Accessibility Features on my iMac

I’ve been studying various accessibility/assistive technology tools this week. What an exciting area of growth that benefits so many people!

My EdTech 541 project page features several integration strategies for students of all abilities. Many of the tools, apps, websites, and devices listed not only benefit students with physical or sensory impairments, but also students who are struggling in various content areas. I also touch briefly on some tools for gifted and talented students and those up for a good challenge.

This post will take a look at some of the accessibility features built-in to the computer I use every day. I have experimented with them and seen briefly how they might really help students with various special needs.

Meet my accessible iMac:
Model: 27-inch 3.2 GHz Intel Core i3 iMac
Date: mid-2010
Operating System: Mac OS X Lion 10.7.3
This is one powerful machine and I adore it.

I created this Clarify-It screen tutorial to give an overview of some of the basic accessibility features on my iMac. There are many other features that are listed on Apple’s Accessibility website.

The iPad and iPod are also very powerful machines with a different set of accessibility features built-in.

It is wonderful that so many tools are built in to the operating systems of computers and portable devices. This truly gives many students the opportunity to use and enjoy computers in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

Resources:
Apple: Accessibility features on a Apple devices
NASET: Overview of vision impairments
OATS
: Open source assistive technology software
AbleData
: resource for assistive technology information
OCAD University
: Inclusive Design Research Centre
CAST
: Center for Applied Special Technology
Microsoft
: Accessibility features on Windows
NICHCY
: Offers a wealth of information on disabilities
DO-IT Center
: promotes the success of individuals with disabilities in postsecondary education and careers, using technology as an empowering tool
WebAIM
: Web accessibility evaluation tool
Building Accessible Websites
: free online book

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Obstacles (and Solutions!) for Integrating Technology in English and Language Arts Instruction

New technology tools available for teachers bring new challenges, and English teachers are not exempt from these issues. In fact, English and language arts teachers are wise to navigate these issues and leverage the powerful tools available in this major content area. This post will discuss what some of the obstacles are and integration strategies to best overcome them. While I have added my own thoughts and other resources as cited, I relied heavily on Chapter 9 called “Teaching and Learning with Technology in English and Language Arts Instruction” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012) for this post.

Obstacles

Digital Literacy
In their 2012 book Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching, Roblyer and Doering state, “Reading, writing, and critically analyzing written communications are considered fundamental skills for a literate person, and technologies have much to offer teachers as they help their students develop these skills. However, technologies have also brought about dramatic changes in the format and types of communications that literate people must deal with, thus presenting an array of new challenges to English and language arts teachers” (p. 266). The new challenges are very real, but also present exciting opportunities for both teachers and students.

Because technology changes so rapidly, the definition of digital literacy is also fluid. The University of Illinois defines it on their website in three parts: 1) The ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information; 2) The ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers; and 3) A person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments (http://www.library.illinois.edu/diglit/definition.html). This is a powerful definition that not only involves using the technology itself, but understanding, evaluating, and  interpreting information. Taking it a step further, students must be able to perform tasks more effectively and apply new knowledge as a result of such literacy. Hence, English and language arts teachers are responsible for much more than reading and writing. They must equip their students with 21st Century digital literacy skills.

Need for New Instructional Strategies
Patricia Edwards, then-president of the International Reading Association, stated in 2010, “If students are to successfully meet the social, political, and economic demands of their futures, they must be able to adapt and reinvent the ways that they read and write the world” (p. 22). She further notes that teachers must be willing to take risks and to adapt their instructional approaches and classroom resources in new and imaginative ways (Edwards, 2010). Teachers can’t rely on old instructional strategies to teach new technology skills.

Other challenges
Today’s classrooms are more diverse, and often include students of all backgrounds who are learning English for the first time. Some students struggle with attention disorders or learning disabilities, and many need additional support in reading and writing. There are many technology tools that can wisely be used to support this diverse group of learners. Another challenge English teachers face is motivating students to write, as students are reading less for pleasure and struggle more with basic reading and writing skills. Ebooks, blogs, wikis, and similar tools can greatly help in this area. Much is expected of teachers, and professional development and training must support them in their efforts. Administrators everywhere must make professional development a priority if teachers are going to be equipped with enough 21st Century skills to impact our students.

“The transformation of our culture from an Industrial Age to an Information Age is why a new kind of literacy, coupled with a new way of learning, is critical for today’s classroom teacher” (Edwards, 2010). Though demanding, this is an exciting time to be a teacher, and fortunately there are many tools that can assist in this great undertaking.

