Coherent Themes

within the Master of Instruction Course Work

As I began the arduous task of compiling, sorting, reflecting, and selecting evidence for inclusion in my Master of Instruction digital portfolio, two themes emerged as driving forces behind my instructional encounters ... the Quest for an Integrated Curriculum and the Desire for Alternative Assessment Strategies.  Utilizing my specialization in educational technology as a common strand by which to bind these two elements into a cohesive package, I witnessed an evolution of my lessons and an exponential growth in my instructional practices throughout my graduate course work and the simultaneous revisiting of past ideas.  Transforming from their once revered effective states in delivering the necessary concepts to meet the state standards into those fostering collaboration while providing for a variety of curricular links, my favorite lessons blossomed into efficient interdisciplinary units.

Throughout my childhood and into my adult life, I have always enjoyed the act of creating and problem solving.  Reflections of past studies have often found me establishing connections across the curriculum long before I had known that within this link was an extremely effective method for introducing instructional concepts.  Recognizing the integral processes required when inventing and innovating from my days in industry and engineering, I exhausted little effort in conjuring ideas, activities, and projects for my students to design.  However, I floundered when attempting to make a concept more meaningful than my students perceived it to be.  The closets in the Visual Art room and the bottom drawer of the file cabinet contain the wayward remnants of lessons and spoiled projects that I had perceived as important to a middle school student.   Collected throughout years of teaching, these gentle reminders of 'bright ideas' snuffed out by know-it-all teens have provided great inspirations from which to reflect and grow.

Not every hair-brained idea fell through the cracks ... in fact, one such lesson developed in tandem with the Language Arts teacher spawned one of my most successful Visual Arts lessons, ever.  Wanting to incorporate my studies of the Japanese culture and their art forms, I decided to have my students write a book, illustrate the pages, and bind the folio using traditional Japanese methods.  While discussing my ideas for the lesson with my mentoring teacher and attempting to help write our District's new Visual Art Teaching Guide, I decided to introduce the lesson through storyboards.  Designed around the concept of linear progression, a storyboard would provide the students with a systematic way of developing their ideas and illustrations as well as provide for some mathematic connections.

During our next mentoring meeting, I further surveyed the Language Arts teacher for her thoughts concerning age-appropriateness and relevance.  She responded with support stating that this lesson also provided an avenue upon which I could incorporate the students' Social Studies and Science curriculums.  Adding that her students were studying nouns, adjectives, and verbs, we decided to have the children create word lists for their different disciplines.  Each word would be recorded in a corresponding grid of rows and columns (math review).  The students would then place a small, square and translucent plate over the words; four unconnected nouns, verbs, or adjectives would be highlighted.  The child would immediately paint a picture on the plate of incorporating their words, and use the painting to create a monoprint (one print) on one page of their book -- five more to go.

When completed and dry, the books were bound utilizing the Japanese accordion method, and the students revisited their sequence of pictures.  Each child then wrote a story linking the illustrations in the Language Art class;  the 'MonoPrint Folios' were shared with one and all in the mentor's Reading classes as well as our school's Read-A-Loud Program.  This collaborative lesson spawned numerous instances for the arts to connect to the various other disciplines, and my quest for developing additional cross-curricular links emerged (see The Renaissance and Packages).  However, it was not until I began teaching Technology Education and became a member of the Project UPDATE team that I came to realize the potential of well-organized, thematic units as well as the impact that each has on the respective disciplines.  [Utilize this link to access Integrating Curriculum in Technology Education.]

During the Spring of 1997, I participated in two, very special programs that would forever alter my approach, perception, and dedication to improving my personal instruction.  Project UPDATE provided teachers with instructional as well as assessment strategies to develop curriculum in the form of a CLU, or Contextual Learning Unit; it also provided both student and teacher with reflective assessment tools.  The second program originated from a District-wide, in-service presentation by Pat Sine, instructor of the University of Delaware's Using the Internet for Curriculum Applications course.  Though each experience ultimately affected the other as the course offerings occurred concurrently, the greatest contribution -- the integration of technology -- emanated from my experiences with Pat Sine and my fellow classmates during that summer of study.

