Research is plentiful showing the relative advantage of using technology to enhance classroom instruction. But which classrooms and in what areas? This blog entry will cover specifically how using technology wisely in major content areas offers students a more engaging, relevant, and authentic learning experience.
Major content areas are: language arts, social studies (including civics, history, geography, government, and economics), math, the arts, and science. These are the areas of focus for standardized testing, and therefore are the subjects teachers teach. Take any school across the country and you will find their days broken down among these subjects to some degree or another. All content areas have been impacted by emerging technology tools, and all can benefit from integration strategies. Michael King, a noted principal and educator for over 30 years, states that teachers should begin to build units of study that merge traditional learning with virtual learning, and that these lessons and units developed should be integrated into all areas of the curriculum, not just computer, business or technology classes (King, n.d.)
Ultimately the goal of educators and schools is to provide students with a valuable, sustainable, and practical education that will prepare them for their lives after they graduate. “Today’s world demands that students learn how to access, manage, apply, and evaluate rapidly growing banks of information” (King, n.d.).Technology is a critical part of this effort and cannot be overlooked. I will highlight three advantages of using technology among the various content areas and give examples of some of the technology tools available to educators and students.
It is much easier and effective in a foreign country if the traveler can speak the local language. It is no different in class. If teachers are able to speak the “language” of their students, the message is more fun and ‘sticks’ better. Technology is the language.
Social interaction and networking has had a big impact in language arts instruction. Students like to connect with others through commenting and reaching outside of themselves and their classroom. When students publish their works on blogs or wikis, they make more of an effort and are engaged more with the content. Ebook readers allow students to “make notes and comments directly on what they are reading, which helps them better comprehend its meaning” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 268). They can click on a word for its meaning, adjust the font size, or see passages others have highlighted. “Teachers are turning to the interactive and visual qualities of software and websites to increase motivation for reading and writing” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 270).
There are many websites that help students practice their reading and writing skills. Apps are available on mobile devices that students can use outside of school. Vocabulary boosters, talking word processors, speech-to-text capability, concept mapping, and collaborative editing all contribute to students’ digital literacy in a fun and engaging way.
Students benefit greatly when they can see a practical use for the knowledge they are learning. If teachers can make a solid connection between students’ real-life scenarios and the content, then students will get more out of the instruction. “Students need to know the rationale for learning, and teachers should take the time to explain it” (King, n.d.).
Social studies has perhaps been the most affected by the impact of technology than any other content area (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 334). Today’s technology tools certainly make the world smaller and information travel quickly. These changes affect how much students know about the world around them and the “interconnections of people and the earth” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 334). Project-based technology tools apply across various themes like culture, environment, global connections, civic ideas, and technology in society. The tools available and their potential use in a classroom are endless.
“Simulations, or electronic environments that allow students to interact with simulated events or locations, can help make these concepts more clear and meaningful” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 338). Virtual field trips allow students to travel online to a place they would not normally be able to visit. This opens up the world to them and allows a budget-friendly opportunity to learn about a location, museum, or historic site almost as if they were there. Digital storytelling is “the use of images and audio to tell the stories of lives, events, or eras” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 340) and can be a motivating and powerful tool for students. This tool not only increases digital literacy, but engages students and allows them to make their own lives a part of their scholarly research (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 340). Geospatial technologies (think Google Earth) involve using technology for visualization, analysis, and measurement of the world around us. Students can view and examine the world through “multiple layering of data sets (population density, roads, earthquake activity) within a spatial environment” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 341). Several programs are free. How else can students view the world in high resolution photos and satellite images? Adventure learning (AL) is a “hybrid distance education approach that provides students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative learning environments” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 339). It’s all quite remarkable.
There is a need, especially in abstract math and science concepts, to make learning genuine and real. Students need to see why it matters to them. Not enough students are pursuing STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) fields. “This trend could have serious consequences for our country…There is a need for all citizens to be scientifically literate in order to make informed decisions that affect our country’s future” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 318).
Integration strategies and tools available can really help make science and math more meaningful for students. Virtual science labs, while debated in how much they should be used, are certainly worth exploring. “Authentic science not only involves having students ‘do’ science, it also includes connecting science to students’ lives and life experiences. Involving students in active scientific investigations can improve their attitude toward science as well as their understanding of scientific concepts” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 319). Several online projects allow students to collect and analyze data, communicate results, get feedback and become “collaborators in a real scientific investigation” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 319). In math, students are able to visually see realistic representations of abstract concepts by using graphing calculators, interactive software, and probes, thus helping students develop problem-solving skills.