Integration Strategies (Solutions!)

I love the following technology integration strategies listed by Roblyer and Doering (2012, p. 273-274) and feel they are worth a repeat here (click the image to see it as a full-size PDF with hyperlinks):

Of those listed, I feel one of the most powerful and effective ideas is digital publishing of students’ work. This can be done through a class blog or wiki, or through an individual assignment such as creating an eBook in a particular area. I recently designed a sample activity using eBooks for young students that meets cross-content area objectives. Students enjoy this type of activity, and are generally more motivated to write if they know others will read what they have written.

There are countless tools available to English and language arts teachers that help instill stronger literacy skills in students. Technology integration can be overwhelming but that shouldn’t keep teachers from starting small, starting somewhere. Pick one tool, one website to try. Then another. Great technology tools plus great teachers equals better equipped students with digital literacy skills. Our kids are worth the extra effort!

References:
Digital literacy definition and resources. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.library.illinois.edu/diglit/definition.html

Edwards, P. (2010). Reconceptualizing literacy. Reading Today, 27(6), 22.

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (6th ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

“My Life” Digital Storytelling activity

eBooks are a powerful tool for Language Arts educators that can help engage students and get them excited about writing. Numerous resources are available online that allow free eBook creation and collaboration without having to print the final product. The possibilities for use in the classroom are exciting.

Above is a sample eBook I created on Mixbook. This site allows students to create a digital storybook and publish their work online for free. Its editing tools and templates are simple and students can work individually or collaboratively on a project. Click on the image above to view my book directly on Mixbook.

Here is a complete lesson plan for teachers to use a similar project in their classroom. It is geared for 3rd-6th grade students, but could easily be adapted for other age groups.

Relative Advantage of using Technology in major Content Areas

Overview

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.)

Supporting Research

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.

Engaging
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.

Relevant
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.

Authentic
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.

Conclusion

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.

References

King, M. (n.d.). Integrating technology Into the curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/15709322/Integrating-Technology-Into-the-Curriculum

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th
ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Additional Resources

Social Studies:

  • 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

Language Arts:

  • 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

Science:

  • 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

Math:

The Arts:

  • 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

Video Integration Lesson: Why Read?

Videos, if integrated wisely and well, can be a powerful media tool in the classroom. Thousands of educational videos are available online and can be used to demonstrate experiments, explain a concept, show a historical event, and engage students visually in ways unheard of before now.

I created a lesson plan that incorporates videos to help encourage and motivate students to be lifelong readers. Click here for complete lesson plan and video library.

Virtual Field Trip to Nepal

Click on the image below to view a virtual field trip learning activity I created for my EdTech 541 assignment this week. Its purpose is to use a virtual field trip to teach Web 2.0 tools to other educators. Enjoy your trip!

Walled Gardens and Social Networking

How Does Your Garden Grow?
After discovering and tending to a secret garden for a time, Mary Lennox declares, “I am writing in the garden. To write as one should of a garden one must write not outside it or merely somewhere near it, but in the garden” (Burnett, 2011). Mary’s garden was a place where flowers bloomed, thorns yielded roses, and miracles occurred. To preserve its beauty, it was initially contained, protected, and ultimately kept secret. Once growing and flourishing again, it was then opened up for anyone to enjoy.

On the Internet, a walled garden is a protected browsing environment that controls information and websites a user is able to access. It is a closed system, one that the user is not able to leave without administrative privileges.

More schools are using closed systems as a protected middle-ground to teach social media skills to students within a safe environment. Schools generally fall on either one end or the other of the social media spectrum: unrestricted access allowing commercial social media services (like Facebook) or blocking all social media sites altogether.

Walled gardens are valuable option that should be explored in order to equip our students with vital 21st Century skills. They allow educators to teach students how to use social media in a safely monitored school-run environment, and parents are often relieved to see the school taking an active role rather than shying away from and fearing social media (Ross, 2011).

Open or Closed?
We all like unlimited options. No one likes to be told what he or she can or can’t do, especially online. We like the freedom to visit the websites we want, download what we want, and navigate freely. Our initial response: freedom is good.

