This Teacher Case is a spotlight on the teacher's personal story. If you would like to learn more about Jackie's curriculum unit (the Worm Bin Project), then be sure to look under the Units section in the table of contents on the left.
Meet The Teacher
Jackie Applin is a third grade teacher at Newberry Elementary School (see Internet Resources below) in Newberry, MI, and was awarded the 1995 Ameritech Michigan Teacher Excellence Award for her use of the Internet to support projects in her classroom. Jackie is also an active member of the Great Lakes Collaborative (see Internet Resources below), a Michigan-based group dedicated to improving the science and mathematics experiences for students in the Great Lakes states, and the Michigan State Systemic Initiative (MSSI), a Michigan Department of Education (see Internet Resources below) program designed to help K-12 students in Michigan develop mathematical power and scientific literacy. Jackie plans to continue to use the Internet and other computer technologies in her classroom with other projects.
"I have been teaching for 23 years now, and I would say that it [working with the Internet] is one of the most exciting things that I have done....I'm not a computer expert. I'm learning. I'm learning as I go. You don't have to know a lot, just get in there and do it."
Jackie and her class, The Applin Dumplin' Gang, completed a project called the "Worm Bin Project," which provided many opportunities and ideas for collaboration.
Jackie began her teaching career on Mackinac Island in Michigan, teaching first and second graders. Mackinac Island's school district is very small, and when Jackie was there, 65% of its population was comprised of Native American students. After three years, Jackie went to Central Michigan University to earn a masters degree in learning disabilities and emotional impairment. Subsequently, she spent several more years teaching on Mackinac Island. Jackie has also taught high school, junior high, and elementary special education, as well as kindergarten. Her current third grade classroom at Newberry is an inclusion classroom; she has three special education students in her class.
Newberry's school district is the largest (1300 square miles) east of the Mississippi River. Since all grades, K-12, are housed in the same building, some students have to travel rather far to get to school. Newberry is in a very rural, low socioeconomic area. Roughly 10 percent of the population is Native American.
The closing of the state hospital in Newberry caused the population of Newberry School to fall from about 1800 to 1200 students, but now that a prison is to open where the hospital used to be, the population of the school has increased by about 50 students this year.
Project Description: The Worm Bin Project
Jackie introduced Internet technology into her classroom in 1994 and used it to augment the collaborative elements of a project she and her class conducted about earthworms. While they read the book How to Eat Fried Worms, her class, the Applin Dumplin' Gang, conducted an experiment over several months in which they created "worm bins," wooden boxes containing red wiggler worms that they fed different foods: coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit, vegetables, and a combination of these. They compared the number of worms in each bin at the start of the experiment with the number of worms at the end of the experiment, and these numbers differed substantially depending on the kind of food the worms were fed. Students then collected the castings, or waste products, from the different groups of worms, and measured the amounts of phosphorous, ph, nitrogen, and potassium they contained; again, these differed based on the type of food the worms were fed. These castings can be used to grow seeds; depending on their phosphorous, ph, nitrogen, and potassium amounts, they will sustain the growth of different kinds of seeds.
Jackie says, "I had done the worm bin before for a 4-H extension project and I figured we could do it in the classroom. But I wanted to get on the Internet and have other people do it with us. I really wanted to experiment with other people." Using the computer in their classroom that had an Internet connection, Jackie and her class exchanged experimental data with another class in Michigan's Iron River school district, whose students also conducted the experiment, starting roughly two months after Jackie's class. "The school in Iron River connected constantly over email, and asked us questions, and talked and participated," said Jackie. For instance, the Iron River school reported one day that the worms they had fed eggshells had all died, and the students didn't know exactly what had happened. Jackie's class' eggshell worms had died also.
The two classes shared data and observations, and reported their findings every day for two months over email, with Jackie and the Iron River teacher communicating first, and then eventually relinquishing the job of emailing information to two of their students.