Thirsty for new ways to present information and concepts to my students in addition to hungering for technical knowledge myself, Pat Sine's presentation completely engulfed me ... as if entranced by some magical spell, I journeyed home that afternoon only to explore the boundless expanses of the World Wide Web until daybreak peered through the tiny glass panels adjacent to our front door.  Seeing the reflection against the wall from my perch in front of the computer, I remember becoming concerned with the idea of an intruder.  To my surprise as I approached the door rubbing both eyes, it was none other than the sun -- and the realization that I had 'surfed' for well-over fourteen hours!  My initial fascination with this new technology never quite died-out; in fact, I have since had to be reminded by my husband countless times over that I have a life away from the computer!  Leading to my official enrollment in the Master of Instruction degree program at the University of Delaware, I was provided with the required tools and increased desire to expand my instructional repertoire, enhance my curricular contributions at The College of New Jersey, and continue my personal investigations and research in education by way of a common element ... educational or instructional technology.

Opening a world of possibilities from lesson material acquisition to research-based inquiry, learning to locate applicable information and validate the respective destinations (websites and e-resources) became an overwhelming task.  Nevertheless, this oftentimes frustrating vehicle presented the ability to directly connect to the classrooms that I so willingly admired ... those of Headmaster-Peter Douglas, Educational Consultant-Peter Sellwood, and Professor-Kay Stables.  These three individuals from England were renowned for their contributions to Design and Technology -- Peter Douglas, for his contributions to mechanical, electrical, and pneumatic gadgets; Peter Sellwood, for his incredible knowledge of Art and Technological History, Structures, Materials, and Paper Engineering; and, Dr. Kay Stables, for her research in assessment practices utilizing D&T.  Summer Institutes at The College of New Jersey in Assessment-based research under the direction of these educational experts coupled with a full graduate course-load at the University of Delaware in Educational Technology found my vacation bursting with ideas for the upcoming school year.

I soon became fervent in my pursuit of acquiring knowledge pertaining to these assessment practices in Design and Technology upon evaluating my own curriculum in both the Visual Arts and Technology Education during both council's curriculum revision year.  Occurring nearly concurrent with an Authentic Assessment presentation of a by Dr. Kay Stables, I recognized the need for providing our students in the C.R. School District with feedback that was both meaningful and  applicable to the student as well as the teacher.  Utilizing a Pop-Up Assessment Activity for educators and completed card and book designs from children in the UK, the UPDATE crew dissected every aspect of instruction from the viewpoints of the learner and instructor.  Smaller groups explored and carefully investigated the Design and Problem Solving Assessment Rubric to ensure that every issue addressed a process; other groups brainstormed ways of gathering and documenting evidence that were effective and valid for the child's performance within a given activity.

In these 'agreement workshops,' UPDATE lead teachers, like myself prepared collections of student work and assessment packets for our 'Outreach' teachers to utilize during their investigative sessions, and:

Explained the nature of the evidence, the assessment rubric, and the sheet for documenting decisions that teachers will be viewing;

Prompted the teachers to carefully investigate the evidence and record their decisions on the assessment sheet;

Instructed teachers to exchange the materials (collections) and repeat the assessment investigation once again;

Requested through large group discussion that assessment decisions be shared providing justification through reference to the evidence base until an agreement has been reached; and

Discussed the issues raised throughout the process.

The development of this crucial assessment framework within the UPDATE structure permitted our lead teachers to assess their instructional methods in addition to those of the Outreach teachers through constructive debate and mutual agreement.  Though the children's projects were our priority, the assessment of their interpretations led to the evaluation of our recently designed curriculum.  Documenting areas of strength/weakness, and connections to Math and Science concepts, educators observed the child's attention to three main areas of focus during their own reflection, generating, planning, and assessing activities: T = Technical details; A = Aesthetic details; and, U = User concerns.

Having since utilized Dr. Stable's recommendations and collaborative suggestions to assess and evaluate my own programs throughout the curriculum revision and approval process, I have gained a greater awareness of 'how' and 'why' children acquire information and learn concepts.  Furthermore, I have been granted the ability to view this learning process from a variety of perspectives during my investigative inquiries into my learning and the learning of my students.  Emerging as a 'reflective teacher' has certainly been exhausting, but it has also been extremely rewarding.  Through the tailored explorations of my graduate endeavors and the evolution of lesson activities, I provide for the identification of strengths and weaknesses within my own instructional practices as well as those of others, thus formalizing the notion that to improve education and increase student achievement, learning/instruction must be modified and curricular focus must be maintained.