Principal Investigators: Ms. Priscilla Palmer (Lloyd G. Blanchard Middle School, Westford, MA), Dr. Richard A. Bennett (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA)
The Global Positioning System (GPS)  is a U.S. Government-funded satellite-based system for determining position with high accuracy on the Earth. Twenty-four satellites provide 24-hr coverage anywhere on Earth. Hand-held GPS receivers cost less than $150 and the latitude, longitude, and height above sea-level can be determined to high accuracy (error ¾ 100 m) with a push of a button. Scientists and engineers from many different disciplines use GPS for a wide variety of applications. In the Earth sciences, a primary application of GPS is geodesy, or high
accuracy mapping. GPS experiments are usually performed using a number of GPS receivers operating simultaneously all over the Earth. (The simultaneity enables accuracies on the order of 0.001 m to be obtained.) These experiments often require an international collaboration and careful coordination of all activities. The data must be communicated to a central processing facility for analysis. Data analysis requires a working knowledge of time and terrestrial reference systems (i.e., how we measure and coordinate time at the microsecond level and how we position ourselves with millimeter accuracy on a rotating Earth), and of the motions of Earth satellites.
Our proposed ATLAS project (Assisted Transnational Learning using Artificial Satellites) makes use of the low cost, high accuracy, and simplicity of GPS technology to enable students, and their teachers, to participate in their own international collaboration; to acquire data from GPS satellites simultaneously with other groups of students and teachers around the globe; to exchange this information with these other groups (via the Internet); and to simultaneously "plot up" the data acquired by other groups, thereby revealing the previously unknown locations of their global collaborators. In a separate (non-simultaneous) activity within the project, each of the groups will present its community to the other groups using GPS. First, the students will identify locations within their community that they consider to be important. The positions of these locations will then be determined with GPS. The students will communicate these data to their international collaborators, who will use these data to build atlases of the others' communities.
Within the context of these straightforward (and inexpensive) activities, then, the students will be exposed to a wide range of educational experiences. The ATLAS project is not an independent curriculum. Rather, ATLAS is intended, through a variety of skill-focused projects, to supplement the existing course of studies and to enhance learning along the lines of the stated educational goals (see below). ATLAS will provide important educational experiences otherwise unavailable to young students. The simultaneous GPS observations will be an experience shared with a globally-distributed group of collaborators, all making conscious use of the same "ultra-high-tech" satellite technology, all communicating and exchanging information for a shared goal. The hands on use of cutting-edge technology, the endorsement and support of professional scientists, and the prospect of global communication, especially with their peers, is of high interest for students. The "multidisciplinary" nature of ATLAS cannot be stressed enough. Although the activities center around a scientific project, the purposeful communication, more specifically a collaboration, with students from different countries and cultures makes the ATLAS Project unique.
Project ATLAS as a collaboration between teachers and scientists
The Principal Investigators on this project represent teams of investigators drawn from the worlds of scientific research and teaching. ATLAS is really a series of teaching activities that benefit from a knowledge of satellite technology gained through scientific research. The primary foci of ATLAS are the classroom activities, although the "behind-the-scene" development of the necessary scientific materials is crucial to the success of the project.
The main activities within the ATLAS Project can be divided into two categories: (1) Preparatory development of scientific activities and teaching materials; and (2) Implementation of scientific activities and teaching. The tasks in (1) are to be undertaken as a collaboration between a group of interested teachers and scientists, led by the Principal Investigators. The tasks in (1) include: the design and preparation of the detailed on-line description of the experimental procedure; the coordination of the simultaneous Global Mapping Experiment; the design of streamlined procedures for communication between international collaborators; the development of pre-experiment teaching materials; and the development of post-observation assessment criteria and measurement procedures. The tasks in (1) also include the training of teachers in the use of the GPS equipment by the scientists, technical support for successful e-mail use, and providing support involving language issues (by having at least one scientist or teacher available who can assist in these issues). The tasks in (2) are activities in which the students will undertake the GPS measurements, led by the teachers. (These activities are described in detail in a section below.) For these activities, the scientists will serve as "consultants," and we anticipate that there will be minimal contact, except as required.
