Technology can be used to engage students in ways that other tools cannot. So what are the most fun or creative ways principals have seen teachers use the technology they have at hand? That's the question we asked the principals who comprise our "Principal Files" team.
How is technology integration going in your school? Are you happy with the progress your teachers are making as they strive to work technology into their curricula in meaningful ways?
Education World recently asked our "Principal Files" team members to share with us some of the best uses of technology they have seen in their schools. The principals shared how impressed they are with the creativity they've seen teachers use. Many lessons that employ technology have gotten students excited and engaged about learning. Other lessons add simple elements of fun or learning that would not be otherwise possible. And one use of technology ensures that students will perform better on annual achievement tests.
At Orchard Hill Elementary School in South Windsor, Connecticut, principal Bridget Braney reports that staff members have made great strides in their use of technology. "The number of projects and applications integrated into curriculum is almost too overwhelming," Braney told Education World. The best part, she says, is that "their efforts have been motivated by a desire to improve instruction, not simply to prove they know how to use the technology tools. They have been working to integrate technology because it supports good teaching."
"Technology use is becoming commonplace throughout our school," added Michael Miller, principal at Saturn Elementary School in Cocoa, Florida. "As part of our district's strategic plan, teachers are evaluated according to levels of technology implementation. My teachers are at or above the standards the district have adopted."
Up the road at Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida, principal Larry Davis said that progress in using technology was a little slow at first. Davis realized that the teachers were overwhelmed by all the technology related in-service opportunities that were presented. Another problem was that the in-services were held after school when teachers were the most tired, he said. So he came up with a plan that he felt would be more productive for teachers.
"We arranged for a half-day training session for all the teachers," Davis explained. "We released them during the school day and hired a substitute to cover their classes so they would not be interrupted for 3 hours.
"The half-day session gave teachers time to focus when they had the energy to do it. We trained them to be familiar with the all the software available to them. They got to try out that software and to ask any questions they had regarding its use in the classroom."
The plan has paid off, Davis added. "Just the other day I saw one third-grade teacher using PowerPoint to present a lesson. In another third-grade class, students were using a program called Fonts 4 Teachers. The children were writing in print form and they watched as the program translated it to cursive."
In addition, every student at Doctors Inlet uses the Reading Counts program each day. Students read books and take Reading Counts tests online. And they do it without assistance, said Davis. "The program tracks the students' points, which they can 'cash in' for prizes," he explained. "It also provides the teacher with a diagnostic tool for helping students who are having difficulty with reading comprehension."
Opportunities to integrate technology stretch across the grades and the curriculum. The variety of tools at teachers' fingertips help them integrate technology in many ways. At Orchard Hill Elementary, students use word processing and presentation software programs for many different educational purposes. Bridget Braney told us about of a handful of those uses:
Students in every grade at Orchard Hill are using word processing to create documents. "Students tend to write more and revise better with word processing tools," Braney observed. "Some staff members use AlphaSmarts (NEO2s) to teach typing, practice spelling, and challenge students to write haikus, limericks, and narrative or expository reports. Students then add graphics that add to their text. For example, our first-grade teachers had students create bat brochures as they studied bats and made bat houses."
Braney has seen another fun and educational use of technology used across the grades. "Students and staff use a Jeopardy game templates to review or quiz classmates about information they have gathered or learned."
At Costa Rica Christian School in San Jose, Costa Rica, Priscilla Mora saw a second-grade teacher introduce her students to the solar system. Students worked in the computer lab to create their own solar system displays. "They used the 'turtle' tool in the LogoWriter software program," said Mora. "It was quite amazing to see each solar system -- with each of the children's special stars, moons, and comets. Parents came to school for a special morning presentation."
"They really learned this lesson," added Mora.
Teachers have found dozens of ways to capitalize on the use of digital photography in the classroom. "Our PE teacher uses digital pictures she takes to demonstrate posture and proper position," explained Braney. "And many teachers take pictures while on class field trips. They add captions and individual reflections to create presentations, books, or bulletin board displays from which others can learn."
At Saturn Elementary, a special holiday sing-along is held each year. The holiday event always includes a read-aloud winter story, principal Michael Miller said. "Because there are so many students, they won't see the book's pictures if I show them. But this past year we took digital pictures of the book and then placed those pictures into a PowerPoint presentation. The pictures were displayed on the wall as I read the book. This turned out to be such a great idea. No students talked during the reading because they were so impressed that they could all see the pictures on the wall."
Looking for additional ideas for including digital photography in the classroom? See an Education World article, Smile! Digital Cameras Can Make Your Day.
The Internet is a rich resource that many wise teachers are mining for the purpose of exposing students to new information about almost any topic. "Students and staff love the virtual field trips that can be found online and interactive sites like author Jan Brett's home page or the owl pellet demo on froguts.com," Bridget Braney told Education World."
Jim Pastore, principal of the International School of Trieste's (Italy) middle school, has seen many teachers make wise use of the Internet. One of the best uses he has witnessed was in his last school [Marymount International School in Rome] where Dr. Erick Wilberding taught art history to middle schoolers.
"Just a few years ago teaching the class would have necessitated a large, expensive book, and a variety of black and white photocopies that could never do justice to the artwork studied in the classes," Pastore told Education World. "But Dr. Wilberding created his own Web site to use as he taught a 13-week arts-block course. By using a laptop, projector, and big screen, he linked to the Internet 'live' in class. He showed slides, including close ups, of dozens of works of art.
"The addition of technology made the study of this traditionally adult subject very rewarding and exciting for students."
Principal Priscilla Mora recently saw a kindergarten teacher using pictures and videos downloaded from Internet to introduce a unit about cultures around the world. "It was a wonderful experience for children," said Mora, "and the teacher sent a note to parents to tell them how they could reinforce this information by doing the same thing at home with their children."
As school leaders realize the value in Internet access, more and more classrooms are being outfitted to capitalize on it. "By the end of this school year we will have in every classroom a mounted projector that is connected to the Internet," said principal Michael Miller.
Having an Internet projector in every classroom can result in higher scores on state achievement tests, noted Michael Miller. "Our state provides a Web site that offers sample test questions to help students prepare for the reading and math portions of the FCAT (Florida's annual state tests). Some teachers turn this activity into a classroom game; teams of students compete as they answer the questions on the screen."
In addition, Miller's school has also adopted the Classworks computer program. "FCAT scores are dumped into a management program and the program provides individualized activities students can use to practice needed skills," explained Miller. "Teachers can easily see skills the whole class could use and skills individual students need to practice too."
The fact that these tools are technology based helps to keep students engaged, added Miller.