"The kids brought in garbage. We'd keep it in a bucket, and they measured out exactly how much they fed the worms each day. And we'd chart it, and the kids would go to a spreadsheet on the computer and put in how much garbage they fed each bin of worms, and the graph would automatically show the average amount the worms were fed each day."
Overall, the worm bin project was a great success; the students really enjoyed tending the worms and compiling their data in collaboration with Iron River. To top it off, the project also won Jackie's class first place in the Newberry school science fair!
For Jackie's class, the opportunity to collaborate with other students was a valuable part of the Worm Bin Project, because they learned from their opportunities to exchange information and ideas with other students. For instance, while Jackie's class counted individual worms at the beginning and end of the project to determine how different types of foods sustained worm life, the Iron River school weighed their worms to collect the same information. Jackie's class informed the Iron River school that they were having trouble with fruit flies around the worm bins, and the Iron River school reported that they were not having similar trouble. These comparisons are good examples of what Jackie hoped to accomplish by collaborating with another class: "When I do something, it might not be exactly the same as what you are doing, but we still would be learning from each other."
Jackie finds innovative ways to help her students become engaged in learning. She takes special note of children's individual differences and learning styles, which stems in part from her special education background. She has always been involved in progressive teaching activity, including her current practice of having her students create portfolios of their work. She tries to help her students actively participate in their learning rather than "feeding" information to them. If her students are having difficulties, she feels very strongly that she has to do something to help them.
Her foray into computer use seems to fit in with the rest of this philosophy. "If you are not afraid to do what you think is right" and be a "risk taker," the possibilities are endless. "My school and the principal allowed me to be a risk taker." Jackie did not follow her curriculum guide when she incorporated technology into her classroom, but her principal trusted her. She feels very fortunate to have been working in such a supportive atmosphere.
First Experiences with Technology & Internet
"I was teaching kindergarten and I decided I would like to go back for a ZA endorsement because I wanted to find out more about developmental levels. In taking the class, I had to do a paper. I didn't have a computer at home, and I asked the special ed teacher who happened to have one in her room if she could give me some pointers. My first experience was with that mouse, three years ago, I could not get it to do what I wanted! I was having such a terrible time. I did manage to get that paper in, though."
A few years ago, Jackie requested and received a Mac from her principal for her third grade room, which the students used to compose Parent Notes, weekly messages to parents that explained what the students were learning. Jackie had her class write these notes because her students create portfolios, so not all of their work goes home; the Parent Notes keep parents informed about what their children are learning and doing in Jackie's class. The class also did writing workshops, for which they wrote stories and published them on the computer.
During that year, Jackie and her students were reading about Belize, and they learned that scientists were answering questions online for interested students. Jackie's students were interested! "Now I had no idea about the Internet. But I did know that you had to be connected to the Internet to get to Belize." She wrote and was awarded a grant, for which she received the Mac Quadra she has now, along with a scanner, a camera, and HyperStudio. The equipment came toward the end of the year, and Jackie "had kids that didn't WANT to go on to fourth grade, because they knew this computer was going to be here and it was going to be exciting. I spent the next three months on the Internet learning like crazy."
Jackie talks about how three years ago she never thought she would be a computer-using teacher ("I would have said, 'You're crazy!'") because she thought computer use required a mentality that "wasn't her," that she thought would restrict her creativity. "But it turns out that I find it very exciting, very exhilarating, and it has opened up so many new ways for me to think and learn and grow and become a problem solver," she says. "I learn by immersion, so when I get on the computer, I might not necessarily read the manual to find out what to do. I get on there and figure it out, and if it doesn't work, well, I might have to pick up the manual to read. But I find now I can pick up the manual and read, and it makes sense. And it never used to make sense."
