation. The program models the use of research-based teaching strategies in the classroom. Teachers learn to integrate technology and other tools into their teaching of the core curriculum, with the goal of reaching every student regardless of the student's learning style. "We had seen how wonderful it was," says Peele, "and now we had the money to pay for it."

Theresa Bell, left, calls QTL™ "the best jump start" to making E.J. Hayes' IMPACT grant implementation a success.

Bell says starting with QTL™ and then sending staff through a technology-focused program from Intel has paid off handsomely. "(QTL™) was the best jump start, the best thing we did, no doubt about it," she says. "They were so pumped up after they finished their cycles, they couldn't wait to get back to school. Everybody feels really good about it."

Hayes says the one-two punch of QTL™ followed by Intel's application-focused training has been extremely strong.

During the current school year, teachers at every grade level have tackled collaborative projects inspired by their QTL™ experience. Fifth grade teachers worked with the National Guard on a project called "Starbase," which brought Guard members to the school for a week of teaching and leading student experiments. Students got to climb aboard a Blackhawk helicopter that visited the school, and some of the teachers even got brief rides - an experience that left Bell "a little dizzy" but exhilarated.

Fifth-grade teachers Misty Minshew and Rae Reneice Cowan say the Starbase curriculum provided another opportunity for technology integration. Students used digital cameras to take pictures and email them to parents. They created graphs using data collected during Starbase experiments and created PowerPoint presentations highlighting the events of the week.

Fourth grade teachers, meanwhile, took 120 students to the Outer Banks and split them into teams focused on language arts, math, science and technology and other core subjects. Equipped with digital cameras, the children performed research-based projects and then returned to school and created brochures, newsletters and learning cubes. The project was so successful in engaging young minds that it is being featured at the upcoming Southeast Regional Teaching and Technology conference in Greenville in April, and will be in the national spotlight at the National Educational Computing Conference in New Orleans in June.

The teachers may be learning as much as the students, thanks to an aggressive list of ongoing support programs like regular "Techie Tuesday" sessions and a "R.E.C.I.P.E.S." club ("Recognizing Everyone Contributes in Providing Educational Success") through which teachers share ideas and work through problems. It's all part of a broad effort that has changed the culture of the school.


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

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