Research Results

Evaluation Report for the Grade 5 IMYM Pilot

January 1997

1.0 Background

In 1996, Manitoba Education and Training, School Programs Division began piloting the first phase of their Interdisciplinary Middle Years Multimedia Project. A six week integrated unit, A Prairie Tour, was developed for piloting at grade 5. A total of 24 schools were involved with the pilot project. Twenty schools were funded and four chose to commit their own resources and participate as non-funded sites.

The purpose of the Interdisciplinary Middle Years Multimedia Project is "to develop an effective instructional model which is interdisciplinary in nature, supports integration of multimedia technology throughout the provincial curricula, and can be implemented in schools across the province." The project presents an alternative delivery method to "conventional" subject-specific instruction. Multimedia technology supports teaching in an integrated manner.

The instructional philosophy of the project was based on the following four beliefs about teaching and learning:

  • an interdisciplinary approach to instruction (integration of curriculum) is used
  • disciplines are blended around a common theme
  • learning takes place in a real world context
  • the role of the teacher changes from a disseminator of information to a facilitator of active learning


2.0 Description of A Prairie Tour

The second unit in the grade 5 Social Studies curriculum was chosen as the vehicle for integrating the four core subjects -- Mathematics, English Language Arts, Science and Social Studies. Wherever possible, the disciplines were blended in order to teach to several learning outcomes simultaneously. It was also suggested that other subjects could be integrated with the theme where appropriate.

In the thematic unit, A Prairie Tour, grade 5 students plan an imaginary trip across the prairies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Students travel along the Trans-Canada Highway, taking a variety of side trips, while learning core concepts within the context of the Prairie region. The unit is divided into five "legs," each representing a segment of the trip. (For example, leg one takes the class from Falcon Lake to Winnipeg.)

Each lesson in A Prairie Tour includes an overview, the desired learning outcomes, a list of the necessary learning resources, and a description of the instructional strategies to be used. Assessment strategies or suggestions are often included as well. The Appendices include "Black Line Masters" (BLMs) that take the form of maps, daily journal sheets, activity cards, worksheets, and research topics.

Each pilot classroom was equipped with a minimum of the following hardware: a teacher multimedia station (including video capture and a modem); 32" monitor with stand; encoder; video camera; colour/black and white printer; three student multimedia stations; and a peer to peer network. (Some schools used Mac OS, while others used Windows '95 operating system.) In addition, schools purchased tool software, presentation software, communications software, and Computer Assisted Learning software.

The grade 5 pilot unit will be followed by the development of interdisciplinary multimedia units at grades 6, 7 and 8. In order to learn from the experiences of the grade 5 classrooms participating in A Prairie Tour, Manitoba Education and Training identified the need for an evaluation. Proactive Information Services Inc., a Western Canada-based company specializing in educational evaluation, was contracted to undertake the evaluation. The following presents a summary of the Proactive evaluation:


3.0 Evaluation Summary

3.1 Implementation Factors

  • Teacher Skills and Experience
  • Teachers believed that the most important skill needed to successfully implement a project of this nature was understanding of computers (hardware), combined with basic technical skills. If teachers did not have a certain level of comfort and technological expertise, problems with the hardware could easily become disruptive to their teaching.

    The other skills that were most often required were teacher flexibility and comfort with risk-taking, understanding of the software, and experience with co-operative learning strategies. Perhaps because teachers were selected partially based on their experience with integration, this was not identified by teachers as being particularly important. It appears that the willingness to try new things over-rides past teacher experience.

  • Internal School Conditions
  • The most important internal school condition appeared to be administrator support. While teachers also cited the need to be able to access technical expertise, cross-site analysis confirms that administrator support was a critical variable. The support of other teachers in the school was also viewed as an important factor by pilot teachers.

  • External Conditions
  • The two external conditions that were most important to the pilot teachers were connection to other pilot teachers and training on software.

    The pilot teachers generally felt that they had received good support from Manitoba Education and Training. However, where teachers felt that they had been expected to follow the unit exactly as written, increased teacher stress and decreased teacher satisfaction were evident.

  • Funded and Non-funded Schools
  • The only difference that emerged between funded and non-funded schools was that non-funded schools were less likely to receive their hardware and software promptly. It was felt that non-funded schools, if they were to participate in the pilot, should not be allowed hardware substitutions. However, in terms of teacher ability to implement the pilot unit, the fact that schools were "non-funded" was not an important factor.

