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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community


by Sally Young
Alaska Gateway School District


This integrated curriculum unit was originally planned to be part of either a social studies or language arts program, but as it developed, it seemed also to be appropriate for other elements of the curriculum. It is structured to develop and expand skills in language arts such as business letter writing, spoken communication (both interpersonal and with groups) and report writing; computer skills in key boarding, word processing, and database design; social studies skills such as graph, chart and map making; math skills; and thinking skills such as analysis and evaluation, among others. 

The idea developed as a result of various education courses including the Writing Consortium which I have taken; a natural inclination on my part toward using experiential learning to involve students because it works for me; Whole Language courses and experiences I have had, and the possible social and political consequences to our community as a result of an Air Force station being developed there.

The We-Search design is a good idea because it allows students to investigate a problem which affects them directly, drawing their interest because of their personal involvement in the situation. I had already planned a small unit of this type, but was uncomfortable with the I-Search design because I have seen it produce only very limited results. However, the We-Search as a structured yet independent unit makes sense. It combines the best features of an I-Search with experiential learning.

Developing a topic of interest to the students actually is fairly uncomplicated. While I have chosen to develop this unit around the Over-the-Horizon (OTH) Backscatter Radar installation, there are a variety of topics which would be applicable to my area, and others which would work in any area. Further topics could be developed depending on the locality of the school. In my area, other topics I have outlined for future years include an oral history project; the advantages and disadvantages of forming or joining a borough; obtaining a new school for the community; developing a tourism drawing point for the community; or preparation for opening a small business. This would be especially appropriate if the second semester of the class was devoted to actual development of the business to allow students to experience the entire process from initial idea to profit (or loss) making.

The course will be primarily independent study, but structured around a base of mini-lessons that will be presented as the class enters various areas of work or as the need becomes apparent. These mini-lessons may be presented to the entire class or they may be individualized, depending on need. The instructor will serve as a facilitator and overseer. This is due partly to personal preference on my part and partly to the structure of the course.

As the year begins, students will be instructed in the use of the writing process and response groups will be set up, modeled and practiced with introductory writings. The response groups will function throughout the class for sharing both ideas and writing. Once each week students will share with the entire class the progress they have made on their subjects. This will enable students to keep up with what others are learning, spawn related ways that the material intersects with their other subjects, and provoke them to work on their own projects. It will also enable the instructor to track student progress, although individual conferences will also do this. This weekly sharing will give students the opportunity to speak in front of the class, gather new ideas from their classmates, and provide a vehicle for evaluation for the instructor.

At the beginning of the year, students will be introduced to the way the class will function as a fact-finding commission, discovering the effects on the community of the OTH Backscatter construction and producing a report to be released to the public and to the Air Force. They will enter the subject area by reading core papers drawn from the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) prepared for the Air Force on the radar and its effect on the area. These core papers will also include some history of why the area was chosen as the site of the installation.

As we enter this project, we will have some mini-lessons on propaganda, and students will be asked to look first at government propaganda from other eras and then at the EIS statements with a view to the desired result on the part of the body issuing the documents. They will also be asked to look for examples of propaganda occurring in the newspaper, on television, or in other local events.

Once students have finished reading and studying the core papers, they will participate in an audioconference with officials in a town where an OTH Backscatter operation has already been installed and interview either in person or by audioconference one of our state or national representatives/senators.

These exercises should enlarge the students' horizons about the potential opportunities and problems our community may encounter during and after construction. With the body of information they have gained thus far as a base, each student will write a position paper that details his/her response to the situation. They will share these and also develop a group position paper. Students will be aware that this is an initial paper and that they may wish to change their stands on various subjects after more in-depth study of the issues.

The class will then brainstorm possible topics of importance to research over the course of the unit. It is expected that these will include the impact of increased population on essential services such as police, clinic and social services; additional students at the school; housing, employment, etc. as well as the environmental impact of the station itself. We will look at how we would find information on the potential impacts for each. This could include letters, interviews, surveys, reading and research on each of the subjects as well as any other ideas from students.

Once subjects have been outlined and ways to research them have been covered, each student will be asked to choose one of the subjects as his/her particular area of coverage. Though we will be sharing information throughout the unit, each student will have an area of particular responsibility for which s/he will write the final report. The class will involve a great deal of writing in a number of modes in addition to the final report.

Mini-lessons will be presented on letter-writing and interviewing techniques, and students will practice both, developing questions, interviewing each other, and writing initial contact letters to possible sources using the computer. They will then develop interview questions for a group audioconference with either the Air Force personnel in charge of the installation, some of the General Electric developers, or someone from SRI, the subcontractor who developed the EIS. This will allow students to put the knowledge gained from the core papers and the rest of their earlier work to use.

