This article explains a partnership between education and industry that allowed teachers an opportunity to enhance their academic content knowledge and technological competency in mathematics, science, and technology through hands-on applications. The need for technological competency of students and teachers in Mississippi’s distressed counties is currently being addressed with training and equipment being provided to some of Mississippi’s most deserving educators. Project SMART exemplifies these efforts, and the authors present promising outcomes as well as applicable online resources.
Today, middle school teachers are expected to integrate technology into their classrooms, especially in math and science courses. School systems often provide periodic workshops or training sessions that introduce teachers to various technologies, only to find out that the teachers use the technology on a limited basis. The lack of implementation may occur for many reasons. First, teachers may see a demonstration involving Microsoft Power Point, Excel, SMART Board, or other instructional technologies, but may not have the opportunity to use the hardware and software in a hands-on fashion (Cwikla & Morse, 2005; Quinn & Valentine, 2001; Viadero, 1997). This means that if teachers want to use the technology in lesson planning, they still must have the time and initiative to develop a lesson plan from scratch. As Zehr (1997) argues, “money spent on school technology is wasted without an equal effort to help teachers with its use and integration into the curriculum” (p. 24). Second, in many school systems it may not be feasible to have the proper technology located in each classroom. If teachers have to make special arrangements to bring the technological equipment to their rooms or must take their students to another room to use it, they may lose interest in making technology a regular part of their classroom lessons. Third, many school systems may treat technology as one additional teaching tool rather than as a means of knowledge delivery. As Cwikla and Morse (2005, ¶5) argue, technology should not be viewed simply as an “addition to [the] curriculum” but rather as a “powerful vehicle for delivering [the] curriculum.”
To address the challenges facing teachers who seek to integrate technology into their classrooms, Mississippi State University’s Center for Science, Mathematics, and Technology partnered with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and North American Coal Company’s Red Hills Mine to create Project SMART (Science and Mathematics Advancement and Reform utilizing Technology). The ARC has set two key priorities. First, it desires that “Appalachian residents will have the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in the world economy in the 21st century.” Second, ARC has partnered with universities, K-12 school systems, and industries to “build a well-educated and trainable work force that is capable of competing in the world economy.”
The primary goals for Project SMART were:
1. To provide technology training to science, mathematics and technology
teachers (grades 7-12) in ARC distressed counties.
2. To select eight teams of teachers (three teachers per team) to train
in instructional technologies, and these teachers, in turn, use the
training to improve their classes and to train colleagues in their schools.
3. To train teachers to use SMART cart and PASCO sensors and curriculum
materials (see http://smarttech.com and www.pasco.com ).
4. To provide each team with a SMART cart and PASCO materials to use in their classrooms.
Project SMART promised to enhance the academic content knowledge and technological competence of its participants through hands-on work applications. Project SMART staff and instructors felt that offering this type of technology training would address the lack of technology competency of teachers and students in the selected school districts.
The Team Approach
“Around the nation teachers are using technology to create exciting and creative learning environments where students teach and learn from each other, solve problems, and collaborate on projects that put learning in a real-world context” (GLEF Blast Newsletter, 2001, p.1). The team approach was used because the Project SMART faculty and staff felt that the team concept impacts the implementation of Project SMART at the school level and allows for sharing of technology equipment. Teachers working together in teams may provide the most powerful influence on curriculum, instruction, and school improvement (Clark & Clark, 2006). The expectations for the teams involved their attending the two-week summer workshop, attending Project SMART follow-up meetings, integrating SMART cart and PASCO sensory materials into lesson plans, participating in the evaluation process by allowing classroom site visits, and sharing training experiences with other teachers and students.
Academic content instruction and research methodology were provided at the North American Coal Corporation’s Red Hills Mine in Ackerman, Mississippi. Mine personnel, in cooperation with Mississippi State University faculty and staff, conducted the workshop training. A full partner in Project SMART, the Red Hills Mine provided the building, staff, and research locations for the workshop. The construction of Red Hills Mine and its facilities began in August of 1998. Company representatives made a commitment to education through the construction of a facility to be used for workshops for teachers and students. Under the guidance of mine personnel, Project SMART participants learned about and conducted experiments on soils, air quality, archaeological and historical sites, pre- and post-mining land use, and reclamation of the land. Throughout the workshop, various forms of technology helped to conduct and/or examine the data collected. Mining personnel also gave participants the opportunity to tour the mine and to view the massive machinery worth in excess of $60 million. While at the mine, participants met with mining engineers, environmental scientists, and management personnel to learn about the lignite mining process.
Anytime a mine becomes a part of the community, neighborhoods have concerns regarding the overall function of the mine and how the mine will affect the area in which they live. The purpose behind the Red Hills Mine’s involvement in programs like Project SMART is to educate the public regarding aspects of the industry and how the mine relates to the everyday life of those in its community. Mining officials feel they benefit from participating in educational partnerships like Project SMART by educating its future workforce of students and their teachers on various aspects of the mining industry. Visitors of the mine learn first-hand the training and skills needed to perform the duties of those currently working at the mine and the regulations of the mining industry