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ABSTRACT

To prepare students to become lifelong learners, creative problem solvers, and successful communicators who are prepared to live and work in today's technological society.

The Community Discovered is a five-year project that links technology and the arts with other subject areas to transform the education of K-12 students. The focus of this project is to develop constructivist curriculum models of engaged student learning using technology and the resources of the Internet. Conducted by Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Nebraska, The Community Discovered project builds upon and extends the impact of the Art and Technology Integration (ATI) Project, conducted by Westside and the Grand Island Public Schools. The ATI project received a two-year grant from the Excellence in Education Council, funded by Nebraska state lottery proceeds.

The Community Discovered expands on the mission of Prairie Visions: The Nebraska Consortium for Discipline-Based Art Education, at the Nebraska Department of Education. Prairie Visions is a consortium of nearly 100 Nebraska school districts, the Nebraska Department of Education, the Nebraska University system, three Nebraska art museums, and other arts and education agencies. Prairie Visions is sponsored by the Nebraska Department of Education, the Getty Education Institute for the Arts, and the Nebraska Art Teachers Association.

Nine Nebraska school districts will participate in a full range of project activities. Four districts were selected initially. In addition to Westside Community Schools, these include Grand Island Public Schools, Winnebago Public School and Lexington Public Schools. Omaha Public Schools will participate starting the second year. Nebraska City Public Schools will participate starting the third year. Smallfoot Public School, Maple Grove Public School and McCartney Public School will participate starting the fourth year. Educators across the U.S. will be able to access project resources and receive assistance in using them through the Internet. Consortium partners include three state art museums: the Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, NE), the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden (Lincoln, NE), and the the Museum of Nebraska Art (Kearney, NE) working collaboratively with the National Museum of American Art (Washington, DC), the Getty Education Institute for the Arts (Los Angeles, CA), the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Washington, DC), and the National Museum of Wildlife Art (Jackson Hole, WY). These museums provide a rich resource for educators to access and incorporate into their curricula.

The Community Discovered project has five goals:

  1. to enable students to achieve high academic standards in core subject areas;
  2. to provide students and educators equity in access to information and museum resources at the State and National levels;
  3. to enable educators to effectively use appropriate technologies for constructivist teaching and learning;
  4. to enable educators to implement effective curricula incorporating the arts and technology in core subject areas;
  5. to create a national network of educators to support the development and implementation of appropriate learning strategies integrating technology and the arts with other subject areas.

Five related activities are designed to enable educators within Nebraska and nationwide to participate in a variety of ways:

  1. The Electronic Museum in the Classroom: Resources from the museums will be made available through the Internet coupled with information about each work and model curricula using the works.

  2. Computer-Based Educational Strategies: Educators and students will use electronic portfolios to record progress. These portfolios will constitute a portion of the project evaluation that will be developed as a portfolio of indicators examining the effectiveness of the curricular units as well as the overall impact of the project. Technology support staff from the Educational Service Units and private industries will provide training and assistance on the use of various software packages and network applications.

  3. Professional Development and Support for Educators: The project will enable selected educators to participate in an intensive summer institute program conducted by Prairie Visions, the National Museum of American Art, and the Kennedy Center. Additional staff development will be ongoing throughout the academic year. The staff development focus addresses four areas essential to the success of the project: 1) to prepare educators to integrate the arts across the curricula; 2) to prepare educators to integrate technology into the teaching-learning environment as a vehicle for enhancing the educational experiences of all children and promoting critical thinking and problem solving in students; 3) to adopt the constructivist approach to teaching and learning; and 4) to effectively engage in interdisciplinary planning and instruction consistent with a constructivist approach to education.

  4. Integrated Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Strategies: Educators will develop curriculum units using Internet-based resources, art resources, and multi-media components that engage students in self-directed problem solving and discovery. Students will be actively engaged in the learning process utilizing collaborative groups and the technology resources to explore subjects in greater depth and complexity. Site-based coordinators will provide ongoing assistance as teachers design and implement their curricula and appropriate assessment strategies. Teachers will embed appropriate assessments into their curricular unit plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching and learning experiences. Assessments will include artifacts such as student projects, documentation of student's problem-solving strategies, student journals, and objective measures of student performance as related to the curricula. Teachers' performance will be documented through classroom observations, continuous growth plans, and artifacts such as teachers' journals, input to the listserv discussions, and their electronic portfolio of curricular units.

  5. Nationwide Community for Art and Technology Integration: The project will establish close linkages with other Challenge Grant projects and educational leaders across the United States. Prairie Visions, with the support of the Getty Center, has already begun assisting other states in initiating professional development programs based on its successful collaborative model. Through The Community Discovered website, The Community Discovered Project curricula, model, and methods will naturally be linked to the global education community. Further, The Community Discovered website will serve for educators to access interdisciplinary curricular units that are linked to the National Education goals, the National Standards for education across the core subject areas, the State Frameworks goals, and to teachers' individualized learning outcomes. Individuals visiting the site will 'discover the on-line community' that is created by the curricular units linking universal themes to specific educational goals, and using the arts as a tool to enhance the teaching and learning of all participants. Use of the electronic network, teleconferences, and distance education resources will support these efforts.

Essential to the success of the project is Nebraska's educational technology infrastructure. Key features include Nebraska's statewide electronic educational network, NEnet, and the growing number of direct Internet connections made possible by school districts and educational service units. The project evaluation provides guidance throughout the project; conducted by the University of Nebraska at Omaha in conjunction with West Ed/Far West Regional Lab. A three-tiered advisory board provides input and feedback from the perspective of stakeholders, leaders and partners. The National Advisory Board consists of a diverse group of professionals with links to the educational community through their work in the arts, technolgy, or related fields. The Community of Friends Board is made up of local parents and professionals who are influential in effecting decisions regarding our schools and whose work links them to the project at a local level. Each participating district has a Community of Friends Board with input to their district and to the overall project. The Council of Administrative Partners consists of representatives from each of the consortium partner organizations, working collaboratively to provide direction to the operations of the project and to provide feedback to the evaluation team as stakeholders.

The Community Discovered Project is working to transform education by promoting constructivist curricula through integration of the arts and technology in core subject areas.

Why constructivism? "Education reform must start with how students learn and how teachers teach.... After all, the construction of understanding is the core element in a highly complex process underpinned by what appears to be a simple proposition. It sounds simple enough: we construct our own understandings of the world in which we live.... Each of us makes sense of our world by synthesizing new experiences into what we have previously come to understand... we construct understanding through reflection upon our interactions with objects and ideas. Learning is not discovering more, but interpreting through a different scheme or structure" (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; p. 4-5).

Advisory Board Co-chairs:
J. Robert Kerrey, U.S. Senator; Dr. Elizabeth Broun, Director, NMAA