Teaching with Technology: Wow Them with Their Own Fascination!


Teaching with technology?!? 

At the beginning of the 1975-76 academic year when I first stepped into the classroom as a teacher, I had four pieces of technology: an intercom speaker and three floor fans.

But, at least there was a mimeograph machine and paper cutter available in the main office. 

Fortunately, we're teaching in a much different world. 

The purpose of this page is to recommend what I have found to be effective ways of teaching with technology. They may or may not fit your particular needs, but feel free to take from this whatever interests you. 

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Digital Projectors and the Classroom TV

It's been at least 20 years since I have ever placed something--anything--on an overhead projector. Let's face it--they are so 20TH CENTURY. I know a lot of teachers still use them, and they point to piles of transparencies that they have prepared over the years as justification. 

But, this method of teaching with technology was used by OUR teachers when WE were coming up through school. 

I rely heavily on my digital projector. 

At Twin Lakes, science and math teachers are issued digital projectors at the beginning of the year to use throughout the year. For whatever reason, language arts teachers or reading teachers are issued only overhead projectors. 

This did not deter me, however. I spent about $300-$400 of my own money to purchase a quality digital projector, and I couldn't be more delighted. I use it in the classroom constantly. 

I connect my digital projector to my laptop computer, and I patch the sound cable into my classroom TV. In addition, I patch the audio and video output from an old personal computer into the TV. I'm sure you can imagine the possibilities here. 

I display daily warm-up activities on the TV for students to see as they enter my classroom. They have a task to focus on immediately upon their arrival. For more information about that, please see classroom routines.

Just about the only time that I use the classroom whiteboard is when I post the daily agenda. Everything beyond that is displayed on either the TV or the projector screen. After all, I can type a whole lot faster than I can write. 

When I have something to demonstrate in writing, I open Microsoft Word, turn on the projector, and type on the keyboard for all of the students to see. 

Sure, occasionally I make a typo or have to retype something, but the kids know that I'm human and they don't seem concerned about those small errors. Usually I talk what I'm typing while I'm typing. 

This works great for me in a variety of situations: demonstrating, brainstorming, listing examples, constructing sentences and paragraphs, and illustrating whatever the teaching day demands. If I need the kids to write something down, it is readily available to them in large font directly in front of their faces. 

For all of these reasons, I highly recommend using a digital projector. If you are considering it, your media center specialist more than likely can help you with setting it up and getting it connected. Here is a short YouTube video on that topic: 

Internet Connectivity in the Classroom

I have internet and intranet connectivity in my classroom, and I take advantage of it. 

Although I try to have all of my resources prepared ahead of time, occasionally I will think of something on the spur of the moment that would enhance the material I'm presenting.

While students are completing a task, I go looking for it. When the time is right, I display what I found. 

The kids think it's great! 

I know that may sound risky, but it's really not. We have, as I'm sure you have, district-wide software which prevents access to questionable websites. So, it's extremely unlikely that I would stumble on something inappropriate accidentally. Plus, I do the search before I display the results. 

There are all sorts of presentation-like resources available on the Internet that adapt extremely well to the digital projector—just let your mouse do the walking. 

Leveraging Printers and Copiers

At Twin Lakes, I had a school-issued laser printer and an all-in-one scanner/copier/printer that I purchased myself. I put both of these to abundant use. 

I printed several copies of the written instructional materials that I presented during the mini-lesson on a daily basis. I made those copies available to students who needed them upon request. Additionally, I filed them for students who were absent on that particular day. 
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Students and I often worked together to produce various writing products. Once we had finished any of these products, I printed them right there on the spot. Then I shared them with the class so that they could see how we did. 
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When students produced exemplary written works, I scanned them and made copies for the class. As you can imagine, this type of immediate feedback is priceless (minus the cost of paper and toner, of course). 

The Elmo Document Camera

I don't know whether you've had the pleasure of meeting Elmo. If not, Elmo is a document camera that sells online for about $400. He may also be available for checkout in your school's media center. 

Elmo is a modern, high-tech version of the old-fashioned opaque projector. He allows you to display any printed material, or for that matter, any three-dimensional physical object, right there on your whiteboard or projector screen. 

I used Elmo frequently when I critiqued student writing. 

I used Post-it notes to hide students' names and then displayed their work for the entire class to see. Then I would read it EXACTLY the way it was written, including the most obvious mistakes.