This type of freedom, however, can be dangerous in a school setting, particularly in a K-12 environment. Even with filters and firewalls, students can inadvertently pull up an inappropriate site or become a target for child predators. Schools must take safeguards to reduce those chances, and many have chosen a walled garden (closed-system) approach. This allows students and teachers to work only within predetermined websites and environments.

It isn’t as bad as it might originally seem. Without realizing it, we have closed systems all around us. Our mobile phone provider places certain restrictions we must operate within.  Open vs. closed system is an age-old difference between Apple and Microsoft. Steve Jobs believed “that for a computer to be truly great, its hardware and its software had to be tightly linked” in order to give the user a controlled experienced (Isaacson, 2011, location 2559). This is what still distinguishes Apple devices and computers from Microsoft, Android, and other open systems.

In the classroom, using a closed system is better than no system at all, especially if students gain real-world skills they would not otherwise have access to at school.

Social Media
Navigating the use of social media in the classroom is a new terrain and one that makes administrators, teachers, and parents nervous. It is a tool with tremendous potential and real dangers. Yet, I believe it is wrong to throw it out altogether.

Reed (2007) stated that “tomorrow’s citizens must be global communicators, must be able to participate successfully in project-based activities, and must have collaborative skills.” In a 2007 report by Pew Internet, 55% of all online American youths ages 12-17 use online social networking sites (Lenhart & Madden). I imagine that number has grown significantly in the past five years, especially since Facebook was still catching on.

Something bigger than themselves
Whatever one’s feelings are about the benefits or dangers of social media, it is obvious that students enjoy sharing, collaborating, and networking online and find it engaging or they simply would not do it (Picardo, 2010). Students value belonging to a collective network, something bigger than themselves.

Schools should harness this desire and enthusiasm and utilize the skills students already possess to benefit them in the classroom. “We are looking to see how we capture that energy and passion in school. Often when they move into school, the energy goes out of it. I think we have to find ways to capture that excitement and get them as engaged in school work as they are outside” (Bull et al., 2008).  Put another way, “Pedagogy, in my opinion, needs to reflect these social changes and conform to the needs and expectations of today’s students and, if we teach them in a way that mirrors how they live their lives when they are not in school, if we help to ensure that the gap between their school life and real life is minimized, we then become better able to guarantee the commitment and engagement of the vast majority of our students” (Picardo, 2010).

In an article on how to use social networking for learning, Smith (2007) made a powerful suggestion: “Schools should reflect the world we live in today. And we live in a social world. We need to teach students how to be effective collaborators in that world, how to interact with people around them, how to be engaged, informed twenty-first-century citizens. We need to teach kids the powerful ways networking can change the way they look at education, not just their social lives. We don’t talk enough about the incredible power of social-networking technology to be used for academic benefit. Let’s change the terms. Let’s not call it social networking. Let’s call it academic networking.”

Walled Garden Approaches to Social Media
Walled gardens can be a valuable tool to engage students within a format they are familiar with: sharing, posting, commenting, and submitting. This approach “not only helps protect those who are the most vulnerable, but provides a safety net as parents and decision-makers become accustomed to a greater degree of interaction online” (Dawson, 2011). Even Google now supports walled gardens within Google Apps, allowing more privacy and security for students.

Fortunately, teachers have several options online to choose from that will create a walled garden approach in their classrooms.

  • Edmodo: mimics a Facebook interface that allows students and teachers to connect, engage, and learn both inside and outside of the classroom. Free for teachers and students.
  • Edu2.0: simple, powerful, e-learning platform for schools. Free plan with upgrades available.
  • Wikispaces: private, secure space for classrooms that allow students to showcase their work, collaborate, share their findings, and interact. Email addresses of students are not required for sign-up. Free for teachers and students.
  • Flickr Groups: share content and conversation, privately or with the world. Best for sharing photos and videos.
  • Diigo for Educators: social bookmarking. Collect and organize anything, access from anywhere. Great resource to share research with each other, highlight online readings, follow related topics.

Reaching out through global communities
Even from within a walled garden, children can be connected to the world, because “if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden” (Burnett, 2011). Global networks and communities have tremendous power to “promote global learning, provide cultural understanding, and build relationships. Educators need to find ways to connect students from different parts of the world so that they can learn together, share knowledge and develop cultural understanding and relationships.” (Reed, 2007). These websites offer plentiful ideas for classroom integration:

  • Global Collaboration Ideas: How to create a world of success without leaving your classroom
  • Always learning: How to connect your students globally
  • Curriki: empowering educators to deliver and share K-12 curricula
  • LearningTimes: Create powerful and memorable learning experiences online
  • One World Youth Project: links schools around the world to build a generation of discerning, empathetic and empowered global citizens
  • iEARN USA: Learning with the world, not just about it

Conclusion
As teachers embrace social media and social networking possibilities rather than shy away from them, students will be better equipped in 21st Century skills both inside and outside of the classroom. They will be more enthusiastic, more engaged, and more responsible digital citizens. Using a walled garden approach, if designed wisely and well, allows students and teachers a safe environment for learning.

