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Column One: Curriculum

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Ms. Johnson, who teaches in Booneville, learned that the site contained shark teeth and other fossils from the late Cretaceous period about 100 million years ago.

She saw the find as an opportunity to interest students in paleontology and to provide a small museum of sorts to the community.

But because the site was slated for construction, Ms. Johnson first had to halt the road work and obtain money to research the find.

Lobbying local politicians and the press, she eventually won on both counts. With National Science Foundation funding, her students next month will begin gathering research and materials for display at a roadside park on the site.

The number of teachers seeking cash awards for innovative classroom approaches to geography has more than doubled this year. And program officials attribute some of the increase to new interest in teaching the subject.

"We had fewer than 500 valid entries last year, and we now project that we will have more than 1,000 this spring," said Dennis DeCock, educational publishing vice president at Rand McNally, the awards' sponsor.

Program officials concede, however, that the increase may also be attributed to the large number of cash prizes being offered. In contrast to last year, when only one such prize was awarded, the program this year offers sums ranging from $500 to $5,000 to first-, second-, and third-place winners at the K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 grade levels. The entry deadline is June 1.

Two studies by the Educational Testing Service suggest that students who study the Constitution using curricular materials developed for the National Bicentennial Competition on the Constitution and Bill of Rights outperform students using other materials on multiple-choice tests on the subject.

The studies found, for example, that 94 percent of the 5th-grade pupils using the curriculum, known as "We the People ...," knew that the framers of the Constitution separated the powers of government to ensure that no branch would become too powerful. Only 56 percent of the students in the comparison group answered the question correctly.

The six-week course will be available to schools next year for the anniversary of the signing of the Bill of Rights.--pw & dv

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