Low-Hanging Fruit

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Has your principal been after you to “integrate technology into your curriculum”? Overwhelmed by an increasing emphasis on test-score improvement, ever-growing curricular objectives, and increasing class sizes, many teachers see “technology integration” as just one more mandate from the central office.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You can look at activities you’re already doing to see whether a technology “upgrade” can motivate students, reinforce learning, and reach kids who may not be responding to more traditional approaches. Even for neophytes, there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit on the technology tree that’s fun and educationally effective.

Consider digital cameras, for instance. Good ones, meaning those with at least 3.2 megapixels, an optical zoom, an LCD preview display, and a PHD (“push here dummy”) mode, are now readily available for less than $300. Every school media center should have at least a few for classroom use. If you snap a picture and download it to your computer, you can edit it with simple software. (Windows XP and Mac OS X automate importing pictures to the computer, and both operating systems have preinstalled photo-editing software.)

As a classroom teacher, you can use digital images to add interest to multimedia presentations, school newsletters, and classroom Web pages. (Check your school’s privacy policy before uploading student photos to Web sites accessible to those outside the building.) Kids can use digital photos to help explain science fair projects, record findings from field trips, and illustrate their writing.

Working with images is arguably where technology has the greatest potential impact on learning, and several software packages offer other ways for elementary school students to explore in a visual environment. Kid Pix (www.kidpix.com) is a simple drawing program that can be used to illustrate stories or create diagrams. The Graph Club (www.tomsnyder.com) allows students to enter data into charts, which are converted into a variety of graphs, helping them understand the conceptualization of numbers. And Kidspiration (www .inspiration.com) is a simplified version of Inspiration, software that bills itself as a “visual organizer.” It can be used to create mind maps, brainstorming webs, and timelines to help students organize their thoughts and plan papers and projects. Each is accompanied by a wealth of lesson plan suggestions. Most important, kids love using them.

When it comes to the Internet, consider its potential for everyday use. Not every “research project” has to result in a 10-page term paper. Your students could use the Web to check upcoming weather forecasts or find interesting facts about the author of the next story being read by the class. They could e-mail students in another class for opinions on a discussion topic, recommend a movie or television show to watch using a critic’s advice, or locate a place from a current news headline using an online resource like Mapquest. Kids can even estimate the number of calories and fat grams in the meal served in the cafeteria that day—or find a “quote of the day” on a specific topic, then illustrate it and print it out.

Introducing new tools doesn’t even have to involve new technology. Video cameras remain a powerful way to help students improve their oral communication skills. Watching your own performance is always eye-opening and provides feedback as useful as a teacher’s critique. (Look for video cameras that use VHS tapes. These are easier to use than digital recorders, and the tapes are simple to play back.)

Finally, creating parent e-mail lists isn’t exactly “integrating technology into the curriculum,” but it is a simple use of existing technology. By collecting the e-mail addresses of your students’ parents, you can set up a “group” in your e-mail program, then send a weekly summary of classroom activities. Parents will be thrilled. This is also a good way to send home forms that need to be signed: Attach them as an Adobe PDF file, which can be read on any computer.

The pragmatic reason for using these tools may well be to meet a school mandate. But adopting new technology can make good pedagogical sense as well. Satisfy the bureaucrats and do something worthwhile. It’s a twofer!

—Doug Johnson

Doug Johnson, director of media and technology for Mankato Area Public Schools in Minnesota, can be reached at [email protected]

Vol. 16, Issue 04, Page 1

Published in Print: January 1, 2005, as Low-Hanging Fruit
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