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Education's brave new world: it all started with a simple idea: having students train teachers in technology would benefit both groups. (Cover Story).

Emily, a seventh-grader at Abilene Middle School in Kansas, created a slide show about Middle Town, a fictitious town where children act like `real-world' adults paying bills and buying food. She then tested those children to see what they learned.

Jenny, a high school student in Jacksonville, Ala., created a slide show of facts and clip art describing the origins and effects of "Computer Viruses: The Enemy Within."

Another student at Sunapee Middle High School in New Hampshire used digital photographs and a PowerPoint slide presentation to document a physics lab on Boyle's Law, which proves that an increase in gas pressure decreases the volume, and vice versa.

These three projects are only a taste of Generation YES, (Youth and Educators Succeeding), a program created by Dennis Harper, a former educator of 35 years who believed a decade ago that school reform was needed. His idea was that having students train teachers in technology would benefit both groups.

The philosophy was based in part on the idea that many hours of professional development for teachers often go unused because there is too little time to integrate everything during class time, Harper says. And Harper adds "schools won't reform unless children are involved."

"The way we use technology and infuse technology in the curriculum has to be improved," says Harper, who has brought computers to schools in 34 nations worldwide. "The promise of technology to improve student learning has never been fully realized."

So Harper, who returned to the U.S. in 1992, set out to create a program to change all that.

"It's a program that trains students to train teachers," says Harper, director of the Generation www.Y model. "Instead of training teachers in technology skills, we train kids with technology skills ... And we train kids how to work with teachers."

Generation Y delivers professional development to teachers while it provides fourth- through 12th-graders, who can take the program as an elective or extra-curricular activity, with opportunities to lead their schools and communities by creating updated, technology-enriched lesson plans.

The pilot project began in 1994 in Olympia, Wash., where Harper was the technology coordinator. Last year, Generation Y received an Exemplary Program award from the U.S. Department of Education, one of two programs so recognized by the Educational Technology Expert Panel on Exemplary and Promising Educational Technology Programs. And Generation Y graduates receive memberships to the International Society for Technology in Education.

In 1996, the program was funded with a five-year U.S. Dept. of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant. Generation YES, is the organization that formed when federal funding ran out to offer support to schools wishing to implement the model.

The program costs vary but it roughly costs $3,500 a semester, which covers a curriculum guide, videos, an 800-number support line, Web site upkeep and consultant fees. The program has since spread to nearly 500 schools in 29 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands.

Student/Teacher Partners

It works like this: Generation Y staff train the teacher in a participating school who, in turn, trains the students in the program. Then, partner teachers in each school are paired with students who create projects that can range from e-mailing students in France to creating a historical video on a school's hometown. Such projects are then used as partner teachers' curriculum materials and lesson plans for future students. During an 18-week course, students develop information and technology literacy skills, as well as foster skills in research, writing, presentation, mentoring, project development and leadership.

For example, a lesson of "Netiquette, Copyright and Citing Internet Resources" describes acceptable school policies and what copyright means when it applies to online information and how to attribute such information.

In the fourth week, students meet their partner teacher and learn how to create a proposal that the teacher wants to use as a future curriculum aid. The proposals are submitted online for review by Generation Y consultants to ensure the proposal is adequate and appropriate and to ensure the student knows how it connects to a teacher's course. With that, students have to understand standards and testing procedures in order to create such projects, Harper says.

"Students can have a real say in the direction of their learning," Harper says. "It prepares them to deal with those issues and become real contributors to their own learning and education."

Students then collect data and information, create PowerPoint slides, videos or Web sites, and develop the project. They can collaborate with schools worldwide or create oral histories of older people in their communities.

Teachers across the nation who led the programs in their schools praise it mainly for its ability to put the control in the students' hands.

"I think everything should be project-based," says Charlene Brown, a teacher at Abilene Middle School in Kansas and Generation Y coordinator. "I think schools would do a much better job of getting kids interested and drawn in ... And I think they will carry that knowledge all through their life."

Brown says she wanted to get involved in the program being that grant funds were coming their way. "The possibilities were limitless," she recalls.

As of September 2000, nine computer savvy Abilene seventh-graders were nominated by the principal and guidance counselor to take part in Generation Y. One student created a lunch menu for the district and kept it current. One student made brochures for a "World Tour Night" at school. Another student made an iMovie with pictures of the Serengeti of Africa and one student created a PowerPoint presentation on an introduction to the English language.

Brown says there was a lot of talking at first when students were dabbling with creating programs. "Once they understood what their project was, it would be quiet in there," she recalls.

And they learned the power of team work, she says.

"Not only do they understand how to use the software a little bit better, but they understand that working together is more powerful than working by themselves," Brown says.

Troubleshooting Students

Deanne Barre, the district curriculum coordinator for Generation Y in Olympia, says she was on the district technology advisory committee when the program started there and pushed to bring the program to elementary schools instead of only to middle and high schools.

Now fourth- and fifth-graders work with partner teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade, she says.

"Elementary kids pick up technology faster [than older students]," she says. "But they need more help in objectives and assessment plans. They are such natural explorers that they will click and click and they're not as afraid to take some risks."

The sequel to the program is Generation Did, which is for students that graduate from the program and become leaders in their school and community. For example, the governor in Washington approached the middle school to create a virtual tour of the state capitol building to be accessible via the Web.

Generation GIT, or Girl Issues in Technology, is an elective for girls. The course teaches technology skills while emphasizing cooperative group work on human and social issues, problem solving and personal communication.

And then there is Generation SCI, or Students Caring for Infrastructure, a program for students who have the maturity, people skills and competence to be computer technology support agents in their schools.

As for Generation Y, more than 50 students applied for 16 spots in the Olympia middle school last year, Barre says. "We can't keep up," she says. "Once it was established, parents want them in. It's a very positive leadership and skilled class."

Barre says the program allows some children who would not normally do well in school to excel. "Some kids struggle in a traditional class and shine in Generation Y," Barre says. "I have every mix of student you can think of ... from the very typical rise to the top [student] to the trouble shooter that is not as successful as a paper-and-pencil student. Typically they have developed a coping mechanism and are different kinds of thinkers than the more traditional" thinker, she says.

Barre says students improve their technology and collaboration skills and finally understand the patience and toil that goes into creating daily lessons and schedules.

Teachers realize how students feel when they are facing "something new" and students gain a great sense of accomplishment, adds Pamela Inmon, a coordinator at Jacksonville High School in Alabama. They also learn the importance of quality, with editing and proof reading. "The little things drove them crazy," Inmon says. "The computer part was a breeze."

Barre adds that students learn how to take initiative as they make presentations to school boards, Kiwanis clubs and parent-teacher organizations. "They feel needed and they feel like they make valuable contributions."

Barre is now responsible for writing minor changes in the Gen Y Program and Curriculum Guide. The curriculum is now more neutral in terms of software application and platform so they don't just focus on Macintosh users. She also added a chapter on sharing information around the world, such as through virtual field trips and collaborative learning.

Barre says because the federal grant money is no longer available, each school will deal with funding on its own.

Despite the evident praise and enthusiasm for the program, Barre says standardized tests cannot gauge how well students are retaining information and learning under the program. "It's hard to garner support," she says, when tests do not show the obvious gains.

And Harper says using the program improperly as a staff development model and the potential for students to grow "big-headed" are the only negative aspects. "You don't want to create elitism and cliquish [mentalities]," he says. "But it can get that way with cheerleaders and football teams, too. As long as you keep an eye on it ..."

Wanted: Teachers to Learn From Students

At Jacksonville High School, Inmon, a business education teacher, says the state education department asked more than a year ago if the school was interested in participating in a pilot program that would incorporate the students and faculty.

Inmon thought it had potential because it was flexible. So she decided to integrate it into her business application classes.

"I wanted to enhance my business education curriculum with the Generation Y addition," she says. In the fall of 2000, 60 students in grades 9-12 took this class.

She asked for teacher volunteers who wanted to learn more about technology and learn from students. And more than half of the faculty members were eager to become the student for a change.

She says that many teachers might have been wary of the time it would to take, but they were also aware that students knew more than they did in technology.

But the students did have to learn troubleshooting and the basics of computers.

Most students were paired with teachers they already knew or who they saw every day. And it created better communication between student and teacher. For example, students would teach teachers how to access their e-mail, she says. "I believe in cooperative learning and helping your neighbor."

Of 48 projects created, Inmon says, 11 were identified as exemplary projects by Generation Y. And while 58 students initially started the program, only 48 finished the program successfully. "You have students that are not as people savvy, not as aggressive," she says. "There's a failure in communication.... A lot can do computer work but they don't understand" human interaction.

One student teamed up with the school librarian and created a PowerPoint presentation on library orientation. The student showed the librarian how to use the program, which was put on a big projector in the lecture room. The program was then presented to younger students just learning how to do research and check out books in the library.

Change in Learning Models

Dan Hudkins, technology coordinator for Sunapee, N.H., schools, says his district was the first in the state and among the first in the Northeast to take part in the program in the 1999-2000 school year. High school sophomores, juniors and seniors took the program. "I love it to death," Hudkins says.

And Hudkins says the students who take part in Generation Y range from those that take network engineering to only having one technology class under their belts. "One kid's technology skills are not that great but he does great art," Hudkins says. And the student created an art gallery on a Web site after realizing his ability to know good design from bad design and how to use the tools, Hudkins says.

But Hudkins says that despite some teachers that adapt well to the switcheroo in learning models, some teachers "do not like taking advice from kids."

A student's responsibility is to make teachers aware what tools there are and how to use them, Hudkins says, not showing how the educational concept is delivered.

"It has basically shown educators they can learn from students, they can take what students know and utilize that to help education improve," Harper says. "Students, especially today, have something to really offer and that's their technology prowess or proclivity. It's never happened previously in history. It's a very unusual time when kids in K-12 schools know something more than their teachers that is really central to society. And Generation Y has shown there can be a model. Through a lot of trial and error, you can develop a model where students and teachers can be partners ... and improve student learning."

To find our more about the Generation YES program call: 888-941-GEN-Y

RELATED ARTICLE: Tech transformation: how a group of high school students is teaching the school administration a tech trick or two.

Kevin Popp, a senior at La Plata (Md.) High School, says when he was about 11 or 12 he took his family's first computer apart piece by piece and put it back together--just to see if he could.

"I put it back together without leaving anything out," Popp says now. "It just interested me."

And Carly Stump, also a senior at La Plata, sets up her school's Web site. "It's just fun," she says. "You learn so much." She collects information about the school's teams, edits information on the site and decides which graphics to use.

So it's no wonder these students were among a group of nine juniors and seniors who were involved this past school year in the Networking Internship program which has students fix and repair computer and technology glitches that occur in the school building.

This new school year has 11 students that applied for the program, which is in its fourth year.

"These kids grew up with these machines," says Richard Williams, the technology coordinator at La Plata High. "We have kids that rebuilt their own machines and develop their own Web sites ... just for fun. It gives kids the opportunity so that when they leave high school they take some extra skills with them."

Williams says while there is no cost analyses to figure out how much the school is saving using students for technology repairs, the school sees it as a priceless venture. "It wasn't a cost-saving issue," Williams says. "It was an issue of what to do with accelerated kids, kids that were ahead of the curve."

The program started in 1997 with eight students meeting for two periods for two credits. For the first period they met as a group and discussed computer and networking issues and how systems are set up. In the second period, Williams gave them a list of projects to try to help teachers with problems. In a school with 98 teachers, the students write simple steps that teachers could follow if they have a new software package, or the students can explain problems to teachers, says Williams. The students install hard drives, or change computers to a file server and keep more than 300 computers and three file servers in the building up to speed.

This past year, nine students were interns and students were sent out to help teachers and fix problems in groups of three. The two groups that were not walking the building would meet as a group with Williams.

The students had to take two computer classes, Williams' computer programming class and have a computer-related course like keyboarding or Visual Basic, he says. Williams typically looks for students that have a knack for computers, such as those that have either installed software or built their own computers. The students also have to show leadership, trustworthiness and human relation skills. "This is a position of trust" Williams says. "We have to make sure they have character. It's important they have good human relation skills."

Williams says one student right now could leave school and get a $60,000 a year job with Microsoft.

Popp recalls one fun day in school as an intern when a server almost crashed. "It was fun to fix," he recalls. "I think it's just learning new things. There's always something new to learn." Popp says he plans to go to college and study computer science so he could get a "decent" paying job.

As for Stump, she says her skills will be worthwhile in the future. For now, she says she enjoys setting up and wiring new computers. "It's not normal, like read a book and finish a worksheet," she says. "It's hands-on."

Angola Pascopolla, apascopolla@, is associate features editor.
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Title Annotation:Generation YES program
Author:Pascopella, Angela
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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