Originally published in Malden Public Schools, January 2006 as part of SIW PBU Teacher User Guide
Second Edition

A Brief History of the SIW PBU Initiative

by Robert Simpson

21st Century Learning Arrives- The Teacher Learning Center (TLC) serves as an educational resource center in Malden Public Schools with a mission to promote best practices of teaching and learning focused on curriculum/technology issues. The Malden TLC originated with federal grant funds provided by the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program through Project TEACH 21C (2000-2003) and Project LEARN 21C (2003-2006). Projects T21C and L21C were created and managed through the Tri-City Technology Education Collaborative (TRITEC) representing the public school districts of Everett, Malden, and Medford. TRITEC’s mission is to enable district partners to leverage resources to support a common curriculum development model that is shared between each school system. To that end, TRITEC maintains the PBU Builder website which enables teachers to develop and sustain web-based curriculum units that align to district standards and technology competencies.

Early Promise- The Saugus Iron Works (SIW) PBU is regarded as a model of how integrated curriculum is created by teachers who apply an iterative design process that emphasizes the unique nature of the Internet to bring new resources into the classroom environment. The unit, first developed in 2002 by Briatico, Fish, McKeone, and Richmond, was refined during the next school year and pilot-tested in two Ferryway school classrooms in the spring of 2003. Subsequent data analysis of the 2003 Science and Technology/Engineering MCAS test showed a positive correlation between students who were exposed to the SIW learning experience and student performance on MCAS questions that aligned well to SIW PBU content. Encouraged by these preliminary results, the SIW teachers worked with Simpson to edit and refine the unit during the 2003/04 school year. Major updates included the creation of the worksheet matrix web page, task checklist web pages, audio narration of Elizabeth and Samuel’s letter, extensive graphic and HTML editing, and copy editing to improve student instruction.

Promoting a Model- The new and improved SIW PBU was again implemented in two Ferryway classrooms prior to the 2004 Science and Tech/Eng. test. An analysis of MCAS results confirmed that exposure to the SIW PBU correlated with positive gains in student performance. Another major SIW PBU activity involved videotaping the Ferryway implementation through Project iTEACH, a MA DOE Technology Enhancement Competitive Grant (2002-04). The resulting DVD entitled Working with Project-Based Units was professionally produced in district by Zimmerman and Simpson with training provided by WGBH Educational Productions. The SIW DVD contains teacher interviews, classroom footage, student presentations, SIW Historic Site field trip footage, and a segment where students speak about their learning experience. The DVD was used as a professional development resource on April 27, 2004 to train 83 Malden teachers on how to properly implement an integrated curriculum/technology unit. Eighty percent of teachers learned how to use the PBU to follow district standards and over ninety percent learned how to use technology through PBU implementation.

Action Planning - In the summer of 2004, the Malden TLC received a major administrative planning grant funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to “lead a systemic educational improvement effort.” Malden sent a team composed of a building principal, Tom DeVito, a teacher leader, Pat Fish, the science curriculum director, Robert Sartwell, an independent evaluator, Diane Schilder, and Simpson to the five-day Academy for Advancing Technology Leadership and Education in Schools (ATLES). Our goal was to:

  • Develop a differentiated learning model for preparing all grade five teachers to successfully implement the web-based Saugus Iron Works (SIW) Project-Based Unit (PBU), thus increasing awareness and support of curriculum/technology integration throughout the Malden Public Schools.

The major outcomes from the ATLES academy were a detailed action plan for expanding SIW PBU implementation across the district and creation of the first edition of the SIW PBU User Guide. The action plan clearly laid out the tasks, responsibilities, participants, resources, barriers, and the evidence of success for achieving our goal. Our team’s decision to broadly distribute a published hardcopy user guide that consolidated information regarding the online unit and specifically addressed its implementation meant that all teachers who would impact the success or failure of the SIW initiative had the same information.

Implementing - Full-scale implementation of the SIW PBU occurred during the 2004/05 school year based on the action steps outlined in the SIW PBU Implementation Plan. Major activities included a district-wide orientation session; completion of a teacher needs assessment survey, distribution of user guide booklets, selection of building-based SIW leaders, and professional development sessions on science content and classroom instructional strategies. SIW building leaders collaborated with their principals and grade five teachers to provide information, distribute materials, collect data, and facilitate implementation planning. Teachers were required at a minimum to use the “Introduction” of the unit and either the “Rocks and Minerals” or the “Simple Machines” section of the unit. Due to a generous contribution from the Eileen Fish Gibbon’s Memorial Scholarship Fund, all Malden fifth graders were able to participate in a field trip to the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site during the spring of 2005. Analysis of 2005 Science and Tech/Eng. MCAS test results showed statistically significant gains in student performance on SIW related test items in each school building and by race/ethnicity group.

Sustaining the vision- Based upon post implementation survey data from teachers and well documented student achievement gains, superintendent Connolly and Assistant Superintendent Keroack agreed to support a continuation of the SIW initiative in the 2005/06 school year. Implementation of the SIW PBU is now mandated in all Malden Public Schools. The TLC was tasked with updating the action plan and working on the second edition of the SIW PBU User Guide booklet. Capitalizing on the success realized in achieving our ATLES goal, Ferryway teachers, principal DeVito and Simpson secured a Hewlett Packard (HP) Technology for Teaching grant in June, 2005. The HP grant has helped build additional capacity for the SIW initiative namely; access to computer/projection equipment, development of student surveys, creation of the SIW curriculum content rubric, redesign of SIW tasks to enable student digital portfolios, and a new parent information page. In the realm of communication, a Weblog site http://www.tritec-inc.org/blogs/siw was launched in August, 2005 to more efficiently post the latest news and information relating to the SIW initiative. On the local and national education front, presentations focused on the SIW PBU initiative were given at the MA Superintendent Technology Leadership Conference (9/28/05) and Massachusetts Computer Using Educators conference (11/15/05). Upcoming conference presentations include the 61st Annual Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development conference (4/3/2006) and the National Science Teachers Association regional conference in Baltimore (11/2-4/2006 pending acceptance). In the area of technology, the SIW PBU website is currently undergoing a Universal Design rebuild to increase the usability of the site and meet World Wide Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Transparency – We live in an IT world where IT means “Information Technology.” As educators, we should think in terms of “Information Transparency” where technology enables us to look broadly and deeply into information for the express purpose of making meaningful connections. To that end, this user guide was designed to help you make connections whether it be opening the unit in a web browser or having discussions with colleagues on how best to assess student writing in science using rubrics.

>Recently, a Malden sixth grader asked, “When are we doing another SIW unit?”

>…a reminder that together we are creating learning experiences that will endure.