Additional mini-lessons will be provided on audioconferencing and transcribing as well as watching for whether questions have actually been answered or side-stepped. The audioconference will be taped and students will share in transcribing for practice. Students will be expected to use the computer for word processing in order to speed transcribing. In the transcribing it is expected that they will also discover how one hears what one expects to hear rather than what is said, and how easy it is for a trained public relations person to side-step a question, and how difficult it is for the interviewer to realize it at the time.

Once students have seen how interviews proceed, they will develop interview questions for the individuals they will interview in their subject areas. These questions will be shared with the class so that additional input is available to them. Throughout the unit, the sharing will keep students up to speed on others' work so in the event of someone leaving or falling ill, the subject can be picked up and continued.

Students will also work jointly to develop survey questions which can be presented to the community for additional input on questions and concerns. I would like to have a guest speaker who is skilled in survey question development speak to the class and look at their initial efforts. Students will learn about inherent bias and objectivity.

The survey will then be sent out to the community, and students will tabulate results. At the same time some students will be developing a database of services available in the community. Depending on the number of students in the class, this could be limited to businesses, or it could include a skills survey for employment. Students will be required to develop at least one chart, graph or map relating to the material they will be presenting. Mini-lessons will be provided on these skills if necessary. Students will be expected to complete the final copy on the computer.

As the final draft stage approaches, students will be required to put their materials into a format which will be consistent throughout the report. They will work in response groups to develop both content in the subject area and to hone the writing in the report.

Students will also call a public meeting at which they will publicly make their reports and seek comment from those attending. This will provide both public speaking experience, and a different type of response group which is less forgiving than classmates and teacher.

The balance of the written report will be joined together with some students working on combining the parts while others index, develop format, placement of charts and graphs, etc. Once the report is finished, students will work together to copy pages and bind them into a finished document.

Within this curriculum unit students will have learned in a wide variety of areas. Their computer skills, writing and comprehension skills, and interpersonal communication skills should all be increased by the opportunity to make use of the knowledge that they gained through lessons and experience. Students should also leave the class with an increased maturity level developed through their interaction with adults on an adult level and the knowledge that their work is providing a valuable service to the community. It may also be the first introduction some students have had to the concept of volunteerism as a way to benefit the community in which one lives, for this is, in the final analysis, a volunteer effort for the good of the community.

The primary resources that students will need for this unit are people. Much of the research will require cooperation from the Air Force, General Electric, and our state and federal representatives. They will also be working with government agencies such as the Office of Economic Adjustment, and they will be researching impacts of other major projects on other areas. Local people will also provide important information in the form of expertise and opinions.

Other resources that will be required are copies of the EIS statements, books on community impacts such as the pipeline impact on Fairbanks, audioconference equipment, transcribing equipment, and computers on which to work. Beyond this, students will be relying on themselves, the expertise of the teacher and various speakers.

The evaluation for this curriculum unit measures the variety of skills outlined previously as well as participation of students both as individuals and in their smaller response groups. Due to the independent nature of the research, individual requirements will vary. Some students may find their subjects require more interviewing while others do more research of written materials, although all students will be required to show that they have tried or used each of the activities covered.

The weekly sharing and individual conferences will generate a check or no-check grade, indicating that work is proceeding. Students will maintain a log, outlining their activities that will serve as another vehicle for this grade. It will also serve as a long term record of the search and hold information which the students will later bring together.

Each major section of work will encompass a variety of grades. Points will be given for each area of activity completed. A minimum of points will be given for completion with additional points for quality. For example, when we are covering interviewing, students will receive a grade for developing questions, one for interviewing practice, and a final, major grade for developing questions and using them in at least one interview with an expert on their subject in the backscatter unit. The same will be true in letter-writing where students will receive a grade for their sample letters as we practice and for at least one letter that they turn in before sending it to its destination.

The major objective of the course is to teach the students research techniques and to have them become aware of how social research is carried out. This is one of the hardest parts for which to figure a grade. Much evaluative information will show up in the final paper which the student submits. The continual monitoring by the teacher and by the other members of the class should insure that each student learns at least the rudiments of research. They will also learn about the inherent limitations of research when it involves working with people and necessitating a response that is not always forthcoming. I feel that this course will give the students a real world picture that will be valuable to them in the future.

Two COmmon Loons


Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits



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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
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PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
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Last modified August 18, 2006