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Technology in the Classroom: Games or Learning Tools?
Voice of Experience

Each week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in Education World's Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Kathleen Housley bristles at those who see computers in the classroom as nothing more than game consoles. Housley reflects on what her fourth graders accomplished last year with the computers in her classroom. "Game consoles? Baloney!" Housley concludes. Included: Join a discussion about great technology projects!

When I received my year-end checklist from the front office last May, the hairs on the back of my neck bristled. "Please store your computer and all computer games in your closet for the summer."

Games? Please!

Why is it that folks still view classroom computers as game consoles? My students and I share a radically different point of view.

We're a Title I school in a socially and economically deprived area of the city. Our building is entrenched in literacy. We didn't forsake any of our balanced literacy program by adding technology -- we embellished it.

In our 80-year-old classroom, we have three electrical outlets, one computer hooked to the Internet, and five personally owned Macs that I've "inherited" through the years. My fourth-grade students, weaned on video games, thrived in that digital paradise.

Without any prodding from me, my students formed well-balanced teams of weak and strong readers, mathematicians, and writers to take on the computer. They were proud when they aced online learning activities. They started using dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias to foil the computer. They celebrated every time someone moved to a new level.

On the Internet, they learned about the Olympics, determined where the candidates stood on the issues during the presidential campaign, created political cartoons, and turned our classroom into a rainforest. We invited the second-grade classes into our classroom and my students shared their knowledge of rainforest animals, climates, and native people with the youngsters.

We did not forsake books, hands-on activities, or pencil and paper. Just as most adults do in their daily lives, we integrated everything into our learning. In addition to asking expert opinions and using print and electronic encyclopedias and other resources, students researched online. They watched DVDs with captioning, so struggling readers could pick up new vocabulary and spelling. They published poems, short stories, and reports.

The students loved the spell-check feature in word processing. Before long, they started to disagree with the computer's spell checker and began using dictionaries and consulting one another about editing and revisions. They celebrated when they caught the computer or a trade book using an incorrect word or fact.

One day a violent storm approached the city. You could see it coming outside our window. It was going to be a whopper! Two of my young charges asked if they could go online and check out Doppler radar at the local TV station's Web site. They reported back to their classmates that the brunt of the storm would pass just north of us. A sigh of relief came from those who fear violent thunderstorms.

The year was a remarkable learning experience for all of us as, week after week, my students proved that technology is a valuable learning tool.

Game consoles? Baloney!

Kathleen Housley has been an elementary school teacher and an online curriculum developer since 1996. She is currently a middle school teacher at an alternative school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Read more Voices of Experience.