This summer I engaged in an experiment to
integrate content matter into the Upward Bound high school computer
application courses at the Kosrae campus. The goal was to impart
both technical operational knowledge of computer applications and to
supplement their content area studies.
The concept was, in part, based loosely on concepts such as "writing
across the curriculum" and "mathematics across the curriculum."
The design also took into account some of the students pre-existing
familiarity with computer applications.
There was also an intent to assist in preparing the students to use a
computer towards a particular academic goal. To not just know how
to set a margin or indent in Microsoft Word, but to use Word to produce
an academic essay that had specific margin and indentation
requirements. To not just learn how to set up a spreadsheet, but
how to use Excel to handle mathematical and algebraic problems.
The world of the computer laboratory is vanishing on many college
campuses. Students use lap top computers, or computers in every
subject area, to accomplish learning tasks. Computers as a
separated subject is a passing phase in the educational evolution of
the technology. In the United States, students often enter
kindergarten with computer skills. Some states now provide
children as young as kindergarten with an email address, Maine is a lead state among
many that is trying to provide a lap top computer to every
student in the seventh grade. The six year goal is
essentially to have every student from seventh grade up equipped with a
lap top computer. And an MIT
project seeks to provide $100 lap tops to every child on the
planet. A pilot project is underway in Brazil,
although the project goal of a $100 lap top has yet to be met.
Having observed some of the changes occurring in the United States, I
ran some of my own experiments. I must humbly admit I was
inspired in part by Piaget. The results surprised me. I
have learned that a one year old can manipulate images on the screen
with purpose and intent, and that a two-year old can play a simply
memory game on a computer. Not believing what I was seeing, I
actually photographed some of these interactions: http://www.comfsm.fm/~dleeling/ub/baby.html
By the time an student in the United States is headed for college, they
know not just application software but how to use those applications in
a subject area.
With the above concepts and ideas in mind, I made redesign adjustments
to the pre-sophomore word processing course and the pre-junior
PreSophomores: Writing with Word Processing Tools
In the word processing course we focused on both learning to use
Microsoft Word and on learning to write a grammatically correct,
organized, coherent essay that used appropriate terms, correct
spelling, and addressed the issue posed in the essay.
I marked the essays themselves using a rubric which is posted on line
During class I also covered using Microsoft Word to produce an essay
and college standards for an essay such as font size, font family, and
As the course progressed, I reflected onto the on line syllabus both
the word processing content and essay issues. This syllabus and
record can be viewed at:
Essay writing will be a critical skill for the students, whether for
writing a college entrance essay, an essay on the SAT, an essay for an
English composition course, or writing documents such as reports and
grants later in life. There is no doubt this is an important
skill, and one which the college has learned from its own entrance
essays is lacking in our students.
The focus on the essays, however, did impact the amount of time that
could be spent on learning the more esoteric and obscure capabilities
of Microsoft Word. We were unable to cover, for example, how to
use the equation fields to enter fractions into a Word document.
My own sense is that the trade-off was balanced to the benefit of the
In retrospect one of the factors that contributed to a trade-off
occuring was the number of students. At the college, essay
classes are limited to an enrollment of 19 students. In a brief
50 minute period I was attempting to work with 32 students. This
is not a complaint, I chose the path the course took knowing that the
load might be heavy. Marking essays on the weekends required
anywhere from five to eight clock hours for all 32 essays.
While my original goal had been an essay a week, technical
complications intruded on that plan. It would turn out that
several computers could not print to the printer. I found I had
to manually move the essays onto a USB memory stick and then print them
from another computer. Printing every essay initially required
two days as we worked through various technical and user issues.
Revisions and redrafts plus covering computer content ultimately led to
the students only producing two essays for print.
Some of these essays, for the purposes primarily of illustrating what
the students were capable of producing, can be seen listed under the Class
of 2008 heading at:
Another impact of the decision to integrate essay writing into the
course was on the learning outcomes and thus the performance variables
that were measured. Students were marked and graded on both
producing the technically correct format using a word processor and on
essay content. Essays were marked for syntax, vocabulary,
organization, cohesion, and content. Thus a student's final mark
depended not just on technological skills but also on essay writing
Judging the longer term impact of this "curricular experiment" will be
difficult at best. There are too many confounding variables to
know whether the trade off between technological content and essay
writing skills will be ultimately beneficial to the students.
Pre-Juniors: Calculations and mathematics using spreadsheets and
The Pre-Junior course, as I have taught it, has always focused on using
Microsoft Excel. The course has always including some
mathematics, but this summer I added an even stronger focus on
mathematics. The course expanded into basic statistics while
still retaining the teaching of skills such as mail merges, creating
subtotals, and pivot tables.
Integrated in with the Excel skills, the students learned to perform
linear regressions, calculate the mode, median, and mean, and make
other calculations. The students had clearly had an introduction
to median and mean, and were familiar with two-coordinate linear
The result was a course with significant mathematics content while
retaining the teaching of the various Excel spreadsheet skills.
