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Spilling His Guts

Spending spring break dissecting frogs and writing computer programs may not be how most people plan to spend a week off from school. But last year, that’s exactly what graduate student Richard Hill did. And in April, he’s being flown to Paris to talk about it.

Hill has been nominated to receive a Cable & Wireless Childnet award for, a Web site he created that virtually dissects a frog.

Hill said his site has received just under 100,000 unique visitors.

The Cable & Wireless Childnet Awards highlight and reward children and those working with them, who are developing innovative communication projects or activities using the Internet, according to its site, .

This year’s award ceremony takes place on April 4 and will be Webcast live from Paris.

Hill said he got the idea for the project after going to an open house at his daughter’s elementary school. He was impressed with the science experiments he saw.

“But how much did the kids actually get out of it?” he thought.

There had to be more to a frog dissection than cutting out the lungs, heart and kidney. Armed with a Flash program from Macromedia, some frogs and his curiosity, Hill decided to see if he could enhance the learning potential of a frog dissection.

“Why do we do dissections? Some people say to learn about frogs and learn about the systems in frogs,” Hill said. “But a lot of it has to do with the fact that it draws students in and helps to get their attention.”

Hill wanted to make sure he didn’t lose the element of excitement when creating his program. Initially, he thought about using a 3-D frog as a model. But the real thing, he said, was much better.

“The more real I could get it, the more they would learn,” he said. “Strange, but we have this morbid fascination with stuff … with creatures.”

It took three frogs to complete the project. Hill said the first frog he used dried out.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t choose the dissection area well,” he said. “That one was a learning experience.”

He had no problems making the right incision with the other two, one male and one female.

Hill said he probably would not have completed if it weren’t for a College of Education class he took last spring called project management.

He said at least 50 percent of his project was done when he chose to complete it for a grade.

“It was just sitting on my computer for all this time,” he said.The management course was designed to teach students how to manage people, resources and skills, Hill said. He worked during his entire spring break last year – 14 hours a day from that Friday evening to Easter Sunday, he said – “just hammering the thing out.” It launched on Easter Sunday last year.

Hill’s final grade on the project for his education class: He got an A.

Joe Martha, Webmaster for and editor for MacHome Classroom Newsletter, said he found while searching for educational sites to highlight at , which he has operated since 1997 as a resource to science teachers and students.

“I put it on the ScienceMan homepage,” Martha said. “One of my top priorities (in highlighting sites) is that it’s free, that it’s quality information and that it’s fantastic for kids to use.”

Martha said Hill’s site surpassed those qualifications. So much in fact, that Martha is the one who suggested Hill apply for the Childnet award.

“I pointed him in that direction. It’s definitely a site I think should win,” Martha said.

Completing the project has allowed Hill to tap into the world of multimedia and use it to educate.

“One of the things I wrote for Childnet (in the nomination essay) was that things today are inundated with multimedia. When (children) turn on the TV, they are hit with Zook, Disney … all these things,” Hill said. “Then they come to school, and we hand them this cellulose book that doesn’t move. They get bored.”

This summer, Hill will receive his master’s degree in instructional technology, a program that trains in the use of computer programs to teach. When he’s done with that, Hill wants to get his doctorate, he said.

He started out with a physics degree at USF before switching to the education department.

“I have a little more freedom (now) … a little more fun,” he said.And using multimedia in the classroom is what today’s children need to keep their attention, Hill said.

“The culture around them is hyping this-and-that with 3-D models and great video and sound and all this multimedia video. But in the school, we don’t give them any of that,” Hill said. “Their environment doesn’t mesh with what I do.”

Martha said he wants to see more sites like Hill’s – sites that use technology in the sciences.

“This type of Internet site brings education into the 21st Century where it belongs,” Martha said. “It’s true that science students are still using meter sticks and golf balls. But in the real world, they are using software.”

Hill said most of children in elementary school have high-tech games at home, such as Xbox and Nintendo Game Cube.

“These kids are a product of a whole different environment … where they get technology,” said Hill.

Martha said schools pay top dollar for programs that do the same thing as Hill’s site.

“And here, Richard’s is higher quality, and it’s free,” said Martha.

Hill said he simply took the tools that corporate America uses and turned them into a tool for educating.

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