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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Use New Technology to Reinforce Instruction

The Ongoing Battle
Carl Sannito

I’ve been both a computer lab teacher and a classroom teacher in my career, and I try to straddle both mindsets whenever I plan for instruction at my school. For instance, I try to make sure that whatever software program I’m teaching in the lab is available to the teachers on their classroom computers.

There’s another fence that I straddle all the time. This one is a bit more complicated, but very important: deciding what to teach with the computer.

The first school of thought is to use the computer as a tool. Using the Internet to do research. word processing in Microsoft Word, graphing in Microsoft Excel, or creating graphic organizers in Inspiration are all great examples of using the computer as a means to an end.

The second school of thought is to use the computer as an educational device. This involves running any type of educational software that students interact with. Accelerated Reader, Fast ForWord, Reader Rabbit are all examples of this type of usage.

Why is this an important question for all teachers (not just new teacher) to consider? First of all, the software you choose will impact your lessons. For example, if you purchase reading software, which students work on independently on a few exercises that address particular standards or skills, your students won’t have the opportunity to create multi-media presentations. Alternatively, students could spend time researching topics on the Internet or via electronic encyclopedias (like Encarta or World Book), or working with PowerPoint, Hyper Studio or Kid Pix to create dazzling slide shows that showcase their work. But this requires that the teacher spend a great deal of time working with students on how to use the software as well as how to integrate technology and the lesson. The learning curve is much steeper and it involves a deeper commitment on the teacher’s part.

I struggle with which school of thought to embrace all the time, and I think any teacher who uses technology should weigh the pros and cons of each. The easiest software to use in a classroom is often something that an adult can learn quickly. You can even teach one group of kids and then have that first group teach a second group. Heck, sometimes the kids can teach themselves the program.

I also have to recognize that if that’s all I use the computer for, I’m not using the technology to its fullest teaching potential. I’m cheating my students out of learning that the computer is more than just an educational “Xbox.” A computer with Internet access opens so many doors, it provides so many databases to investigate, it gives access to the world by simply typing in “www.google.com.” Imagine how much you rely on the following components of your computer: a word processor, a presentation program, a graphic organizing program, a digital camera, a printer, a projector, a spread sheet or calculator, e-mail, or a media player. All of those are tools that students can use to explore ideas, to organize thoughts and to share conclusions with other students. Many of those components are built-in to your computer or can be obtained relatively easy.

I think that schools would be foolish not to investigate educational software these days. Whether you spend $15 at Best Buy to purchase something for your classroom or you spend $25,000.00 for a district license that covers grades K-8, there’s a need for educational software. I try to help the teachers at my school pick out independent software for students that ties into whatever they are teaching. The educational software available to teachers is dazzling these days, no matter what grade you are teaching. (To give you an example, I’m currently helping pilot some student software that is supposed to help remap parts of your brain! It’s very sophisticated stuff and I’ll have more to say about it next year.)

I also believe that schools need to help foster computer skills that are practical in the classroom and in the real world. Neither is more important than the other, but neither should be left out of a teacher’s bag of tricks.

Over the next two months, I’m going to address the variety of options available to teachers in both areas of software and get into more details about the pros and cons of each type of software.

Do you have a comment or suggestion? You can e-mail Carl carlsannito@yahoo.com.


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