University’s Internet project helps fifth-graders hit a home run onlineBy Peter Schuler
Combine talented fifth-graders and an inspirational teacher with a highly motivated tech team from the Chicago Public Schools/University of Chicago Internet Project and very interesting things can happen, including an award-winning Web site for the Chicago White Sox.
Meredith Jones’ fifth-grade class at Wadsworth Elementary School in the Woodlawn neighborhood was the first-place winner in Major League Baseball’s “Create Your Favorite MLB Team Web Site” contest. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf presented Wadsworth principal Velma Cooksey with a $1,000 donation for the school at a special recognition event at Wadsworth on Wednesday, Feb. 4. Following the event, one anonymous White Sox player added another $1,000 to that contribution.
Milton Albritton, who recently retired as principal of Wadsworth and who was a strong advocate of the Web site project, also attended the recognition event, as did Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn.
The fifth-graders were to receive free tickets to a 2004 White Sox game that included a photo taken on the playing field with the team. Reinsdorf was so impressed with the Web site that he extended the invitation to the entire school.
Integrating Internet resources successfully into classroom curriculums has been the mission of the CUIP collaborative partnership, which includes the University, the Chicago Public Schools Department of Learning Technologies and 26 CPS schools in the Woodlawn, Hyde Park/South Kenwood and North Kenwood/Oakland neighborhoods of Chicago.
The CUIP collaboration was proposed to CPS schools by the University’s Office of Community Affairs in 1996, as a vehicle for helping jumpstart the use of technology as a teaching and learning tool. CUIP founder Donald York, the Horace B. Horton Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics and the College, “was committed to helping CPS children have the same access to technology that suburban and private school children have come to expect as a routine part of their education,” said Duel Richardson, Director of Neighborhood Relations in the University’s Office of Community Affairs.
“We at CUIP have seen a sustained commitment to technology among the principals, teachers and technology coordinators over the past several years,” said Benjamin Lorch (A.B.,’93), CUIP Managing Director. “They have been an active and committed partner in this initiative.”
As technology resource advisors, CUIP Project Manager Stuart Vanorny and University student assistant Hillary Schroeder worked closely with Jones, the Wadsworth fifth-grade teacher, to provide the tools and training the students needed. Schroeder, who is enrolled in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities, works in the University’s Neighborhood Schools Program, with which CUIP shares resources. The Neighborhood Schools Program, co-founded and directed by Richardson, brings 450 University students like Schroeder to work in 26 CPS schools.
“This was truly a collaborative effort,” said Vanorny, also a graduate of the MAPH program, “and credit goes to Hillary, Meredith, the two Wadsworth principals who supported this effort, and of course to the outstanding students who created the site. Meredith probably put in an extra four to five hours per week in addition to her normal teaching duties, and it’s teachers like her who are making a real difference in students’ lives,” Vanorny added.
Jones is not only a dedicated teacher but also an enthusiastic White Sox fan. Major League Baseball had asked for a Web site design that would help students achieve educational standards, while also using baseball and technology in a fun, creative setting. Sites were then judged on five criteria: accuracy and relevance; ease of use and adherence to technical specifications; design excellence; originality; and success in meeting Illinois Learning Standards in a variety of subjects.
“We in CUIP have watched the technological sophistication of Wadsworth grow for a number of years now, under the previous principal, Dr. Albritton, and now under Ms. Cooksey,” said York. “I lost count of the number of times I heard the reaction: ‘Wow, that is a home run!’ We were all elated at the news about the MLB contest victory, for the school and kids, but also for what it says about the incredible potential of the public school students and teachers in Chicago.”
The Wadsworth students’ winning site can be found on the Chicago White Sox Web site at http://chicago.whitesox.mlb.com/mlb/ kids/website_contest/winner/index.html. The winning student site uses images of White Sox players to lead viewers to sections on science, language arts, math and social studies. Visitors can complete exercises in each section that reflect information the students gathered in their research as they developed the site. The Wadsworth Web site is now a link on the Web site of Major League Baseball at http://www.mlb.com. Nearly one and a half million people view both sites daily.
Other CUIP classroom initiatives have included the use of Microsoft Excel to teach simple statistics to eighth-graders; the use of KidPix to create student biographies in the first grade; and the creation of a class Web site that is devoted to prominent African Americans. In addition to its work in classroom technology integration in the 26 participating CPS schools, CUIP focuses on technology infrastructure; computer system management and maintenance; development and maintenance of curricular materials and of a digital library for CPS schools, in conjunction with the Regenstein Library; and individual and group training on specific technology skills.
“I look at the success of Wadsworth’s Web site as validation for CUIP’s work in the schools over the past eight years and a win for the University of Chicago,” Vanorny said. “It’s a wonderful example of what the schools can do with just a little bit of support from their community and the University.”