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TeachNet USA: Are We Alone

Project URL:

How it works:
Students are inquisitive about many things. Depending on the nature of their curiosity, though, their inquisitiveness can lead teachers off track or be the impetus for wonderful learning situations. This program shows how teachers can turn student curiosity into a project with meaningful results.

In Are We Alone? I addressed my students' curiosity about aliens. I wanted to dispel the influences of media and utilize the opportunity to further their understanding of curricular content. We developed questions for a survey and a questionnaire, researched relevant professionals to target inquiries, e-mailed those professionals and requested their input, collected their input, calculated and graphed the results, and drew conclusions from those results.

For similar programs, the process is as follows: develop goals, introduce topic and excite the students, research and gather e-mail addresses of pertinent professionals (I had my research astronomy departments of major universities), develop survey questions with students (encourage them to think beyond their textbook and develop questions that cannot be answered by their teacher or their book), design the project's website, have students answer their own survey questions, compose and send e-mail to scientists, disseminate the results to students and have them analyze them (such as determining response percentages), transfer survey/questionnaire responses to HTML pages (I copied and pasted the information), upload HTML pages to a server and share information with students, draw conclusions from the project, thank participants and invite them back to the site, and inform others of your results.

Standards addressed:  
In this program, students collect/analyze data and draw conclusions; support reasoning by using a variety of evidence; construct logical arguments; access information at remote sites using telecommunications; apply the concept of percent; represent numerical relationships in graphs; and construct inferences and convincing arguments based on data.

Materials used:
To attempt this program,  you need Internet access and e-mail capabilities. It is also advised to develop a website for the project. To do this,  you need a web-authoring program such as FrontPage or Dreamweaver.  You also need a server and, if you are not using FrontPage, a FTP program to upload the website to the server. To operate a form, you also need a CGI script that will process the form information. FrontPage users simply need to have the website on a server with FrontPage Server Extensions to do this.

The students:
The students involved in Are We Alone? were seventh graders of varying abilities and skill levels. The teacher is involved with the more technical aspects of this project. This allows total student participation in information input and drawing conclusions from the professional responses. Students need to develop higher-thinking-level questions, calculate percentages, graph data, and draw inferences and conclusions from that data.

Overall value:
This program probably cannot be duplicated exactly. Astronomers responded to the survey because it was unique. However, both concept and process have applications in many subjects. Internet surveys are excellent tools for gathering data to enhance math and science classes, and they allow students to access experts in virtually any field and provide real-world connections for many social studies and language arts projects. Experts, or a single expert,  can be utilized throughout a unit or semester to enhance student learning. Creating a website rather than using e-mail results in a format that encourages responses. It also allows respondents, students, and others to view results, thereby  becoming an important resource as well as a record of the students' work. Tips: 
For more information, visit the Teacher Resource section of the Are We Alone?  website. This section can be accessed from the Teacher's Note page.

About the teacher:
Neil Battagliese is a seventh-grade science teacher at Memorial Middle School in South Portland, Maine, and also serves as the Middle School Science Leader for the South Portland School District. For the past three years, he has had an important role in the development of South Portland's middle-grade science curriculum. He has guided teachers through the development of a standards-based curriculum and constantly seeks innovative ways to meet the state and national standards from which their curriculum is created.


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