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles” (Burnett, 2011).

Additional Resources:

  • Edutopia: Social networking: their space
  • OnlineUniversities: 100 inspiring ways to use social media in the classroom
  • Slideshare: Social, Professional, and Academic Networking: Ready for School?
  • Safety First: Infographic on social media and securing your kid’s safety
  • In Their Words: A YouTube video on using Web 2.0 and social networking at an online high school

References:
Bull, G., Thompson, A., Searson, M., Garofalo, J., Park, J., Young, C., & Lee, J (2008).
Connecting informal and formal learning: Experiences in the age of participatory
media. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 8(2). Retrieved
from http://www.citejournal.org/vol8/iss2/editorial/article1.cfm
Burnett, F. H. (2011). The Secret Garden. Simon & Brown.
walled garden. (n.d.).Webopedia. Retrieved from http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/W
/walled_garden.html

Dawson, C. (2011). Google gives schools, organizations “walled garden” approach to
email. ZDNet Education. Retrieved from http://www.zdnet.com/blog/education
/google-gives-schools-organizations-walled-garden-approach-to-email/4440
Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs (Kindle.). Simon & Schuster.
Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2007). Social networking websites and teens. Retrieved
from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2007/Social-Networking-Websites-
and-Teens/Data-Memo.aspx
Picardo, J. (2010). Microblogging: making the case for social networking in education.
Retrieved from http://www.boxoftricks.net/2010/02/microblogging-making-the-case-
for-social-networking-in-education/
Reed, J. (2007). Global Collaboration and Learning. EdTech Magazine. Retrieved from
http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2007/09/global-collaboration-
and-learning

Ross, P. (2012). Social media education in schools – The walled garden approach.
CAIS Commission on Professional Development. Retrieved from
http://caisct.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/social-media-education-in-schools-
the-walled-garden-approach/

Smith, F. (2007). How to use social-networking technology for learning. Edutopia.
Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/how-use-social-networking-technology

Relative Advantage of using Spreadsheets and Databases in Education

Click here: My complete spreadsheet lesson, lesson plan, and supporting documents

Overview
It’s almost impossible to imagine a world before word processing. Software such as Microsoft Word saves time and effort of handwriting, typewriting, and correcting documents. Spreadsheet and database software works much the same miracle with numbers. If you have a career in finance or marketing, you likely use Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access on a daily basis. If you are like the rest of us, however, you probably use these programs only occasionally to balance the budget or organize Christmas card mailings.

In the classroom, spreadsheet and database use among all age groups is thriving as there are endless possibilities to support project-based learning. Some teachers use them seamlessly and well for instruction and projects; others use them merely as productivity tools for things like grade-books or attendance. As with any technology tool, if used wisely spreadsheet and database software can be powerful and versatile tools for learning.

While both spreadsheets and databases deal with numbers and data analysis, each is unique in its function and purpose.

Spreadsheets
Spreadsheets are designed to organize and manipulate numerical data, a term that stems from an accountants ledger for keeping records (Roblyer & Doering, 2012). They have several unique benefits in the classroom as outlined in the text (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 122):

  • Save time: allow teachers to complete and update essential calculations quickly (e.g. grades)
  • Organize displays of information: store information in columns (e.g. schedules, attendance)
  • Support asking “what if” questions: students can visualize the impact of changes in numbers (e.g. charts and graphs)
  • Increase motivation to work with mathematics: can make working with numbers more fun and engaging for students

Databases
According to Webopedia.com, databases are “an electronic filing system, a collection of information organized in such a way that a computer program can quickly select desired pieces of data.”  While most of us do not create databases, we all use and access database information. Most websites are fed information from databases, such as Amazon, ZIP code lookup, or hotel reservation systems. Teachers can help students access complex information and turn it into an effective learning experience.

