every lesson needs technology. While there may be opportunities
to attach technology to many activities, teachers must consider
lesson goals before deciding to use technology. If computers
enrich, extend or facilitate learning, they should be used.
If not, they shouldn't.
examples employ several types of software most often found
on a classroom computer: word processing, database, spreadsheet,
presentation, and simulation software, in addition to the
Internet, e-mail, and multimedia CD-ROMs. You'll notice
that most use a variety of these applications. In the first
example, we extend the language arts lesson presented in
Because it is a communication tool, e-mail
yields a number of opportunities for social interaction.
1) Parallel problem solving (posing the
same problem to one or more classes, which can then communicate
with one another through the Internet)
2) Sequential creations (producing papers,
poems, and reports collaboratively in several classrooms)
3) Electronic process writing and peer tutoring
(publishing work and receiving feedback from other students)
exercise6 was a collaborative effort between
fifth grade social studies and language arts classes from
a number of schools. The students met together biweekly
in groups, searching the Internet for fairy tales or folktales
from around the world. Whenever students located a tale,
they marked its country of origin on the world map with
a colored pin. Based on their findings, students began writing
and illustrating their own tales, using Claris WorksTM (now
AppleWorksTM). Hand-drawn illustrations were also encouraged.
Students e-mailed their compositions to their partners in
another school, who then provided feedback and added to
of their stories, students and teachers listed the names
of all participating countries on the chalkboard. Students
divided into groups and adopted a country to research. Using
the Claris WorksTM graphics library, they included maps and
flags of the country, or hand-drawn versions of both in
their reports. Students e-mailed their preliminary drafts
to their partners for feedback and additions. Final stories
and reports were published on the Internet.
this exercise examined a variety of skills: students' writing
and editing abilities, working together in face-to-face
and electronic groups; conducting research, meeting deadlines,
and manipulating such word-processing mechanics as spell
check, graphics, and page layouts; incorporating feedback
from their electronic partners; and preparing a final report.
This lesson is
a good example of a learning activity enhanced by technology.
Students were able to choose their favorite story and create
a similar tale based on their own interests. Cooperative
groupings allowed for collaboration as students brainstormed,
dialogued, and critiqued their products. The interdisciplinary
nature of the exercise provided a window on the culture
of a chosen country. The word-processing program made for
easy revision and reflection on the writing process. Finally,
through e-mail and the Internet, students were able to connect
with their counterparts in other schools and to publish
their work to a broader audience.
Databases allow users to store, organize,
and query information by keywords. Database construction
requires classification and organization skills, and encourages
students to think relationally and with careful attention
exercise7 was carried out in a geography class
in an urban school but could also be employed as a science
project. The teacher began the unit by asking his ninth
grade geography class to list the various birds and animals
they noticed in the vicinity of the school. After students
listed what they knew, the teacher mentioned several other
species that were found in the neighborhood, none of which
the students had ever seen. Students were then given the
task of creating a database, complete with text and photographs,
of all fauna within a five-mile radius of the school.
phone interviews, and the Internet, students contacted such
organizations as The Audubon Society, the Nebraska Parks
and Wildlife Department, and local conservancy groups. Once
they had assembled their list of fauna, the students again
used library and Internet resources to come up with characteristics
and photographs of these birds and animals. After gathering
all of their information, groups were reassigned according
to the parts of the database (birds, mammals, reptiles)
they wanted to construct. The database was developed and
put online. The class
as a whole discussed their new birds and animal findings
and the importance of cataloguing such information.
project cast the students as explorers. The lesson focused
on an area that held meaning for them--their school's neighborhood--and
built upon the students' prior knowledge about the urban
ecosystem. Once the exercise was completed, students could
see where they had begun and how much they had learned in
their construction of knowledge about the urban animal ecosystem.
The use of such technology as the telephone and Internet
allowed greater access to real-world resources and experts,
such as local nature groups, while the database software
and the Internet allowed student information to be disseminated
to a much broader audience than their immediate classmates.
Basic word-processing programs allow students
to become independent publishers of ideas and opinions.
When supplemented by other applications, word processing
becomes a particularly powerful learning tool. Using graphics
allows authors to illustrate their stories. E-mail provides
opportunities for "peer review" and group editing,
and the Internet allows students to publish their stories
and to share results of their research or problem-solving.
(Harris, 1995, pp. 157, 165, 168).
and tenth grade students in a Charleston Algebra I class8
learned about linear equations by examining housing prices
in Charleston, South Carolina. Students accessed on-line
census data and real estate information, such as sales prices
of existing homes, square footage, and the median price
of housing. Using spreadsheets, they plotted these data
on a coordinate plane, found a line of best fit, and decided
how these graphs would help them with home-buying information.
With this mathematical information, students answered teacher-posed
questions about housing prices.