For example, if a student had written a long, long, run-on sentence, I read it exactly that way.
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When I finished reading the composition, I asked students to tell me what they noticed about this piece of writing. I was amazed how often their observations were valid. Building on those observations, we brainstormed ways that each piece of writing could be improved. 
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I also instructed them to how essays are graded with the focused holistic scoring method. I showed them additional essays and asked them to score each one. Then, we would compare their scores with my scores and discuss the differences.
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This approach was actually quite effective. Students learned how their writing is assessed, and as a result, they were more focused on how to improve.
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Part of the success of this approach, I'm quite sure, was that they KNEW the papers they were seeing were THEIR very own papers. No one was embarrassed by poor writing because no names were visible. Everyone learned from everyone's mistakes and triumphs.
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As you might imagine, Elmo is also an excellent assistant in a demonstration. If the teacher is pointing out things on a page, he/she can do it physically, using the tip of a pen or pencil as a pointer. This comes in handy for discussing the page layout of a textbook, for example.
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If you've never met Elmo, I would highly recommend introducing yourself. 

The SMART Board Interactive Whiteboard

As you know, the SMART Board has been around for several years. They ARE expensive ($1000 to $6000, depending on size and features). However, your school's media center may have a few available for checkout. 

The SMART Board is easy to use for both teachers and students. It has three features which engage students in extraordinary ways: touch recognition, the pen tray, and SMART notebook software. 

With touch recognition, you can use a pen to write, a finger to navigate, and a palm to erase. For example, you can write a word and then touch it and drag it to somewhere else on the screen. 

The pen tray technology works like a regular whiteboard. You can write with pens or you can write with fingertips, or other objects as well. You can do pretty much anything that you would normally do on a PC with the additional benefit of being able to physically control it by touching the surface.
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Finally, the SMART notebook software lets you add interactivity to your lessons. All kinds of lessons and resources are available on the Internet for extending the capabilities of the SMART Board.
teaching with technology
Actually, although this is a shameless plug, most of the software that I offer would be well-suited for the SMART Board. 

Personally, I prefer my trusty digital projector over the SMART Board for three reasons: the digital projector allows you to show larger images, the projector is much less expensive, and I don't have to walk between the projector and screen in order to operate it. 

Yes, the kids love SMART Boards, but basically only one kid can participate at a time while the others wait their turn. 

Utilizing Limited Student Workstations

By now, I would imagine that most core academic classrooms have at least 1 to 5 computers for students to use. In my case at Twin Lakes, I had four with one laser printer shared on a student network. The problem, of course, is how best to utilize that limited number of workstations. 

We could send students in pairs to each workstation, but even then, it could take as long as several days for everyone to have a chance to participate. Additionally, what do they do about the work/instruction that occurred in the classroom while they were on the computers? 

Will each pair of students sharing a single computer stay on task?
teaching with technology
There weren't any easy answers for me here, but I did come up with the following strategy that seemed to work pretty well. 

Near the end of the second week of the school year, I presented my expectations about using the workstations during class and established appropriate rituals and routines. I prepared a brief list of websites that students could access from the workstations. 

Using my trusty digital projector, I demonstrated each of these websites. As a class, we completed basic key activities on each website so that they would know how to access and complete them on their own. Then, I placed a supply of Internet request forms in my Document Center. 

If you haven't had a chance to read about my Document Center, it’s located on the Class Organization page. 

Students wanting to use the workstations completed the request form and placed them in my inbox. I collected them on a daily basis ordered by date. The earliest request received top priority and so forth. On days that were appropriate for workstation usage, I had the successful applicants sit one by one at individual computers. 

I arranged the workstations so that I could plainly see the monitors from anywhere within the classroom. If they ended up on a game site or any other site that was not on their list of websites to access, they forfeited their turn. 

If they did not complete the class work they had missed while they were using the computers, I did not allow them to access the computers again until that work was completed. 

I readily admit that this is not an ideal approach, but it worked quite well for us. 

Conclusion: Teaching with Technology

As much as kids are fixated on technology these days, it just makes sense for the teacher to use technology with them as much as possible. 

If I could just think of a way to harness the power of the text message and exploit it in the classroom, I would be quite the sensation. Obviously, you can't require students to bring their cell phones with them to class every day. 

Can you imagine the chaos and off-task behavior? What about the kids who don't have one? I think there's at least one or two in any class who don't. 

What about Facebook? Is there some way to tap into that interest? Should you require students to start Facebook groups for the purpose of studying and discussing your subject? 

I'm thinking not. After all, the kids are on Facebook to socialize, not to study.
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What do you think? 

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