The interdisciplinary nature of Project ATLAS
Although ATLAS is presented mainly as a science project, it is clear that there is a significant interdisciplinary nature to the activities. The specific implementation of ATLAS will be (and should be) left to the schools themselves. We will nevertheless strongly encourage the participating schools to involve as co-equals teachers of science, social studies, language, math, reading and even the industrial arts. This approach will have several important benefits. First, it will help insure that the students are guided appropriately through the ATLAS activities, where they will work on a scientific project within the framework of a global network of culturally diverse colleagues. Second, the participation of teachers from several disciplines will demonstrate to the students that there need not be a strong division between these disciplines and that the resultant synergy can produce results that are more useful. This type of learning will touch upon all of Gardner's multiple intelligences , thus greatly increasing the students ability to retain the information and skills and ensuring the success of every student through his strongest learning modality.
Description of Project ATLAS activities
The "core" of the ATLAS Project are the two cooperative scientific experiments that the students, led by their teachers, engage in. These activities were briefly discussed in the introduction. In this section, we expand the description of these core activities and place them in the context of specific educational goals and objectives.
As stated above, the ATLAS project is intended to supplement and enhance established curriculum, rather than being a replacement for existing curriculum. The ATLAS Project is designed to impact the students' along a fairly wide range of educational objectives. Below, we discuss the three primary teaching activities within the ATLAS project; in the following section we discuss the goals and objectives that these activities are designed to address. (We will discuss in a later section the criteria and methods used to measure the extent to which the goals have been met.)
Activity 1: Classroom preparation prior to GPS experiments (Time required: 2-3 hours total of classroom teaching over several days). Teachers will work with a curriculum that has been developed in collaboration between the scientists and teachers. The objective of Activity 1 is to make sure that the students have adequate preparation in those concepts which are necessary for understanding the two experiments. During these classroom periods, the students will review the concepts of Earth as a planet, latitude and longitude, and time zones. The teacher will introduce (or review, as the case may be) the idea of artificial satellites that are used to view the Earth and that broadcast radio signals to the Earth. New concepts will be the idea of satellite orbits, and of satellite visibility. Simple graphing techniques will be explained. Given the level of the students, these introductions should be elementary but they should, of course, be truthful. (Pretesting for existence and strength of prior knowledge will not be required, but may be pertinent for some students to ensure their level of preparedness. If teachers choose to do this, we will assist them in the implementation of their preferred method.) Students will also be given classroom instruction on the use of the GPS receivers, and practice determining positions. Finally, e-mail procedures will be demonstrated and practiced.
Activity 2: Global Mapping Experiment (Time required: 1-2 hours on one day). In this activity, each group will choose a "reference mark" for their location, say, at their school. At a time specified so that all groups are participating simultaneously, each group will use a hand-held GPS receiver to measure the latitude and longitude of their reference mark. The group will then fill out an electronic form with the relevant scientific data, and e-mail this information to an e-mail "exploder," which will then distribute the e-mail to all the groups involved. At the same time each group will receive data via e-mail from the other groups, who are unknown to one another. As this information arrives, the identities and positions of the other groups are revealed and plotted. (The "blind" aspect of the experiment is meant to increase the fun of the activity; it will assure, however, that the plotting is performed as accurately as possible. We believe that the best way to do the plotting is a rather low-tech method that nonetheless enables students to obtain a very good understanding of the results: pins on a globe.) The Global Mapping Experiment starts and ends at a predetermined time. All groups must finish their observations (or report a postponement if there are experimental problems) by the time of the scheduled experiment. Practical problems associated with simultaneity are discussed below.
