Training Program Helps Teachers Take Control of Instructional TV

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NEW ORLEANS--Around the high-school classroom, groups of experienced teachers from across Louisiana are laughing and joking as they stack book after book on top of three eggs arranged in a triangle.

Their assignment: to find out how many books the eggs can support before being crushed.

The lesson is presented at a day-long seminar at Benjamin Franklin Senior High School here to help teachers become more adept at using instructional television to teach science.

But the television set hardly dominates the classroom.

The two teachers who created and taught the lesson introduce it with a short video clip that shows how to set up the egg experiment.

Instead of continuing to play the tape, though, they press the "pause" button on the videocassette recorder.

The teacher teams then pile on the books, shrieking as the eggs finally exploded beneath the weight.

When they have finished, the television comes on again, showing a young girl doing the same experiment.

Because the teachers in the class had first-hand knowledge of what would happen to the girl's eggs, they watch the videotape closely, comparing her results to their own.

The lesson was hardly the passive viewing experience that many teachers associate with the phrase "instructional television." And by taking their colleagues through it, the teachers who team-taught the segment make their point: teachers can control instructional television, rather than having their classes controlled by it.

'The Kids Would Sleep'

The seminar was the first of many that will be given across the country this year by the Teacher Training Institute, a program sponsored by Thirteen WNET, Texaco Inc., the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and public-television stations and systems here and in California, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington State.

After presenting a similar program last summer for teachers in WNET's New York viewing area, says Ruth Ann Burns, vice president and director of the Educational Resources Center at WNET, officials were so encouraged that they decided to expand the program nationwide.

In each site, the teachers will be trained over two days using lessons prepared by "master teachers" from their state. The project will extend a full year and also will link the teachers by a telecommunications network.

Although instructional television is 30 years old, Ms. Burns says, most teachers have not been properly trained in how to use it.

In the past, teachers "used to take a half-hour program and run it," Ms. Burns notes. "They wouldn't interrupt it and they would mark papers and the kids would go to sleep."

In contrast, one of the first things the 125 teachers who participate in the training here are taught is to hit the "pause" button on their classroom V.C.R.

Instead of having the teachers use the videotape to present the material, the instructors encourage them to develop "interactive" lessons mixing hands-on experiments with the instructional programming that is broadcast by public-television stations.

'Make Them Think'

"You can use the tape as the introduction, the middle of the lesson, or as the culmination," Barbara Fontan, a 3rd-grade teacher in Covington, La. tells the teachers in her seminar.

By taking teachers through mock lessons, the trainers here also demonstrate the techniques they believe best complement instructional television.

Ms. Fontan, for example, arranges the teachers into groups and gives each one a role to play during the lesson as either a "coach" of the others, a "gatherer" of materials, a "recorder" of information, or a "reporter" who would share discoveries with the class.

Giving children specific duties to play, she says, makes using cooperative-learning techniques much easier.

The groups spend some time trying to identify different types of rocks. Then they watch a videotape of a story that was broadcast on the "Reading Rainbow" program about a class of children who travel to the center of the Earth in a magic bus.

Several times during the story, Ms. Fontan pauses the tape to tell the teachers to pay particular attention to the description of the three kinds of rocks.

When the groups are asked to identify their rocks, shouts of laughter break out among the teachers at one table. They have had the correct name for their rock, but are disconcerted by questions from Ms. Fontan, who has asked if they were sure about their answer.

Her response prompts the teachers to change their answer to an incorrect one.

Ms. Fontan tells the teachers that the technique is one she uses frequently to challenge her students.

"If they have the right answer, don't tell them," she says. "Get some other answers. Make them think!"

Glimpse of New Worlds

While it is easy and cheap for teachers to find eggs and rocks to use for science experiments, instructional television can provide a glimpse into worlds that are far removed from the classroom, the teachers note.

Ms. Fontan says she often builds on her rock lesson with a videotape of the inside of caves: "It's something I could never show them," she says. "It's fantastic."

And she uses another film segment from the "Take a Look" series to show factories that make pottery and glass--both man-made "rocks" that are found in the home.

For another lesson that centered on the crawfish--a Louisiana delicacy and a big part of the state's economy--teachers show parts of a videotape prepared by Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

Both Ms. Fontan and the teachers who designed the experiment with eggs use children's literature from the "Reading Rainbow" instructional-television series in their science lessons, noting that the stories reinforce children's language skills.

The sound on the videotape can be turned down to allow children to write their own scripts to match the pictures, suggests Terrence Young Jr., a high-school biology and environmental science teacher in Jefferson Parish who helped teach the egg lesson.

The teams of teachers--one elementary and one upper-level--intersperse their lessons with suggestions for adapting the material for different grade levels.

After smashing their eggs, the teachers in Mr. Young's class spend some time examining an egg that had been submerged in vinegar. All of the calcium that gave the shell its strength was removed by the vinegar, leaving the egg rubbery enough to bounce.

Mr. Young suggests using the exercise to talk about acids and bases with older students.

New Techniques

During each training session, the presenting teachers ask their colleagues whether they currently use instructional television.

In Mr. Young's class, only about four teachers in the group of 20 raise their hands. In other groups, even fewer respond positively.

Even teachers who say they did make use of instructional television say they have not been using the techniques modeled at the seminar.

"I can't honestly say I have ever stopped the tape and done the teaching part," says Ellie Schurmann, a 1st-grade teacher from Kenner. "It was more of a discussion afterward, but not this real experimentation.

"I loved this," Ms. Schurmann continues. "I never thought about things as it was presented today--to stop and do the experiments along with it."

The egg-theme lesson also inspires Anne Lehman, who teaches gifted 4th-graders in Mandeville.

Every year, Ms. Lehman says, she gets fertilized eggs and has her class hatch chicks. Now, she plans to expand the lesson to include the instructional-television lesson.

"What I found out is a way to use the video as a take-off to the scientific method--to say, 'What if?'" she says.

Each of the teachers who attend the two-day training session, held on two Saturdays, has agreed to train 10 other teachers.

The teachers leave the session loaded with a wealth of curriculum materials, including a handbook with copies of the lesson plans developed by the Louisiana teachers.

The trick to using the programming, the teachers are told, is to preview the shows and decide which segments to use.

Advises Virginia Lawson, a third-grade teacher in Luling: "Just pop yourself up some popcorn and watch the show."

Vol. 11, Issue 18, Pages 6-7

Published in Print: January 22, 1992, as Training Program Helps Teachers Take Control of Instructional TV
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