As part of Heidi Hebert's fifth-grade social studies curriculum at the Cutler School in
Hamilton, Massachusetts, each student takes on the role of an explorer and then writes his
or her autobiography.
When she first initiated this project, Heidi found that gathering, prioritizing, and organizing information for these autobiographies was an overwhelming process for many of her students -- particularly those in her class with learning disabilities. While these students had little difficulty finding information, many had problems linking different kinds of information in logical and clear ways.
To assist students with the process, two years ago Heidi began providing her class with an outline they could fill out as they researched their topic. While this approach was adequate for some, it was frequently a disaster for the students with organizational problems -- those students that it was meant to help most. By the time these students had filled out their outlines, because of poor handwriting, lack of space, and constant revising, many couldn't read what they had written and had no way of neatly reorganizing the information.
To find a more flexible strategy or tool that would help all of her students create usable outlines, Heidi teamed up with Hamilton computer coordinator Grace Meo, who introduced her students to the computer program Inspiration.
The project is launched in the computer lab where Grace teaches students how to create a multi-tiered concept map using Inspiration. Once they are comfortable with the fundamentals of the program, students work in pairs to brainstorm questions about their explorers like Where was he born? Where did he travel? and What did he find? Together, students create a simple web incorporating their questions.
Fifth-grade students at the Cutler School use Inspiration software to organize research reports on explorers. Before beginning to compile information, students learn how to use the program in the computer lab.
Next, Grace shows students how to convert their webs into a standard hierarchical
outline using one simple command. She then demonstrates how students can reorganize their
outline and group similar questions together around central themes like childhood and
travels. When students convert their standard outlines back to a web, the revised
organization is reflected in the concept map. "Some kids just need that visual
hook," Heidi said.
"Webs" created using Inspiration software offer students an alternative to standard hierarchical outlines. "Some kids just need that visual hook," said Hamilton fifth-grade teacher Heidi Hebert.
At the end of the session, students save their outlines on their own floppy disks. Back in the classroom they continue using Inspiration to make a "mega-outline" which incorporates everyone's questions. Students then begin their research with an outline that includes a comprehensive set of questions that can be answered on paper or computer, depending on their preference. This outline anchors students as they dive into books, encyclopedias, and CD-ROM resources in the classroom, at the library, and at home.
This is the second year that Heidi is using Inspiration with her fifth graders. Last year, the approach was enormously successful. "The students loved it. They contributed to the process every step of the way. By the time they had completed their research, their report was essentially written," Heidi said.
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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts. NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013. Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information. If you do so, please cite NCIP. Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government. This site was last updated in September 1998.
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