Technology has become integrated in the classroom in so many ways, that we often don't even think about how we are using it. The Education World Tech Team offers lessons and activities to help educators make better use of technology tools for instruction, and to help students improve their technology skills within the context of the regular curriculum. Included: Integration activities that utilize the Web, PowerPoint, Excel, digital photography, SMART Boards, and more.
In more and more schools today, technology is recognized as an instructional tool, not as a subject of instruction. Still, many educators, less familiar and less comfortable with technology than their students, struggle to seamlessly integrate a growing list of technology tools into their regular curriculum. So, to help you make the best use of technology in your schools and classrooms this year, we asked the Education World Tech Team to share some of their favorite technology integration lessons, activities, and strategies with you.
"Using technology in the classroom is becoming easier for teachers," instructional technology consultant Jamye Swinford told Education World. "Students are coming to class with more skills. Whether a teacher requires it or not, most students use technology for their projects."
Probably the technology tool used most often for student projects is the World Wide Web.
"The Internet has many sites that easily lend themselves to classroom integration," Swinford pointed out. "A favorite of mine, Refdesk.com, has a Site of the Day section containing a wealth of useful and interesting Web sites. An archive also is available. Other useful sections of the site include a Thought of the Day, Word of the Day, and Current Events. All those sections provide a wealth of research and discussion opportunities.
"Refdesk also has links to newspapers, listed by state and country. Foreign language classes can access online news articles in the language being studied," Swinford continued. "Dictionary and thesaurus links also are easily accessible. Translation links are available too -- all in one place on one page. If a student or teacher needs a starting page to find resources, I definitely recommend this site."
"The Internet is loaded with activities for all types of classes," agreed high school science teacher John Tiffany. "I regularly try to integrate Internet-based activities into my astronomy class, my biology class, and my integrated science class for freshmen. Activities might include current readings on topics in the field, or activities that students can do. My astronomy class is small, so this year, I intend to give each student an e-mail account and post articles to my Web site. Students will respond individually, I'll post their responses, and have students respond to one another's postings."
"Many times, I worked with a science teacher to help students use the Internet to learn about planets, hurricanes, earthquakes, and so on," said retired K-8 computer teacher/coordinator Betty Kistler. "We would locate appropriate sites and then I would create a Web page for students to use. The science teacher sometimes came into the lab with his students and guided the research; other times, he used the Internet on a big screen in his classroom. Students sometimes worked in pairs to answer questions. I found that most teachers felt more secure using the Internet in the lab with me or in their classroom if I was there. As time went by, they became more confident and comfortable with the technology (and the technology became more reliable too)."
"In history," high school Webmaster Fred Holmes said, "a teacher might assign students to research different areas of a particular subject. Students would then go onto the Internet, collect pictures, information, and so on, and present the results of their research to the class. A study of Civil War battles would be an example of that type of activity; the teacher would assign groups different battles, the students would research their assigned battles, collect pictures, and then give a guided tour of the battlefield, telling what happened there."
Internet scavenger hunts are another way to integrate technology into almost any topic or subject area. "I have my older students create online scavenger hunts for younger students," noted computer coordinator Jennifer Wagner. "It improves my older students' research and typing skills, and provides lower grade teachers with extra activities for their students."
Fourth grade teacher Mary Kreul offered a number of Internet-based activities for all grade levels.
"PowerPoint is another technology tool that's exceptionally easy to use in the classroom," noted Jamye Swinford. "All kinds of research projects can be adapted to this application.
"If a teacher has experience," Swinford said, "presentation skills also can be emphasized. Besides standard presentations, such as slide shows, projects may be presented in an interactive way, using a game show format, for example. A student I know created "Millionaire Muslim Style," using a popular game show format to present facts about the Muslim religion. It was fun and everyone learned the information."
"Our students often used PowerPoint to accompany oral reports on curricular topics," added Betty Kistler. "Perhaps the best integrated project I participated in involved 8th graders looking at World War II posters on the Internet. Students analyzed the posters and related them to the history of that time. I modeled this using one poster, and then students picked two or three posters to focus on and used the Internet to research their posters. A couple of students assisted me (or did I assist them?) putting the posters into PowerPoint. In Social Studies class, groups of students who had focused on a particular poster discussed their thoughts. Then, each group presented its findings to the class, projecting the PowerPoint images up on the screen. The result was a lively and thoughtful discussion between the reporting groups and the rest of the class."