  • Teacher Creation of Interdisciplinary Units
  • Time and opportunities for teacher planning would assist teachers in creating their own interdisciplinary multimedia units. Having a resource list matched to themes would also be useful. However, some teachers expressed skepticism that they would ever be able to create units of the scope and complexity of A Prairie Tour.


3.2 Impact of the Project on Instructional Practice

  • Teachers as Facilitators
  • Teachers reported that they were more likely, because of their experiences with A Prairie Tour, to be acting as facilitators of student learning. Teachers in the pilot, however, were at different stages in moving towards this role. The structure of the unit and the use of multimedia technology support this shift from teacher as deliverer of knowledge to teacher as facilitator and coach. The importance of teachers' willingness to try new instructional practices in support of this change cannot be overstated.

  • Integrated or Thematic Teaching and Authenticity
  • Teachers were generally supportive of an integrated approach, most often because it makes learning more meaningful, relevant, and more "authentic."

    While the majority of pilot teachers plan to continue integrated or thematic teaching, some will use it to a lesser extent. These teachers expressed concern that certain skills (particularly Mathematics) could not be adequately learned through an integrated approach. A few teachers felt A Prairie Tour was too teacher-directed and not integrated enough. These divergent views illustrate the continuum of teacher interdisciplinary teaching.

    Interestingly, many students felt that they had learned more Math this year than in the previous year. However, it was difficult to determine whether this was a result of A Prairie Tour or of teachers supplementing the integrated unit with extra Math classes.

  • Multimedia Approach to Teaching
  • Teachers were excited about the technology and virtually all plan to continue its use. However, in four funded sites, teachers did not know if the technology would remain in their classrooms after the pilot project.

  • Impact on Instructional Practice
  • When teachers were asked directly about the impact on their instructional practice, they were most likely to describe their increased use of multimedia technology and their use of a more integrated approach. While one would expect the technology to be cited, it is interesting that teachers who at least partially were selected for participation in the project because of their integrated style would still see their instructional practice as changing.


3.3 Impact of the Project on Students

  • Student Attitudes Towards Learning
  • Grade 5 students are generally positive about school and learning. However, boys were more positive than girls about school, after experiencing A Prairie Tour.

    Students most often preferred to learn by "doing activities/experiments/puzzles", "using the computer", and "watching movies/videos/films". These methods were particularly important for students who were less likely to really enjoy school.

    Not surprisingly, students in the focus groups reiterated the importance of active learning experiences and the use of computers. However, the analysis of baseline to post questionnaires also indicated a significant change in students liking to learn by talking to the teachers individually and by taking notes. These appear to be learning experiences that students have become more accustomed to through A Prairie Tour.

    Students were less likely to indicate that they were asked to do things that are "too easy for them" after participating in A Prairie Tour.

  • Student Motivation and Engagement
  • Students were motivated by the activities and the technology in the interdisciplinary multimedia unit A Prairie Tour (although there should be fewer Black Line Masters and more art!).

    The results of the baseline and post surveys indicated that girls are more likely than boys to complete their work on time.

    Do students feel this has been a relevant (authentic) learning experience? Yes. Students were more likely to see A Prairie Tour as being "like real life" because of the theme and content (the prairies), because they were using technology, because they were using skills applicable to real life (e.g., measurement, map reading), and because of the integrated approach.

  • Student Learning
  • Students were able to describe many things that they had learned. Examples of student work also showed evidence of student learning. However, actual samples that teachers and students provided as "evidence" were items such as student reflections, poetry, Reading Response Logs, and drawings. These were samples that showed students responding to what they had learned by constructing creative and personal products based on their learning experiences.

    On the post questionnaires, as one would expect, students were much more likely to report knowing "a lot" about Canada's prairies. It should be noted that there was a high correlation between enjoyment and self-reported learning. The more intensely students liked the unit, the more likely they were to report learning "a lot."

    Many teachers indicated difficulties with assessing student learning, often because of the requirement to produce subject specific marks. When they reviewed the students' marks this year, teachers indicated that average marks had not changed, although some teachers also commented that the work was more difficult and challenging. This perception fits with student reports that they were less likely to be asked to do easy work and more likely to be asked to "figure things out for themselves."

  • Impact of the Project
  • Students enjoyed the project and felt they had learned "a lot." On the questionnaire, they tended to indicate areas of content such as information about the three levels of prairie, wildlife, and farming. However, in the focus group discussions students identified areas of skills (e.g., computer skills, mathematics skills, map reading) and concepts (e.g., geometry concepts,understanding different points of view).

    Both students and teachers gave examples of how students had connected A Prairie Tour to out of school life. In many cases students were also able to articulate how what they had learned would help them in the future.