The sheer number of content area resources available is overwhelming. However, educators must devote the time and training needed in order to provide more engaging, relevant, and authentic learning environments. They must become masters in the tools of their trade in order to prepare students for the real world, especially the 21st Century digital world.
Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Allyn & Bacon.
- GeoThentic: Helps students learn geospatial technologies by solving complex problems in an online environment
- Muzzy Lane’s Making History: An interactive game that gives players the power to take full control of any world nation, colonies, regions, cities, and military forces during the time leading up to and during the Second World War
- The Oregon Trail: An interactive game about America’s pioneers as they make their way west
- Louvre Museum: Experience a virtual field trip and view some of the masterpieces up close and in detail
- Neighborhood MapMachine: A hands-on program, students create and navigate maps of their own neighborhoods, other communities, or imaginary places
- GoNorth! Adventure Learning Series: A free program for K-12 that follows a real group of scientists, explorers, and educators as they dogsled across the Arctic
- The JASON Project: Connects students with scientists and researchers in real- and near-real time, virtually and physically, to provide mentored, authentic and enriching science learning experiences
- Earthducation Adventure Learning Series: A series of 7 expeditions to every continent over the course of 4 years (2011-2014) designed to create a world narrative of the dynamic intersections between education and sustainability
- Center for Digital Storytelling: Describes the art of digital storytelling and provides publications and courses
- Digital Resource Centers: University of Virginia’s Internet-based academic collections
- Digital Documentaries: The Art of Telling Digital Stories website discusses the advantages to viewing and making documentaries and has many documentary resources
- Wordle: create word clouds based on the frequency of words used in a text
- Brainpop: gives students practice in linking words and images
- Visual Thesaurus: creates word maps of related words
- ePals: connects students all over the world who want to share ideas and work together
- Poetry: full of poetry examples and ideas from the Academy of American Poets
- Write Source: student writing models by grade level
- Project Gutenberg: offers over 38,000 free ebooks
- Your Student News: publish student work in an online school newspaper
- Readwritethink: online practice in matching letters and sounds
- National Academy Press: over 4,000 free PDFs for download in STEM content areas
- Sheppard Software: free science tutorials and games
- Globe Project: Hands-on science projects for students, teachers and scientists to collaborate on inquiry-based investigations of the environment and the Earth
- Journey North: allows students to ask questions and receive responses by experts about migration and seasonal change
- Project FeederWatch: allows students to collect data for a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders across the nation
- Exploratorium: interactive website for this museum of science, art and human perception
- National Science Digital Library: online portal for STEM education and research
- Simulations: Fun, interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena from the PhET project at the University of Colorado
- Telescope: Students can design and make astronomical observations with research-quality telescopes
- National Library of Virtual Manipulatives: helps students make abstract concepts more concrete
- Geometer’s Sketchpad: software that allows opportunity to explore geometric concepts
- Maple software: combines symbolic computation engine with powerful numeric algorithms, advanced visualization tools, and intuitive interfaces
- TI graphing calculators: ideas and support for integrating advanced graphing calculators
- Fathom: software that helps students with data analysis and statistics
- Math Forum: allows students to contact math experts for help with math problems
- Cognitive Tutor software: Carnegie Melon’s intelligent software that adapts based on student need and uses concrete, real-world scenarios
- Waterford’s Early Learning Series: software designed for PK-2 that adapts automatically to give each student a tailored learning experience
- MathWorld: an extensive, free math resource for teachers
- GarageBand: Apple’s iLife software that allows composing, mixing, and sharing of music through various instruments and formats
- BubbleMachine: allows interactive navigation through a piece of music
- Finale: provides a practice environment for students with accompaniment, with tools for composing and arranging, teaching and sharing
- Practice Musica: personal individual tutoring in musical skills and theory
- Children’s Music Journey: a collection of software that teaches music to young students
- Audacity: free open-source option for recording and editing sounds
- MuseScore: free music notation software
- Gimp: free online photo editing
- Google SketchUp: free 3-D modeling software
- Masters of Photography: Internet and CD collection of photographs
- National Gallery of Art: see online tours of artwork by artist, work, or theme