Jackie's classroom contains a Mac LC III, which is connected to the elementary computer lab, and a Quadra 610, which she received from the Great Lakes Collaborative because of a grant proposal she submitted to them. The Quadra is connected to a modem and a scanner; it is "on all the time," and is the one she and her class use to write email, conduct WWW research, and create HyperStudio stacks. Eventually, "I really would like to see five computers in my classroom and a bigger computer in my room, and Internet connections in every classroom in my school," she says. But even with one computer, Jackie's class has done some tremendous things.
Jackie started out by training the inclusion class aide who works with her and a ninth grade student "cadet" to use HyperStudio. The aide and the cadet would then pull individual students back to work on HyperStudio. Using this technique, the class put together a HyperStudio program on fish.
"Then we connected to a school in Minnesota that asked about Native Americans, saying, if you have a Native American population near you, would you answer these specific questions for us? And I decided that it was very difficult working with my aide always pulling someone out. The Great Lakes Collaborative and others suggested that I get a core of students who knew something about the technology to teach the others, so I decided I would take a core of students and try this next one with them. So this core of students did the research on the Native Americans."
The students needed some help putting together the ClarisWorks document and the video they created about the Chippewa nation, which is represented in Newberry, but Jackie hopes that as she and her class learn more, the students will be able to do more of the hands-on parts themselves.
Problems with Technology
When Jackie has technical problems or questions, she consults the computer coordinator in her school. "We actually have similar learning styles, which helps a lot." Also, the Great Lakes Collaborative has an 800 number for assistance, but often the computer coordinator figures out the problem before they do."I see so many advantages to using Internet technology. One of the disadvantages would be that I can't get enough other people in the district excited. One reason I went for the Ameritech award was for the publicity. The Marquette Journal came and took pictures and did this front page spread, and that drew people's attention to it, but people thought, 'Oh, well you're a computer expert.' I'm not a computer expert! I'm learning. I'm learning as I go, and you don't have to know a lot. Just get in there and do it. So getting other people to do it has been a disadvantage, and people think that, because of what we've done, I must know something that I'm so technologically advanced. I'm not. I want people to understand you just get in there and do it, and you really have a good time with it."
Other Internet Projects
Native Americans Project: A class at Scandia Elementary School in Scandia, MN, was the class that expressed interest in learning about history and information related to Native American groups living in and around Newberry. Newberry has some Native American students, and her class was enthusiastic about investigating Native Americans, creating a ClarisWorks document and video about the Chippewa Nation.
Here is a list of resources related to Native American art, literature, and historical and contemporary figures.
- Geography and Native Americans
Historical and geographic information on Native American peoples in Maryland.
- Index of Native American Resources on the Internet
Native American resources on art, history, music, museums, culture.
- Native American Schools, Student Groups and Related Programs on the Internet
Index of educational resources related to Native Americans.
Mailing lists on topics related to Native American lives and cultures.
The Iditarod: Seventh and eighth graders in McGrath, AK, provided updates, race, and weather information to Jackie's class and hundreds of others about the 1994 Iditarod dog sled race through Alaska. The race took place over a 3-4 week period in March. The McGrath students sent interested schools information about the progression of the race, including information on weather and local happenings. Jackie says, "As the dogsled race would pass a town, then that school would join in and send you information. So what I envisioned when we first started was that we would basically be hearing from just this one school. Well hundreds of schools joined in!"The amount of information that came in was so great. We did a lot with finding out where places were, and then talking about what kind of weather they had and any interesting facts, like, there was a moose that walked down the street today, or it's 40 degrees below zero today, if I take a cup of coffee and throw it out the window it will freeze before it hits the ground. You hear all kinds of things; we heard from Russia, all over the United States. There were so many schools."
Here are some Web-based resources on the Iditarod and related topics such as mushing and sled dogs.
Headquarters for the "last great race on earth."
- The Riddles of Dog Mushing
Excerpt and photos from Race Across Alaska, a book about the Iditarod.
- The Dog Yard - Other Resources
Information on sled dogs, mushers, and the Iditarod and other races.
- Newberry School
- Great Lakes Collaborative
- Michigan Department of Education