Activity 3:Community Mapping Experiment (Time required: 1-2 hours per day for up to two weeks on a "homework" basis). In this activity, each group first identifies a list of locations that, to the mind of its members, "defines" their community. The size of the list and the accessibility of locations are practical problems that are dealt with best by local teachers. Over the next several days, individual members of the group, or perhaps groups of members, are assigned the task of using the GPS receivers to measure the position of one or more locations. On the day after each observation, the student(s) report the results of their measurements to the class. The latitude and longitude are converted to coordinates relative to the reference mark using an on-line tool developed by us beforehand. After two weeks, the lists of locations and their coordinates are mailed to all the other groups. At the same time, the lists are received from the other groups. The lists are given to each student to make maps of the other groups' communities. Follow-up questions dealing with these lists (e.g., What's a "parque?") can be organized by the teacher and e-mailed to specific groups for their responses.
Educational goals and objectives
Goal 1:Use GPS and the topic of artificial satellites to interest students in science as a human activity. Recent studies  have indicated that many students picture scientists as "nerds" with no real connection to "real life." Having this prejudice, it is perfectly understandable that a large number of talented students reject science as a career, or even as a topic worthy of their interest and attention. This picture of scientists and of science is (at least we feel) far from the truth. In all of the activities, but especially Activity 3, students will be encouraged to view science as a fundamental response to the very natural need for people to understand the world around them. The topic of artificial satellites (outer space!) will interest a great number of students. Students will be interested in the active "hands-on" use of artificial satellites for real world applications. They will become aware of current scientific and financially significant commercial applications of GPS. They will apply this knowledge to other potentially meaningful uses for this technology on their planet and be encouraged to imagine future uses of artificial satellites, not necessarily limited to those orbiting Earth. They will come, through the ATLAS Project, to understand that they have a great potential for contributing significantly to their community and world if they choose a career in science. In Activity 1 teachers and students together will address such questions as: What is an artificial satellite? What social, economic, ecological, and other problems can be addressed using artificial satellites? Who decides to launch a satellite? Who builds them? How do satellites work? How do they communicate with us and how do we communicate with them? Do, perhaps, we use satellites on a daily basis without knowing it? In Activity 2, science as a social effort will be stressed. Students will experience working with international groups of fellow students and scientists on a common project. Working towards a common goal will enable students of differing languages, nationalities, interests, values, faiths, and colors to understand that they can work together despite their differences and, more importantly, enrich their experience because of those differences. The idea of scientific collaboration as a shared human experience will be stressed. The electronic data forms (developed beforehand by us) will contain information on GPS satellite visibility. Thus, the students' experience will include the observation that students around the world will be observing the same GPS satellites at that very moment. In Activity 3, students will use a scientific measurement technique to help describe their social environment. They will discover that scientific study allows choices and creativity even within the context of collecting and sharing scientific data. At the same time, they'll be learning about other cultures from students engaged in the same scientific activity.
Goal 2:Break down international barriers. To say that we live in a global village is cliche, and students don't readily learn from cliches (although they may repeat them). On the other hand, in Activities 2 and 3 students will be interacting with other students from several other parts of the world. They'll be learning about other communities and cultures, and at the same time they'll realize that they are teaching others about their own community and culture. What common types of locations were chosen in Activity 3? What different types? What's important to other cultures? What's important to all cultures (at least those involved in ATLAS)? We anticipate that there may be some language issues. The standardized data forms (developed by us beforehand) will help the actual scientific results to be communicated with minimal problem. But tackling the small language problems that arise (in the naming of local places, for example) will itself be a valuable learning experience. In a sense, we are trying to simulate a real-life example of an international endeavor. This experience may be the catalyst that inspires some students to learn another language or, where mandated in some systems to learn a foreign language, to find value in it.