"Excel is another easily adaptable application," Swinford said. "Charts and graphs are a natural with Excel. This application can be used to tally results for any kind of question. Elementary students can enter results, create graphs, and compare and contrast their results.
"The natural graph structure of Excel can be used by students to create game boards or patterns," Swinford added. "Calendars or timelines also are easily created with Excel. Older students can create interactive lessons or activities. The database capabilities of Excel allow easy sorting and classifying of information."
"Spreadsheets, such as those created in Excel, also can be used in sociology and psychology to chart different observations," noted Fred Holmes.
Betty Kistler's sixth grade students used the Internet to obtain weather in a country they were studying in-depth over a period of time; they then used Excel to record and compare the weather in that country to their own.
"Facilitate students' ability to use word processors (depending on age, of course) and they can do a lot with technology on their own without taking up teacher time," Stew Pruslin said.
"Word processing is a standard application available in almost every school," Jamye Swinford agreed. "A word processing program can be used for desktop publishing; students can create newsletters and magazines, advertisements and flyers, even business cards.
"The drawing tools included in most word processing programs allow students to create pictures and logos, puzzles and more," Swinford said. "Stories can be illustrated. Cookbooks can be created with imported graphics or custom illustrations. Using the HTML conversion utilities, students can create Web pages from word processing documents. Interactive documents can be made with the use of hyperlinks.
"Word processing features, such as tracking and commenting, facilitate collaborative projects," Swinford added. "Tables are useful for collecting data and recording information. If a word processing program was the only application available, a teacher could have a technology-rich classroom with little effort."
"We did some keyboarding instruction beginning in grade 3, and then used the weekly spelling list for practice," noted Betty Kistler; "sort of like the old 'write the words 5 times' assignment. Students eventually became proficient with word processing for writing essays. In 6th grade, students used word processing to report on a week-long camping experience; in 7th grade, they learned to use columns to create a newspaper based on topics from colonial times."
"Students also can use a word processing program to record 'What I Learned This Week,' added preservice instructor Vicky Romano. "Each student types one or two sentences throughout the week; then on Friday, the teacher prints the entire document and sends it home."
"At a conference I attended on Writing Across the Curriculum, the keynote address, given by Dr. James R. Squire, was entitled Writing to Learn," education and instructional technology professor Bernie Poole told Education World. "The message was simple: the act of organizing ideas with a view to communicating in writing to others does more than simply demonstrate what knowledge we have. It activates, reinforces, and transforms, that knowledge.
"This is a powerful idea," Poole said. "Writing is a purposeful, often painstaking, process, the execution of which is perhaps the most educational cognitive activity in which we and our students can be engaged. It is a process appropriate to learners of all ages and all subject areas, right across the K-college curriculum and beyond.
"It seems to me that we can construct a powerful syllogism based on Dr. Squire's ideas about Writing to Learn, said Poole. "A syllogism is a logical argument (much revered by the ancient Greeks) that makes three propositions, the first two of which (premises) make the third (concluding) statement difficult to deny. Here's my syllogism:
"Statement 1: As Dr. Squires and others have shown, writing contributes significantly to the acquisition of knowledge;
Statement 2: No one today would dispute that the word processor is the most versatile writing implement yet invented;
Statement 3: We therefore can conclude that the word processor contributes significantly to the acquisition of knowledge.
"Make sense? I think it does. As teachers, we should do all we can to have our students use the word processor, e-mail, and chat rooms/instant messaging to write their brains out. Think about it. How many teachers require their students to write? If writing is such a powerful learning experience, shouldn't every teacher every day plan activities that involve writing? And if not, why not?
"So let's get our students using the computer across the curriculum, over and over, for assignments that involve them in 'writing their brains out.' Poole concluded."
MISCELLANEOUS TECHNOLOGY TOOLS
"The most important thing is for the teacher to let their imagination go," said Fred Holmes. "If the idea works, great; if there are problems, the teacher can 'tweak' them along the way.
