Turn On, Tune In, Team Up
The telephone hookup is especially important because the televised lessons emphasize hands-on problem solving and student participation instead of passive listening. As studio teacher Elizabeth Jones says, "Kids in traditional classes just want to get to the answer; we want them to understand why it's the answer.''
Luanna Andrews, another participating teacher at Monroe Middle School, offers an example. During a unit on probability, she and Bouck, the studio teacher, had the students toss dice and record the numbers they rolled. "One student noticed he kept rolling sevens and he asked me why,'' Andrews says. "I know that before Tune In, I would have just told him. Now, I say, 'Think about it; maybe it will come to you.' And it does. Today, he came to me with the answer: because there are a lot of ways to get sevens.''
The five Tune In teachers in the studio were chosen by GMI for their ability to motivate students, their grasp of the latest teaching techniques, and what Doherty calls their "Oprah Winfrey skills.'' In addition to their television audience, the teachers have a live audience in the studio--children from local public schools. Like a good talkshow host, the teachers must be able to speak to both audiences "and have everyone feel like they are talking only to them,'' Doherty says.
While founder Doherty is naturally enthusiastic about the way Tune In combines state-of-the-art technology and teaching methods, he emphasizes that the program was designed to supplement, not replace, the traditional classroom teacher. When talking to school districts about Tune In, he makes it clear that the classroom teachers' input is valued and necessary: "We say to the school districts, 'We are all learning. To be part of the program, you must be part of its development.''
Teachers on the receiving end of the lessons meet once a week, via satellite, with the studio teachers. Every six weeks, they all get together in Flint for an all-day meeting to discuss how the program is going. Before the school year began, they attended a week-long training session at GMI to learn about the teaching methods and curriculum.
The classroom teachers say they appreciate having input and like the fact that the telecasts are intended to complement, rather than supplant, their own teaching. "I like the way [studio teacher David Mastie] teaches,'' says Dan Delong, an 8th grade physical science teacher at Margaret Spellacy Intermediate School in Cleveland. "But if Mastie taught all my classes, I would go nuts.''
That sentiment is echoed by Andrews in Rochester. "I like getting to see another teacher's style and presentation,'' she says. "I have said to myself, 'Gee, I would never have thought to approach a lesson that way.' And I have noticed that I have definitely changed my teaching style.''
The project seems to be having a positive effect on students, as well. A preliminary study conducted after Tune In's first semester shows that students in the program generally finished the term with a more positive attitude about math and science than those in traditional classes.
According to Doherty, GMI created Tune In with the needs of private industry in mind. The institute is essentially an engineering college with a twist; students work in the field while they study for a degree. GMI accepts applications from qualified students but then sends those applications out to affiliated corporations for review. (Originally, the institute was affiliated only with the General Motors Corp., but now it has working agreements with more than 400 companies worldwide.) GMI admits for training only those students the companies will give jobs to during their studies. Doherty says the participating corporations have made it very clear that they need more students with solid backgrounds in math and science. Hence Tune In.
Because it was developed to address corporate needs, the Tune In project has received generous funding from the business community. At the moment, GMI pays for all the production and transmission costs, including the studio teachers' salaries. But, thanks to the institute's fundraising efforts, much of the expense to the participating schools--satellite dishes, televisions, telephones, and travel--has been paid for with grants from corporations, educational foundations, labor unions, and state education departments. The General Electric Foundation, for example, has picked up the $15,000 tab for bringing Tune In to Delong's classroom at Spellacy Intermediate in Cleveland.
Doherty would like to see the program grow over the next three years into a large network of schools in 10 states from the Northeast and the Great Lakes region. As new schools and districts sign on, the program is likely to change and evolve, or so Doherty hopes.
"The power of this program is not just the people presenting the material,'' says studio teacher Bouck. "The power of this program is the people receiving it, how they implement it in their rooms and structure their off-air time.'' In short, the success of the program depends on good teaching-- on both sides of the satellite. Debra Ladestro