Sculpting the Triton Curriculum

Bernie Dodge
Ed Tech Department, San Diego State University


You've probably been thinking about project ideas since the day you heard that Triton got funded. This Spring, you've been working to generate drafts of activities and units that you'll be able to implement when the new school year begins. We're now at the point where we can begin to concentrate on shaping, adding to, and refining what you have and turning it into instructionally solid, shareable units. It's sculpting time!

By the end of this workshop, you'll be able to:

The Triton Curriculum Page

Triton Curriculum PageLike everything else on the Web, the Triton Curriculum Page is still under construction, but already there are valuable materials there that will help you to refine your curriculum ideas. From the main menu at you can access the Triton SiteBase, a searchable database of web sites that can be tied to an ocean-themed unit. There you will also find template to help you to write Units and Lessons or Activities. We'll be adding materials to the Triton Page continuously as the project progresses. One major category of additions will be a series of guides that you can build into your own units on specific information processing, thinking and communications skills. Included among these will be guides to brainstorming, semantic feature analysis, interviewing, and communicating via videoconference.

Inputs, Transformations and Outputs

Learning With The Web Learning Pre-WebIt seems useful to think of the Web as if it existed on both sides of our schools, as a vast source of data and as the gateway to millions of readers. What goes on in the middle is the transformation of information. How does that compare with traditional schooling in the long dark years B.W.? To some extent, schools seemed hermetically sealed from the outside world. Children were somewhat limited to the books and magazines in their school library as sources of information, a source that has never been very timely or deep. As for outlets for student creativity, the most common endpoint for a child's best work was in the kitchen of his or her own home. And, in the worst of classrooms, information was rarely transformed and was more often simply recorded long enough to be played back for a test.

If this seems to the reader as a useful way to think about schools and the Internet, here's a mnemonic to help make it memorable.

Typical Inputs What makes this an exciting time to be an educator is the input side of the model. Though the Web is still in its infancy, we already have the possibility of putting our students in touch with experts who would otherwise be inaccessible. We can let our students analyze the same data being analyzed by stock brokers and scientists. We can design experiences that require them to search through reference materials that our schools will never buy. We can show them museums and artworks and photographs. And we can turn them loose in a flood of news more detailed than they will ever see on their home television screens. According to David Jonassen and his colleagues, among others, the most effective learning contexts are those which are problem- or case-based, that immerse the learner in the situation requiring him or her to acquire skills or knowledge in order to solve the problem or manipulate the situation.

Input Skills Transformation Output Skills

To make the best use of all these inputs requires that students have certain skills; and in the excitement of bringing the Internet into our classrooms, we sometimes forget to prepare our learners appropriately. This can lead to what might be called virtual learning, in which students are busily engaged in exploring the Web or chatting with distant experts, but are not sufficiently prepared to learn much from the experience. It looks like learning to the principal as she walks by, but little of it sticks.

If there is one key idea in this presentation, it is this: students of any age need to be supported in acquiring information processing skills as we integrate this technology into our schools. What distinguishes excellent telecommunications activities from merely good ones is the degree to which the designers pay attention to this support.

Some Exercises

The following exercises are designed to get your analytical and creative juices flowing.

The Structure of Units

Good UnitsIn order to spread the effect of the Triton Project, your units will be made available on the Web. A template is available on the Triton Curriculum page that will make it possible for you to create your unit without having to master the intricacies of HTML right away. The target audience for the unit description is other teachers who might adopt and adapt your unit. Space is provided for you to explain how the unit fits within the curriculum, logistical information and an overview of the day-by-day activities of the unit. In the interest of making the document more readable, we'll take advantage of the Web's hyperlinks and defer those more detailed lesson descriptions to separate documents.

WebQuests: One Possible Lesson Structure

To begin with an example, examine the Archaeotype WebQuest, an exercise that I've given two years in a row to my student teachers. It took one class period of three hours and during those three hours everyone was actively engaged in learning. The exercise used a variety of inputs including distant experts, theoretical papers, and reports. Student worked in groups to assimilate the information and formulate answers to questions, most of which required some analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. I gave the students a template written in HTML so that they could post the answers to the questions on the Web. Twenty minutes after the class was over, the results were posted on the Web for all to see. In a very compact way, this exercise represents a structure that could be applied to a wide range of Triton Project activities.

Seaside Web Page Another example of a webquest is the Seaside Nuclear Power WebQuest developed by a Poway teacher. It defines several distinct roles for students to play as they investigate the pro's and con's of nuclear energy in a decision-oriented scenario. Unlike the Archaeotype WebQuest, this exercise was designed to extend over a period of many class sessions.

Writing a WebQuest isn't difficult. The basic parts of a WebQuest are these:

  1. An introduction to set the stage
  2. A description of the task
  3. Pointers to resources that will be useful to the students, both on-line and off-
  4. A description of the process they'll go through to complete the activity
  5. Learning advice you can give them to expedite their progress
  6. A description of how their performance will be evaluated
  7. A concluding statement to tie it all together

Next Steps

Next Steps You've all begun the process of developing ideas for your Triton projects. What are the next steps in the process? If you haven't done this already, get to know what resources are already available on the Web that you can make use of in your unit. Use search engines like AltaVista to develop a comprehensive hotlist for your own use. Now's the time to make connections with the other Triton Partners to see what additional input they can provide. Examine the California Curriculum Standards to identify the skills and knowledge you can develop with your units. And finally, use the Unit and Lesson Templates to provide a common structure for communicating your ideas. If you can get this far over the next few weeks, we'll be in a very good position to carry the design further over the summer.

Last updated May 28, 1996. Return to the Triton Curriculum Page.