"Students can learn about the political process, for example, by working in groups to stage an election," Holmes suggested. "Each group might select a campaign manager, a candidate, and so on, and then create film ads promoting their candidates. Students can edit or enhance the ads using video capture and editing software, and then show the ads to their schoolmates and ask the student body to vote for the best candidate."
"Students also can import pictures from the Internet or scan drawings they created by hand or with a graphics program to add to their written reports," noted Betty Kistler.
"Digital cameras can be used to illustrate a variety of curricular topics, such as growing plants, changing seasons, and field trips," said Mary Kreul. "Digital photos can be printed, used to illustrate student writing, or included in a slide show or on a Web page."
Students, of course, aren't the only ones who get to use the fun stuff!
"I use a SMART Board and a projector to project PowerPoint presentations for my class," John Tiffany told Education World. "It's so convenient to stand up at the board and be able to click through a presentation by tapping on the screen. I also use SMART Board for brainstorming sessions with students. I allow them to come to the board and write their own ideas. If we're doing math problems, I allow students to come to the front and work out the assignments on the SMART Board. They enjoy doing that. I then can save their brainstorming ideas or work for future reference, rather than having to copy it or risk losing it, as would have been the case if I'd used a chalkboard. I also allow students to experiment with the SMART Board during down time.
"Using PowerPoint and a projector instead of an overhead and lecture notes is another use of technology that allows me to spice up my lectures," Tiffany said. "I can include pictures, sounds, sound bytes, and music to enhance the information I present.
"I also have a microscope that I've hooked up to my computer; the students are fascinated with it," added Tiffany. "It doesn't have the best resolution, but we have fun looking at things and trying to guess what they are. I've used it when I want to look at specific things to use as part of a lesson. It's a lot easier and quicker than setting up a microscope and having students take turns looking at something individually."
To promote technology use among their students, Jennifer Wagner recommends that teachers encourage online projects, visit other teachers' Web sites to see how they are integrating technology, and get together with other teachers on a bi-weekly basis to go through the curriculum and share ways they can use technology in their lessons.
Vicky Romano suggests that teachers hold 'office hours' one or two evenings a week via an online chat room, and answer questions from students and their families.
Of course, few school-based technology programs can succeed without the support and encouragement of school administrators.
"What I have found is that one of the most important indicators to tying technology-skill instruction to the curriculum, particularly at the K-12 level, is a firm grounding in technology standards on the part of administrators," Nicholas Langlie told Education World. "If administrators do not understand the scope of what they should know regarding technology, technology use will not be implemented successfully. If administrators cannot appreciate the scope of what is involved, how can they be expected to value the technology and align it with the curriculum? I do not believe they can.
"I believe that without informed leadership, most technology initiatives are fragmented and lack cohesion," said Langlie, Online Teaching/Learning Support at New York's Hudson Valley Community College. "I believe it to be very difficult to tie technology-skill instruction to the curriculum if you cannot pull together all the pieces and appreciate what it is doing in the bigger picture of the culture of learning you have in your school district."
"The best way to get technology integrated into the curriculum is to make sure your district's teachers are provided with lots and lots of training," added education technology specialist Robin Smith. "For the past four years, our teachers have been required to take 14 hours of technology training in the summer as part of their contract. We provide training at various times during the summer and teachers select the courses and times that are most convenient and beneficial to them. We also provide training during the school year.
"To be sure we are providing what teachers need, we have a committee of approximately 20 people, including both technophobic teachers and technology experts, as well as administrators, who determine what topics we need to provide training for. This summer," Smith noted, "the committee provided a full day of training for all teachers at each grade level. During the training, we provided a grid of benchmarks to be met for each grade, projects and activities they might do with their classes to meet those benchmarks, and evaluation sheets to ensure that teachers can show parents and administrators what skills students have successfully implemented and what deficiencies still need to be addressed.
"This summer, we also trained administrators to be are aware of what teachers should be doing and what they need to look for in the classroom to assure that their teachers are integrating technology," Smith said.
"I think the biggest things district need to remember," Smith said, "is that technology integration can't be accomplished overnight. It takes timebaby steps and lots of patience. Through training, time, strong administrative support and leadership, and long term planning, however, all schools can reach their goals for technology integration."
Article by Linda Starr
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