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A river runs through it

Tombstone school grant pairs technology with San Pedro


Teachers in the Tombstone Unified School District will soon bring the San Pedro River to their classrooms in a unique effort to boost the math skills of students.

The program is made possible through a one-year, $430,000 grant that will link classroom technology with the waterway and its accompanying riparian areas.

The grant is part of the federal stimulus 2009-11 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Enhancing Education Through Technology 21st Century Classrooms project. Teachers envision using the river to gather information that will be catalogued and discussed on blogs, in class and in Webinars - seminars conducted via the Internet - with fellow students or environmental officials.

"We're only limited by our imaginations," said Joanne Nyquist, a Title I teacher and computer lab instructor at Tombstone's Walter J. Meyer School. She and district business manager Lisa Reames were part of a team that developed the 93-page application for the grant.

Nyquist said early ideas on how to use the technology range from conducting Internet-based research to taking "virtual field trips" with the help of Webcams and videoconferencing.

The Tombstone district was one of 12 across the state that received the federal funding, according to Brett Hinton, director of educational technology with the Arizona Department of Education. Other cities whose districts received funding were: Cottonwood, Douglas, Phoenix, Safford, San Carlos, Tempe, Tolleson, and Tucson.

San Carlos Unified School District is using its grant money to buy computers and a system designed to increase student participation and interaction in the classroom, said Superintendent Richard Wilde. Teachers have already started to train on the new equipment.

"We're excited to have that grant," Wilde said. "The schools who are replacing technology are schools that have been struggling academically. We're using the technology as a transformation model."

In Tombstone, grant funds may be available by this summer so the district can begin to purchase equipment. Teachers have attended professional development workshops to train themselves on the technology.

In their grant proposal, teachers and administrators called the lack of technology available to TUSD students "shocking." For the majority of students, the 30 to 60 minutes of weekly computer lab time they get in school is their only exposure to the Internet or other computer applications. "The fact is," said the TUSD grant writers, "we are still in the 20th century as opposed to 21st century."

The primary goal of the San Pedro River project is to improve math scores on standardized tests such as AIMS and Terra Nova by 5 percent (see graph). In spring 2009, 44 percent of third-graders tested as "approaching" or "falling far below" the math academic standard of "number operations." By sixth grade, 32 percent still had not met the state standard. And by 10th grade, 60 percent of Tombstone students did not pass the math portion of AIMS. (Ninth-graders take the Terra Nova assessment, not AIMS, which is the test high school students must pass before graduating.)

Teachers will decide by grade level how their students will use the river as a teaching tool. Children from kindergarten to third grade may sort and weigh rocks to hone number sense and operation skills, Nyquist said.

Fourth- to sixth-graders will measure water flow at specific points along the river throughout the year, and that will involve adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing whole numbers. High school students will compare and contrast data gathered for a capstone project on water conservation, then reflect on their conclusions in a student-created blog.

It's not clear yet how often students will make the approximately 13-mile trek to the San Pedro, but teachers are looking forward to the chance to integrate a natural resource with some high-tech learning, Nyquist said.

"I would say teachers are cautiously excited," she added. "It might be a little scary around the edges, but we can do so much."

Reporter Victoria Blute contributed to this report.


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Nicole Nixon/ArizonaNewsService.com

Teachers and students in the Tombstone Unified School District will be traveling to the San Pedro River to hone math skills.

On the Web

Other Arizona school districts receiving funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Enhancing Education Through Technology 21st Century Classrooms Project: