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Teachers Prep for Reform at MIT

CAMBRIDGE, MA-Teams of elementary, middle and secondary school educators from across Massachusetts and from as far away as Shiprock, NM gathered together at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this July to start a year-long program designed to help schools implement educational reform and to provide teachers with professional development. This unusual program, The Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT), focuses on building teachers' skills rather than providing them with tools such as new lesson plans.

In the program's initial three weeks, based at MIT, teams of teachers, administrators and community members come together to do some learning themselves. They study learning styles, approach academic subjects as systems that interrelate, and learn how to develop partnerships in the community to help them with educational reform. "We've learned over the last few years of the program, that enthusiasm and skills aren't enough to ensure the teams' success in their communities. They need to know how to develop partnerships with community organizations to help bring in outside expertise and resources," said Alan Dyson, one of the directors of the program.

One of the main things the educators cum students learn is how to use a systems approach in teaching--bringing in all aspects of a topic--including social, political, technological ones-instead of studying science, technology or history in isolation. "This is really how our world works, and future citizens need to be able to understand our complex society where decisions and discoveries have implications in areas the students may not even consider," said Dyson.

Each team of educators was assigned one of two systems to study while at MIT--fish processing and commercial air transport. The teams would do site visits and research their topic from a number of perspectives--trying to learn more about a how a seemingly narrow industry interrelates with so many technical, non-technical, societal and legal areas. For instance, during a tour of a fish processing plant the plant owner mentioned that to process an additional kind of fish, dogfish, he would need to deal with a number of different considerations-regulations concerning the waste water (environment and policy), process concerns of a different kind of treatment (science and technology) and work with international markets (marketing) because dogfish is not considered a desirable fish in this country (cultural). In other years groups have studied systems such as construction and power generation.

In addition to learning on a particular topic, the team members participate in exercises like taking apart and studying wind-up toys to see how they work--giving them hands-on experience with some technology--a wind-up toy--and helping the educators understand the diversity of the ways people approach learning. Other exercises focus on team building, brainstorming, and group dynamics.

After attending the MIT residential program, the teams return to their communities with seed money and a computer connection through America On-line to the MIT TILT program and all other teams. Back at home they provide professional development to their colleagues and develop local partnerships to help them in their reform efforts. The TILT staff works with each team over the course of the next year.

Teams this year are from Worcester, Lynn, Springfield, Pittsfield and New Bedford, MA; Middlebury, VT; Shiprock, NM; and the Massachusetts School-to-Work program.

Funding from this program comes from a variety of groups including: the national Goals 2000 Program; the Massachusetts School-to-Work Program; the Noyce Foundation; the Alden Trust; the Pew Foundation; author Tony Hillerman; the Vermont Institute of Science, Math and Technology; and local school districts.

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