Goal 3:Use the Internet as a powerful tool in scientific research and in global communication. Despite the proliferation of computers in the home and Web sites around the world, the Internet and the World Wide Web are frequently used primarily for entertainment. Educational Web sites, in our experience, tend to be methods for passive learning. In Activities 2 and 3, student will use one of the simplest network tools, e-mail, as a fundamental part of the experiment. The students will experience the Internet as a medium for actively exchanging ideas and scientific data (one of its original purposes). The immediacy of the Internet will also be experienced: e-mail is delivered within a few minutes of its sending.
Assessment of ATLAS will be focused on two objectives. The first strategy will be a more or less direct assessment of the design of ATLAS activities: their appropriateness, their ease of application, the on-line instructions and curriculum, etc. The second strategy will be the day-to
day assessment by the teachers leading the ATLAS activities of whether the students understand the material and their activities. Clearly, the two objectives being assessed are related. In some cases, consistent understanding difficulties may indicate a fundamental change or enhancement in a specific activity. In other cases, we might simply have to provide a little near-real-time guidance (via e-mail) to overcome activities. In the assessment strategies of both objectives, the teacher or teacher-team plays the fundamental role, for it is they who interact with the students and lead the students through the activities.
Below, we describe in further detail the objectives of the assessment and the strategies used.
Objective A: Direct assessment by teachers and students. Teachers and students will evaluate their success after each activity the program's overall success. There will be two brief forms electronically available. One form will be completed by the teacher and students as a team and the other will be completed by the teacher alone. The evaluations will be brief and rather general so as to accommodate class time and our effective compilation and analysis of results. A sample evaluation question might be "Why do scientists need to collaborate with other colleagues in their work?" The teacher evaluation form will be somewhat more detailed, requesting written explanations of the most and least effective methods for: conveying information; gathering, sending, and analyzing data; using equipment; etc. This evaluation will require a small time commitment for both teachers and project staff, but it will be very valuable in determining the success of the project and how to improve it if it were to continue. We will use these evaluations to improve those aspects of the ATLAS project which require adjustment.
Objective B: Classroom assessment of student learning and understanding. Each teacher or set of teachers involved will assess student learning on site using their own methods. These methods may be formal or informal, as appropriate. For example, during the GPS-receiver training of Activity 1, the teacher or teacher-team realizes that their is some aspect of the receiver operation which the students have not absorbed, we will be available for overnight e-mail consultation. We will also make available suggested guidelines for informal assessment. In Activity 2, did students successfully measure their location using GPS and communicate that information to their colleagues? Did they successfully collect, analyze, and interpret data sent from other students? Did students demonstrate an understanding of the tasks within this activity?
The target student audience for ATLAS is set by two competing requirements. Some elementary science and mathematical skills are required. The students will have to be able to visualize satellite orbits and be able to plot coordinates in a cartesian coordinate system. On the other hand, it is important that students be open to new ideas concerning what it means to be a scientist and how science is done. ATLAS is therefore most appropriate for students who are at or near Grade 8 (or its equivalent).
Involving students in developing countries
All students involved in Project ATLAS will benefit greatly by the involvement of student colleagues from a wide variety of different backgrounds, cultures, etc. The involvement of students and scientists from developing countries is extremely important, for the absence of students and scientists from these countries would send an inappropriate signal and reinforce the stereotype of scientists as white males . The materials required by Project ATLAS are inexpensive enough (less than $500 per school) that we feel we would have no trouble obtaining support from U.S. or international agencies for the participation of a reasonable number of schools from underdeveloped or developing countries. It may be difficult, though, for some schools in some countries to obtain Internet access, which is not widespread throughout the developing world. Nevertheless, it should still be possible for those schools to participate in the Community Mapping Experiment, and to communicate results by mail. Because participation by developing countries is so important, we will investigate means by which schools with no Internet access can be included in future years.
Time and budget outline
The first (pilot) ATLAS measurement session has tentatively been scheduled for the Spring of 1999. By that time, we will have developed the necessary on-line forms, teaching information, etc. For the pilot year of the ATLAS Project, we will use a very small test network of schools, teachers, and scientists. For this pilot year, a scientist will be paired with a teacher from each school. This pilot year will be used to assess all stages of the project (see above).
