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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: In Search of Connectivity: How Authentic Learning with Technology Engages Middle Grade Students


Research Summary

The Question
What happens when students become leaders in a movement to make technology usage more ubiquitous and user-friendly for a school community?

My question asked what social dynamics and academic behaviors would be displayed as a group of students undertook a research study that might benefit their fellow learners. I further wanted to know what evidence would there be of student growth as learners and investigators as a result of participating in this project and what negative consequences may occur as the result of these efforts? Extended day programs are in great jeopardy of being eliminated in our school system. There is no money in the projected budget for programs such as the one in this study. Adults, both local and statewide, are skeptical about the ability of middle school students to effectively participate in authentic learning activities as outlined in this study.


  • Emails – intended to provide students with communication opportunities for contemporaneous feedback and personal journaling
  • Observation checklists – intended to record behaviors, engagement in the activities, and comments from individual activities
  • On-line surveys – intended to get honest self-reporting feedback from students on their engagement and accomplishment of self-selected tasks
  • Attendance collection – intended to measure student attendance against school-wide averages
  • Progress reports and report cards – intended to measure student achievement and behaviors as reported by teacher observations
  • Journaling – intended to record my own responses and reactions to daily interactions and activities

Data Analysis and Findings
The students undertook an effort to make school administrators and politicians aware of the digital divide in school communities in Chicago. They surveyed parents and other students and tapped into a city-wide study of access to the Internet, especially as it impacts the Hispanic community. As they worked through the process, students grew in the type, quality, and quantity of their writings in their email messages. Female students were more likely to be engaged in activities in class that were educational in nature, while males were more engaged in game playing. They expressed great satisfaction in their participation in this enrichment program and had higher attendance rates than their peers both in other extended day programs and during the school year. Their grades were better on the whole and their Iowa test scores in reading and mathematics were better than those of the school at large. The group averaged a 5.8 percentile gain in reading and 3 percentile points gained in mathematics over their previous year’s scores, while the school’s overall scores were down slightly in both measures. They met with key legislators in the state capitol at a state-wide technology exhibit. As evidenced by the comments in the guest book, their brochures, newsletters, and the level of sophistication of everyone who met with them remarked on their presentation.

Students in the middle grades can effectively participate in engaged learning activities that impact their school community. Programs that provide students with these opportunities should be encouraged and funded. These students have demonstrated that they are capable of being effective lobbyists for causes that concern them and these opportunities should be provided to others, as well. Educators should also be assisted in developing authentic learning opportunities since this type of learning activity can also improve the students’ sense of self-worth and social responsibility.

The students have decided to tackle the Chicago Public Library system next year. Unlike national trends, their findings indicated that students heavily use the library system when they do not have Internet connectivity at home. Yet, the library is closed when the students are available to use its facilities. The library is closed on Sunday, in the evenings, and on school holidays. The students intend to share their findings with the library board and the local politicians to see if they can impact local library policies to benefit the students of Chicago. Programs like this need adult leadership that is committed to allowing students to lead and help direct authentic learning activities and supported by open-minded administrators.

Policy Implications and Recommendations

  • Teachers need to be encouraged to guide students in engaged learning activities since the research indicates that students demonstrate improved academic achievement, social awareness, and sense of self-worth when engaged in activities that are meaningful to them.
  • Students need to be provided with enrichment opportunities since research indicates they have demonstrated exceptional growth as learners.
  • Policy makers need to recognize that there is a demonstrable digital divide between Hispanics and other ethnic groups, and those gaps should be addressed in this technologically intensive society.

Suzanne Martinez
E-mail Suzanne

Research Focus:
Technology Usage
Student Leaders

TNLI Affiliate:

Louis Pasteur School
5825 S. Kostner Avenue
Chicago, IL 60629

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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