From New York to Hawaii and from Florida to Oregon, new teachers as well as teachers returning to the competition for a second or third year provided us with evaluations that proved thoughtful, as well as thought-provoking.
Teachers who participated in the 2001-2002 Internet Science and Technology Fair (ISTF) understand that integrating the use of computers and the information available on the Internet into their curricula will help better prepare their students for the future. They took the time to explore the ISTF website and determine how the competition could be used to stretch their students' imaginations and provide them with alternative methods of learning, not only about science and technology, but also about the skills that will be needed in tomorrow's workplace. Their willingness to explore options in learning shows that these teachers are educational innovators. As one teacher put it:
"It sounded different from the traditional science fair and our principal really wants our school to participate in community activities. I felt it would be a unique opportunity since it sounded like not many people had a chance to participate. I enjoy doing things that other teachers are not [doing], it keeps my job exciting and new."
Again, the Office of Special Programs, administrator of the ISTF, wanted to know what teachers who participated in the Internet Science and Technology Fair (ISTF) thought about the program in its entirety. Here is a brief look at some of the information we gathered.
The ISTF staff was not surprised by the numerous ways the ISTF was incorporated into the school curriculum. Many teachers used it as a classroom project-and the split was fairly evenly divided between science teachers (21%) and technology teachers (17%) or both working together (17%). But almost 45% of the teams pursued the ISTF as an outside project or extracurricular activity. Often students who participated in this manner were graded or given extra credit for their efforts. Furthermore, the student teams shared this online experience with their parents, other students and the community at large. One teacher used the project in his Authentic Research Program while another used it in the Interdisciplinary Gifted Curriculum. The many different ways the ISTF was used either in or outside the classroom show that the program is a viable learning tool.
On the ISTF website there is a training program for new teachers. Over 76% of the teachers involved in this year's competition took advantage of this material. While many teachers found the teacher training site a helpful tool, it received mixed reviews ranging from comments like "difficult to find," "hard to follow," and "not enough information" to "quite beneficial," very helpful," and "very comprehensive."
While one teacher pointed out: "The training was helpful because it gave me some suggestions on how to select a team and then start the initial phases of the project. It also provided me with clear-cut guidelines for the expectations of the project." Another teacher felt: "The training on the website was minimal. I would have liked more information on past projects to prepare myself and the team for the intensity of the commitment."
Suggestions for improvement of the teacher training material included adding more information, easier navigation, and reminders sprinkled throughout the ISTF website of materials included in the training guide. These suggestions are all being examined to see which can be used to help teachers prepare for participation in next year's competition.
Many team members who participated in the 2001-2002 ISTF mentioned the problems associated with time management. In fact, it was the problem most mentioned by teachers in their Final Process Evaluations when discussing the difficulty of various aspects of producing an ISTF project. And just as managing time is so difficult in our personal lives, it spills over into a project such as this. However, one student put it quite succinctly: "Procrastination is fatal (and futile)."
The ISTF competition begins in September and ends in February. We have suggested in materials on the website that teams develop timelines so they know they are on target with their projects. Developing such timelines is one area the ISTF staff will be working on to help teachers and their teams in next year's competition.
Without exception, teachers wanted technical advisors on their teams. This is an integral part of the ISTF concept. Many teachers and students wished for a technical advisor database. While the Program Office would be delighted to have such a database, there are reasons why one does not exist. Perhaps the most important is that ISTF topics are so varied, we never know-until teams enter-what kind of assistance they will need. If a professional registered for such an assignment and then wasn't used, he or she would quickly lose interest in the program.
One suggestion that will be incorporated into the ISTF is the use of multiple technical advisors-especially on the high school level where students go from technical applications to business applications. This is also true in projects that, because they are multifaceted, need opinions from more than one professional.
Technical advisors who found the ISTF to be an interesting experience are encouraged to make themselves available on an on-going basis, and teachers who helped in the technical advisor search can make recommendations for the development of a resource listing. While the ISTF is a challenging and time-consuming activity, an overwhelming 88% of the teachers who participated in the evaluation reported they will be back for the 2002-2003 competition. Furthermore, 90% of the teachers said that they would recommend participation in the ISTF to other teachers.