Next, in groups,
students chose a city in which they wanted to live and conducted
the same research for a report comparing the Charleston
housing market to that of their city. They began to observe
trends in median-price housing sales and created charts
comparing the trends in the two cities. This quantitative
information, coupled with real estate information about
economic and housing conditions in the two cities and their
knowledge of their own city, resulted in the creation of
a housing market report.
based on the successful completion of the process (the ability
to answer a set of algebraic questions and work with partners)
and on a number of products (the creation of a linear graph,
their success in gathering information, their broad conclusions
about housing markets, and on the quality of their finished
report). With the information they gathered, students constructed
and authored their own knowledge about causes and effects
of rising and declining housing prices.
illustrated to students the real-world applicability of
linear equations. Because of the technological component,
students could "travel" to San Francisco, for
example, and access timely housing and economic data that
would have been harder to retrieve in its printed form.
The use of electronic spreadsheets made for easy data manipulation
and analysis and the creation of charts that could be imported
into their reports.
Spreadsheets are software packages that
enable users to organize numbers in rows and columns, which
allow for automatic calculations and creations of charts
a textbook study of biomes, this eleventh grade environmental
science class9 began an Internet research project
on two of the biomes discussed--the rain forest and another
of their choice. Pairs of students accessed Microsoft's
on-line travel site, Mungo
Park (http://www.mungopark.com/ -- link no longer active 07/2002) , "traveled" to a rain forest and another
biome and maintained a journal on each contact. The teacher
photocopied all daily journals and distributed them to the
entire class. Working in pairs, the students used daily
journals, as well as other research sites and non-Internet
sources, to develop a word-processed research paper on two
again illustrates ways technology is a natural fit in learner-centered
classrooms. By structuring the lesson around a big theme-biomes--and
permitting pairs of students to research a biome of their
choosing, the teacher encouraged student autonomy and initiative.
Through the journal-writing component, students reflected
on and recorded their impressions about both the information
gathered and the information-gathering process. The classification,
analysis, and synthesis of raw data into a refined report
modeled the progression of higher-order thinking skills.
Finally, the timely, real-world data from primary sources
needed for such an exercise would have been impossible to
gather without the Internet.
Because of its versatility and the timeliness
of its information, no other computer application holds
as much educational promise as the Internet. Because they
can easily access and manipulate massive amounts of open-ended
data found on the Internet, students can make decisions
about how to process and display data, just as they will
have to do in future work environments (Ellsworth 1994,
parallel problem-solving activity involved the creation
of learning communities in which students from three different
countries, along with university professors, teachers, and
scientists, shared information about water-quality issues
in their towns. Students accessed information via the Internet,
used e-mail to gather information from experts, and wrote
reports on methods to improve water quality and water management.
Students then e-mailed their reports to professors, scientists,
and urban planners for immediate feedback.10
Since many individuals,
quite interestingly, tend to be more responsive to e-mail
solicitations than to surface mail or telephone inquiries,
many teachers encourage students to contact professionals
(lawyers, engineers, university professors) in order to
increase the authenticity of a certain exercise. Many Internet
sites, such as The
Electronic Emissary and Ask
Dr. Math, have been established for the purpose of
establishing on-line mentorships and fielding student inquiries.
focused on an issue that was relevant to students--their
community--and encouraged them to create their own solutions
to community environmental issues. Because of the ease and
immediacy of e-mail, students could communicate instantly
and frequently with content experts and student colleagues
from around the globe. Additionally, by permitting student
consultation and sharing with professionals involved in
water quality issues, e-mail added to the authenticity of
the activity. Such interactions provided students with additional
information and new perspectives that enriched their understanding
of local environmental issues.
Simulations are excellent constructivist
learning tools, since users can negotiate environmental
constraints, solve simulated real-world problems, and witness
the effects of changes in variables. These interactive multimedia
packages can simulate complex work experiences through games
and serve as critical tools to evaluate the kinds of skills
that are so often difficult to measure in tests (Maddux,
Johnson, and Willis, pp. 29, 223-225).
a scaled-down version of its more powerful software counterpart,
SimCityTM, allows users to create a town. In
so doing, they deal with such urban-related issues as protecting
natural resources, designing a city layout, providing infrastructure
and services, and maintaining the balance among residential,
public, and commercial establishments. Based on user input,
the program provides feedback on the town's progress in
the form of the front page of the town newspaper.
was carried out by a group of ten- to thirteen-year olds
in a colonia along the Texas-Mexico border. (Colonias are
rural subdivisions characterized by inadequate housing and
a dearth of jobs, services, and infrastructure.11)
introduced to SimTownTM through a combination of exploration
time and directed lessons. Both they and their teacher discussed
such urban planning issues as the physical layout of this
particular community and the problems it faced, examples
of "good" and "bad" cities, and such
terms as "urban planning," "town planning
principles," and "amenities."
Armed with pencils
and notebooks, students conducted a physical survey of the
community's two main streets, recording the number of residences
and businesses and noting areas of trash dumping, poor road
quality, and vegetation. They then used SimTownTM
to construct a model of the two most densely populated streets
in the community from which they documented some of the
community's problems. These student urban planners discovered
that their town was at great risk for fire and they presented
this information, along with fire mitigation suggestions,
to the town council. The result was a very animated discussion
between councilors and students about the need for a community
fire-safety awareness program. Many of the students volunteered
to help in this campaign.