Possibly in part because mathematics is my field, possibly because I
use Excel extensively in MS 150 Statistics, and in support of MS 095
PreAlgebra and MS 100 College Algebra, I find teaching an integrated
course feels very natural. I am not left with a sense that
trade-offs occurred to teach one at the expense of the other.
The syllabus well shows both the content and specific data that was
looked at by the students. The syllabus is on line at:
A number of spreadsheets were used in the course, many of these can be
accessed from the appropriate section of the main UB page I maintain at:
This page also includes access to quizzes and other course related
Pre-Seniors: Communicating using presentations, email, and web pages
I did not alter the subject of the pre-senior course from that of
previous terms. My only effort was one of updating the material
to reflect recent developments on the Internet. The course
syllabus is online at:
Some of the updated Internet materials for the course are better
The focus of the later half of the course was on having the students
learn a new and complex skill. The skill they learn is how to
write HTML code to create a web page. We do not use any authoring
tools, only Notepad, so the course borders on being a computer
programming course. The result is challenging and difficult
material, but one in which the students clearly understand the result:
their page will be posted on the Internet. These web pages can be
under the Class of 2006 heading.
The web pages provide a form of documentation of learning
achieved. These pages are effectively a portfolio that shows that
at one time the student could hand code a web page. These pages,
and the information they contain, then join the vast collection of
information that is the Internet.
Thoughts on recommendations for the future
The pre-junior class went very well and I feel confident that the
course was valuable to the students in both computer content and
Although the pre-sophomore class went well, the enormous amount of
effort required both in class and outside of class have left me
wondering whether I would want to try this experiment again.
Especially given that the goal would be something like an essay a week
plus word processing content. The former would require that every
computer be able to print in the laboratory, of this I am
If I were to repeat the "Writing with word processing tools"
experiment, I would add a "format section" to the rubric. To
remind myself, this section has been added to the copy of the rubric
that I keep on line. An equivalent section of the entrance essay
might be "neatness and penmanship." I know such a section would
likely not be popular among my essay evaluating colleagues, but having
read many entrance essays I came to appreciate the value of clearly
formed letters, sentences, and paragraphs. Legibility counts when
one is reading dozens of essays. Having noted that the weakest
essays typically displayed the worst penmanship, there might be some
value in valuing calligraphic capabilities.
The pre-sophomore experiment also left me wishing I could spend more
time with a smaller number of the pre-sophomores.
I had a brief vision of a writing retreat for the pre-sophomores at
Walung Elementary. A week long writer's workshop encampment with
four to five writing instructors - one for each six to eight
students. The mornings would start with sunrise poetry and then
sessions on writing. After lunch would be a quiet reading time
when students would read various classics while sitting under shady
trees. In the later afternoon would be activities time:
volleyball, hiking, community clean-up activities, things to balance
body with mind. During the afternoon the instructors would go
over the morning's work by their students. In the cool air of the
evening the writing sessions would continue, addressing the problems
found by the instructor during the afternoon. In the morning the
cycle would repeat, for a full week. During the week there would
an on compound rule like that used at Xavier: wherever three or more
gather, English will be used to communicate.
The final pre-sophomore essay focused on language loss and its impact
on culture loss. The Kosrae UB students that the Wasai en
Madolehnihmw is teaching TSP students Pohnpeian high language.
The extent of language loss among the pre-sophomores is nothing short
of horrific. While the UB students must learn and master English,
this process should not cost them their indigenous language. UB
could play a role in preventing language loss by following the example
of TSP Pohnpei and hiring elders to teach local language. The
Kosraen students should be able to write an essay not just in English
but in Kosraen as well.
Some of the pre-sophomore essays that were posted may provide, over the
next five to six years, some anecdotal insights into the development of
individual writers. This may in turn prove beneficial to
the college's own writing programs. Our Upward Bound, Gear-Up,
and Talent Search Programs are incredibly important programs at the
college. These programs provide a unique opportunity for the
college to access and assess skill sets in pre-collegiate students over
a period of many years.
In the words of a paradigm that has fallen into disuse, these programs
are a strength of the college. That the broader academic college
operates somewhat unaware of these programs and that the college does
not conduct more research through these programs is a weakness of the
college. These programs are an opportunity. To not take up
that opportunity represents a loss to the college, and any loss is a
My thanks go to the director of the Kosrae Upward Bound program and to
his capable and supportive staff. I always feel honored when I am
selected to work with and teach the Upward Bound students.
Without their support and understanding, curricular endeavors such as
the above could not be undertaken.
College of Micronesia-FSM Kosrae Site
Historically diverse, uniquely Micronesian, and globally connected, the
College of Micronesia-FSM is the national institution of higher
education of the Federated States of Micronesia. Originally established
to develop teacher education, its current mission is to provide
educational opportunity -- academic, vocational and technical -- for
all people. Aimed at nourishing individual growth and national unity,
scholarship and service, COM-FSM is dedicated to developing integrity,
critical thinking skills, a breadth of vision, and the habit of
reflection in an educational environment enriched by cultural
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Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges