Big Sky Science Partnership

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1. Project Title & Shipment Detail

Name of Project:
Big Sky Science Partnership

Shipping Address:
Science Math Resource Center
Montana State University
401 Linfield Hall, Bozeman, MT 59717

Fax: 406-994-3733

Number of Laptops requested:
10 free XO laptops

2. Team Participants

Team Leader: Dr. Elisabeth Swanson, Director and Associate Professor of Science Education
Email:, Phone: 406-994-5952
Science Math Resource Center, Montana State University
Past Experience/Qualifications: Elisabeth Swanson, PhD, works with scientists and teacher leaders in designing and facilitating the online and face-to-face physics, astronomy and earth science courses and pedagogy to build a professional development program for K-8 science teachers.

Irene Grimberg, Research Professor of Physics
Email: Phone: 406-994-7612
Science Math Resource Center, Montana State University
Past Experience/Qualifications: Irene Grimberg, PhD, uses her expertise in designing and implementing online and face-to-face graduate coursework in physics and astronomy and teacher professional development for K-8 science teacher participants.

Frankie Jackson, Research Professor of Earth Science
Email: Phone: 406-994-6642
Department of Earth Science, Montana State University
Past Experience/Qualifications: Frankie Jackson, PhD, has designed and offers graduate level courses in earth science for K-8 teachers in American Indian Reservation schools. The study includes field and online components to engage the teachers in authentic research experiences to demonstrate cultural responsiveness by building connections between scientists' knowledge of geological and paleontological processes, and to illustrate traditional and contemporary knowledge of American Indian tribes.

Gail Whiteman, Professional Development Coordinator
Email: Phone: 406-994-3580
Science Math Resource Center, Montana State University

Past Experience/Qualifications: BSSP Professional Development Coordinator, Gail Whiteman, MS, uses her expertise by coordinating K-8 science teacher professional development and teacher leader assignments. She facilitates training with K-8 teachers and conducts classroom observation protocols and survey assessments.

3. Project Objectives

Ten XO laptops will be used in a pilot project in the classrooms of elementary teachers on and near the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations in Montana. The Big Sky Science Partnership (BSSP) is a National Science Foundation funded project, which has allowed us to work with teachers on these two reservations since 2006.

Through our current funding BSSP is able to provide each teacher with a Mac Book. This allows the teachers to share web-based resources (simulations, videos, interactive media) with students. However, students do not have hands-on access to computers and do not have the freedom to browse and independently develop their understanding of science. All BSSP teachers have less than 20 students per classroom; therefore, 10 computers would allow students to work in pairs on projects. Placing the XO laptops in the hands of students would directly address three specific goals outlined in our BSSP project description.

  1. Improve the delivery of science instruction
  2. Improve the understanding of science content and pedagogy
  3. Generate school based K-8 learning communities.

BSSP faculty and administrative staff will attend a workshop to learn XO Laptop operation system and Sugar software. In turn, they will provide training for the teacher leaders, and work closely with the teachers particularly during inquiry-based science lessons to bring real-world data sets, models and simulations of science processes directly into the classroom. With the variety of learning styles that have been observed in these classrooms, the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) lessons will be much more engaging for the students with access to the XO laptops and Sugar software.

4. Plan of Action for Achieving the Stated Objectives

The BSSP program is currently working with 31 teachers in ten schools on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations. Because Montana State University is physically located at least three hours from target schools and communities, we will implement a local check-out system for the use of the computers administered by our on-site BSSP teacher leaders. Currently there are four teacher leaders and an additional 4 to 6 to be selected by the end of this academic year. When all teacher leader positions are filled, there will be one teacher leader in nearly every school participating in the BSSP program.

The BSSP Team will receive training from OLPC volunteers and bring the information to our on-site teacher leaders. The pilot program will begin with laptops being placed in teacher leader classrooms. Teacher leaders will become proficient incorporating the laptops into their culturally-competent science curriculum and then be in charge of assigning the set of ten XO laptops to K-8 teachers in their school or nearby reservation schools. Being responsible for promoting science inquiry and culture-based pedagogy in the classrooms, teacher leaders will assist others in incorporating laptops into their lesson plans. These XO laptops will be used to provide Internet access to each student and the Sugar software will provide the student an avenue for expressing and publishing their knowledge of science topics. Through the Sugar mixed media activities teachers will assist students in gaining an understanding of how their rural communities are interconnected with others as they investigate the natural world and science processes.

The computers will be assigned to a school for approximately one month, and then rotated to the next school. Teacher leaders will survey classroom teachers and/or students as an assessment tool to rate the impact the computers and Sugar software have on student learning. BSSP Project leaders will analyze the experiences and provide narrative reports directly to OLPS.

5. Needs

K-8 schools on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations, located in southeastern Montana, are small and rural with limited resources. Distances of up to 65 miles separate each school with large distances between these schools and the nearest Tribal College or university. Student enrollment in the participating BSSP schools is approximately 89% American Indian as reported by Montana Office of Public Instruction in 2009. Poverty rates are high on the reservations; in Big Horn County where the Crow Reservation is located, 82% of students participated in the Free and Reduced Lunch program in 2009. Student transfer between the schools is high and lack of a common curriculum leads to disjointed educational experiences for transferring students. The high school graduation rate for American Indian students in Montana schools in 2005 was 63% compared to 87% for White students. The Big Sky Science Partnership's overall goal is to ameliorate this differential in achievement by improving teachers' ability to effectively teach science to diverse students. Using the technology of XO Laptops will actively engage K-8 students in classroom science lessons that will positively impact student science achievement.

The majority of these students are living in a culture of poverty. Studies have shown that the best approach for addressing varied learning styles is through mixed methods of teaching. Students are most engaged when participating in self-guided, hands-on learning. Many of these students have never been farther than 50-100 miles from their home on the reservation. Other than through television, there is very little connection to the greater world around them. XO Laptops utilizing chat activities, browsing capabilities, and Sugar collaboration will open an avenue of sharing and discovery to outside communities and cultures.

6. Sharing Deliverables

We created a blogsite ( that will focus on Big Sky Science Partnership teachers and their classrooms. Through our website we will share cases of how the pilot OLPC project has connected our rural Montana students with other similar world communities and schools through science. It is our goal to showcase examples of how easy our Native American Students find and share information on XOs.

Our faculty partners and K-8 teachers are actively involved in evaluation methods and research of the project as a whole and will be disseminating results through presentations at state and national professional conferences and in relevant professional publications.

A new cohort of 15 teachers has recently begun a science master's degree program through Montana State University and it is highly likely that some teachers will choose to focus their individual

capstone research papers on the use and effectiveness of the XO laptops as tools in and outside their classroom.

7. Quality/Mentoring

Caryl Bigenho, an experienced mentor from the OLPC/Sugar Community

Support group has volunteered to work directly with our MSU team.

Scott Dowdle of Bozeman Linux User's Group (LUG) has willingly volunteered to provide technical support services to the pilot

project and will become an integral part of our team.

8. Timeline 10 month pilot program

Specify how you prefer to communicate your ongoing progress and obstacles

BSSP faculty will prepare and submit narrative reports to OLPC as indicated in the timeline describing how the XO laptops and Sugar software were utilized in the science curriculum in our Native American schools. The BSSP will ask students and/or teachers to provide suggestions for new ways to use the Sugar activities in their district science curriculum and share this information with OLPC. Any master's capstone or research publications with a direct connection to this pilot will be provided to OLPC.

[x] I agree to pass on the laptop(s) to a local OLPC group or other interested contributors in case I do not have need for the laptop(s) anymore or in case my project progress stalls.