Saturday, November 04, 2006

On Being A Pilot

So you thought you were going to read about a videoconference about careers in aviation. Not exactly. For the past few weeks two of our schools have been participating in a pilot program with the New York Hall of Science. The New York Hall of Science has been involved with videoconferencing for several years. However, a few years ago they stopped their virtual visit programming. The museum was undergoing serious renovation and they wanted to develop a more state-of-the-art videoconferencing technology. Fast forward to this September, when I met with Chris Lawrence, director of the museums distance learning program, to discuss piloting two of the museums programs. The purpose for this pilot was to 1. To see how the programs worked and 2. To see if the students who participated in these programs did better on an assessment than other classes that did not. In other words there is a little bit of science going on here. Right now we are in the phase of "How is the program working". Yesterday we did our first virtual visit with the Hall and a science class of 6th graders. The program is "The Search for Life Beyond Earth".

Prior to this videoconference we gave the participating teachers (there are two because this class is team taught) a very extensive lesson plan provided by the Hall. Next I received hands on materials from the Hall to be used by the class both prior to and during the actual program. The materials consisted of Petri dishes, models of live and inanimate objects, and photos. Then we had a planning videoconference with the two teachers and Chris Lawrence and the program evaluator, to discuss both the pre-conference activities and the actual conference. The evaluator also visited the class to see the pre-activity with the Petri dish and teacher lesson.

Yesterday, the actual videoconference took place. It was wonderful and the students were very engaged. The new equipment being used at the Hall was very effective. Great audio and the presenter was easily able to move between exhibits. The presenter was enthusiastic and responsive to the students. The information and the exhibits were very interesting. The teachers were excited and pleased.

After everyone left I sat down with the evaluator. She said let's not just rubberstamp this let's look for ways to improve this. So, I did come up with a few. There were morning announcements on our end that interrupted the program for several minutes. Schools and schedulers need to be aware of these interruptions and avoid it if at all possible. The Hall never asked about the Petri dishes. The student’s short presentations could have been better prepared. Maybe a timetable for how long before the conference these activities need to start would have been helpful here. Did the students "get" the main points being made during the conference? A brief student recap at the end left that questionable. Is there a way to focus in on these main goals? Yes, the program was great but the idea of a pilot is to make it even greater. The evaluator will talk to the teachers for their input. Then it will all be brought back to the Hall for them to review and make any changes.

I am so glad to be a part of this pilot. Our schools are getting 4 wonderful science programs from one of the leading science museums in the country. The teachers are getting to give input on what they want for their students. And videoconferencing is getting some measurable data on its effect on student learning. It is a win win win situation for all.

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