The budget for the pilot year covers the initial equipment and supplies: three hand-held GPS receivers for each classroom, communications and shipping expenses, and a small amount of travel (by auto) for the PI's. (Ms. Palmer's and Dr. Davis' workplace is separated by ~50 miles.) We anticipate that schools participating after the pilot yearafter ATLAS is well demonstratedwill be able to purchase their own GPS receivers and supplies, but we feel that at this point it would be appropriate to provide most of these materials. All participating schools will need to provide Internet access with e-mail and Web browser tools.
Following the pilot year, we will first revise our forms and procedures, based on the assessment following the initial test. We will then develop on-line materials that can be implemented independently by any interested school or school system. We hope to attract schools from many different countries, especially those of South and Central America, Africa, and Asia (see above). The primary medium for soliciting participation will be through scientific channels, since there is already an international network in place for exchanging scientific information (society newsletters, etc.) We anticipate requesting some funds in following years for communication, and perhaps even some partial support for equipment (for schools for which even minimal purchases are a financial burden) and salary (if promoting and implementing the ATLAS Project begins to take a significant fraction of time), but it should be possible to solicit funding for the ATLAS project from other agencies (NSF, NASA) along with SI.
We intend to submit a summary of the pilot year of the ATLAS Project to peer-reviewed educational journals, both to increase awareness of the project and to solicit critical professional input from a wide variety of educational sources.
For the pilot year of ATLAS, we have solicited participation from a small number of schools. These schools were chosen because they are nearby to scientists working in the field of GPS
geophysics. In this way, we have created a "buddy system" of schools and (bilingual) scientists. This system will help us to overcome unforseen problems that may be encountered during the pilot year, and also help us better to assess the project. In other words, the educators involved in the pilot year will serve as a consulting team for the development and implementation of ATLAS.
Table 1 gives the project ATLAS educator/scientist pairs for the initial participants. In some cases the educators are individual classroom teachers, and in some they represent the school administration. We have listed the scientist contact for the schools near Boston simply as "Space Geodesy Group, SAO" to indicate that this can be either or both of the Project Leader Dr. J. Davis or Principal Investigator Dr. R. Bennett.
|Colegio San Agustin|
|Mr. Felix P. Martin, Colegio San Agustin|
Dr. Pedro Elósegui, Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya
|Ottoson Middle School|
|Ms. Joanne M. Gurry, Assistant Superintendent, Arlington Schools|
Space Geodesy Group, SAO
|Blanchard Middle School|
|Ms. Priscilla R. Palmer, Blanchard Middle School|
Space Geodesy Group, SAO
|Ms. Birgitta Johansson, Hålabäcksskolan|
Dr. Jan Johansson, Onsala Space Observatory
|St. Hilary School|
|Ms. Eva Faryniarz, St. Hilary School|
Dr. Jerry Mitrovica, University of Toronto
 Leick, A. GPS Satellite Surveying, Wiley: New York, 352 pp., 1990.
 Gardner, H., Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, BasicBooks: New York, 440 pp., 1993.
 Chambers, D.W., Stereotypic images of the scientist: The draw-a-scientist test, Science Education, 67, 255-265, 1983.
Priscilla R. Palmer has been a middle-school science teacher in the Boston area for over 14 years. She has been particularly interested in the classroom uses of the Internet. She was a participant in the Lighthouse School project for 1997-1998, funded by the Department of Education, which provides for teachers at those schools to serve as consultants in the application of computer technology in education, and for the organization of workshops on that topic. Ms. Palmer will take the lead in the development of classroom materials, and assessment procedures.
Richard A. Bennett is a Geodesist and member of the Space Geodesy Group at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. He has used GPS to study the motions of faults in southern California and in the Basin and Range. Dr. Bennett will lead the development of Web-based materials and oversee the undergraduate who will perform much of the coding.