The above lesson
provides another illustration of how the blending of technology
with learner-centered approaches supports increased student
engagement, learning, and achievement. Students examined
and surveyed a geographic area that held real meaning for
them--their community--and ascertained its very real physical
problems. The simulation package allowed for a real-world,
hands-on learning experience that would not have been possible
with textbooks alone. Students actively recreated their
physical landscape by inputting real-world data and made
observations from which they could draw their own conclusions.
The presentation of such information transformed learning
from a cloistered academic exercise to one that held community-wide
Presentation programs allow users to present
information in outlined or bulleted form and to save it
as slides or transparencies. Users can also add charts,
graphics, pictures, sound and video to supplement written
information. Information in this format is often used in
professional presentations at meetings and conferences.
It can be an excellent tool for display of student projects.
exercise12 was used at the end of the school
year by an eighth grade reading class. The teacher asked
the students to discuss their favorite stories of the year
and what they liked about them. Both she and the class decided
that they would give the seventh graders a preview of upcoming
eighth grade reading attractions by presenting synopses
of some of the eighth graders' favorite stories.
into groups according to their favorite stories. Group members
could present a synopsis of the entire story or their favorite
chapter in the story. The teacher explained that most professional
presentations were brief and that student presentations
had to be under ten minutes. As a result, students had to
focus on distilling the story to its most essential parts.
Once condensed, students used a presentation program, PowerPointTM,
to display synopses of their favorite story or chapter,
in flow chart, outline, or bulleted format.
this exercise took a number of forms. Students were evaluated
on their ability to work together, their ability to distill
the story to its main elements, their success in creating
PowerPointTM slides, the quality of the slides,
their oral presentation, and on their coordination of the
correct slide with the scene being recounted. The presence
of a visual medium combined with the oral presentation addressed
more than one learning style, while the presentation to
another audience replicated a "working world"
in charge of this activity. They chose a story that was
meaningful to them, reconstructed the story according to
their own interpretations, and shared these interpretations
with students and teachers. The presentation software served
as a powerful visual organizer allowing eighth grade students
to distill and convey their understandings and interpretations
to their seventh grade colleagues.
Multimedia & Hypermedia
Both hypermedia and multimedia are useful
tools because they:
1) Are highly interactive. Materials are
organized and presented so that students can draw their
own conclusions rather than have conclusions imposed upon
2) Structure learning as an active exploratory
exercise in which the user sequences and controls his/her
level and pace of learning.
3) Allow for greater learner autonomy, since
students can use different modes of inquiry and extend their
activities based on their interests.
purpose of this unit was to familiarize students with major
national and community events of the past fifteen years
by examining these events within the context of the students'
lives. All of the information compiled would be organized
into a timeline supplemented with text, photos, and video.
The unit was
divided in three parts. In My Life, students recorded ten
of the major highlights of their lives (e.g., the birth
of a sibling, a fun trip somewhere) and the years in which
each occurred. They collected and scanned photos of themselves
at various ages as well as other scannable prized mementos
(e.g. an award, a CD cover of their favorite musical group)
for their timeline and touched up these objects using PhotoDeluxeTM,
a photo editing software tool.
In the second
part of the unit, My Community, students gathered information
about their community since 1982. The class decided that
videotaped oral interviews of their parents and other community
members would provide the best vehicle for recording information
about their community. Students developed a list of ten
questions, learned how to use the video camera, divided
themselves into groups with assigned roles (camera operator,
interviewer, scribe) and conducted their interviews. The
teacher digitized the videotaped interviews into the computer.
In part three
of the unit, My Country, students used Time/Warner's 20th
CenturyTM multimedia CD-ROM to examine some of
the major national events of the past fifteen years. This
multimedia application contains video and audio clips, as
well as photos and text of all national and international
events of the twentieth century, arranged by categories
and organized along a timeline. Students chose one major
development from each year of their life in either politics,
medicine, sports, entertainment, science, or business and
recorded the major event and the year it occurred.
all information into their own multimedia timelines using
the Claris WorksTM paint program. Timelines included
major national, community, and personal events, organized
chronologically and supplemented by photos, mementos, and
audio and video clips (the latter tasks undertaken by the
teacher). This information was eventually organized onto
a Web site.
The unit began
with an issue that was meaningful to students--themselves--and
folded their lives within a local and national context.
Thus, students were able to see themselves as part of a
larger community. The use of the multimedia CD-ROM, with
the sounds and sights of Selena's music, cheering 1986 World
Series fans, and tanks rolling across Kuwait, made history
more interactive and engaging than is possible with a textbook
or video alone. In turn, by constructing their own timelines
using a variety of text-based, visual, aural, and hyperlinked
tools, students shared their own understandings of local
and national history in creative and interactive format.