Integration Strategies for Spreadsheets
Roblyer and Doering (2012, p. 125-126) outline several ideas on how to use spreadsheets with students:

  • Visual teaching demonstrations: use concrete representations like graphic illustrations to clarify abstract numerical concepts
  • Support for student products: create timelines, graphs, charts, and other graphical displays of data
  • Support mathematical problem solving: takes over mundane calculations so students can focus on higher order “what if”  and problem-solving skills
  • Store and analyze data: students can keep track of data from surveys and experiments and perform analysis
  • Project grades: help students keep track of their own grades and answer “what if” scenarios

Ideas for Database Integration
Databases can be mined for information and analyzed among all content areas in ways such as these:

  • Students can research and classify several countries to determine which are more developed and what factors contribute
  • Students can analyze census data over several decades to determine socioeconomic factors and outcomes
  • Students can compare and contrast world countries or states using a variety of factors to determine the “perfect” country
  • Students can analyze financial databases to assist in accounting, statistics, and cash flow projects

Supporting Research
While “spreadsheets are widely believed to help students visualize numeric concepts better than other, nondynamic tools, few studies have attempted to capture their comparative impact on achievement” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 125). Studies have shown that spreadsheets can be useful tools and teachers who use them believe they help students better understand the concepts behind statistical data (Roblyer & Doering, 2012). Abramovich and Nabors (1997) found that when seventh grade students used spreadsheet-based manipulatives and numeric approaches to a variety of word problems, they generated new meanings. Uses of spreadsheets are often used in math and science classrooms, but increasingly teachers use them to span all content areas including social studies and language arts. We’re not there yet, however, for “despite its rising popularity, the spreadsheet has still a long way to go before becoming a universal tool for teaching and learning, and many opportunities for its application have yet to be explored” (Baker & Sugden, 2003, p. 1)

Even back in 1990, one study focused on the benefits of increased database usage for effective instruction among social studies teachers, particularly in problem-solving skills (Ehman). Another study showed how business schools would do well to integrate more database skills for financial analysis, as “students find the standard textbook approach to it stale and unexciting” (Maher, Schooley, & Fry, 2001, p. 144). Many databases are available for free online, while others are accessible through a school library.

Additional Resources
Using Spreadsheets in K-12 classrooms: an excellent resource with links to interactive data, student and teacher examples, and online lessons
Technology-supported lessons plans: organized by content area, these lesson plans integrate word processing, spreadsheets, and databases
10 Google forms for the classroom: productivity and project ideas for teachers
LT Technologies: spreadsheet resources, lessons, and tutorials
teAchnology: Using computer databases in the classroom
Primaryschool: A list of online databases, lessons, and tutorials for use in elementary schools

References
Abramovich, S., & Nabors, W. (1997). Spreadsheets as generators of new meanings in middle school algebra. Computers in the Schools, 13(1-2), 13–25. doi:10.1300/J025v13n01_03

Baker, J., & Sugden, S. (2007). Spreadsheets in education–The first 25 years. Spreadsheets in Education (eJSiE), 1(1). Retrieved from http://epublications.bond.edu.au/ejsie/vol1/iss1/2

database. (n.d.).Webopedia. Retrieved from http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/D/database.html

Ehman, L. H., & And Others. (1990). Using computer databases in student problem solving: A study of eight social studies teachers’ classes. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED327465

Maher, M., Schooley, D. K., & Fry, P. (2001). Classroom financial analysis with electronic databases. Journal of Education for Business, 76(3), 144.

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Click here: My complete spreadsheet lesson, lesson plan, and supporting documents

In defense of PowerPoint: Using multimedia presentations effectively in the classroom

Overview
Say PowerPoint to any audience and you’ll likely hear a few groans. We’ve all been there: a presenter gets up in the front of the room, turns on the screen, and the dreaded slides appear. Within seconds, we either tune in or out. Good design might stand a chance. Bad design, well, we’re gone. It almost doesn’t matter what the presenter says, if the PowerPoint is boring, we won’t listen.

Perhaps there were days when the novelty of PowerPoint presentations were enough to engage an audience or classroom. Flashy, animated clip art on the screen was not something we saw every day and it held our interest. Those days are long gone. PowerPoint presentations, which have become almost synonymous with presentation software in general, have received such a bad wrap (does “death by PowerPoint” sound familiar?) that some people dismiss presentations as a teaching tool altogether.

What went wrong?
In short, it’s not PowerPoint itself. In fact, as a software tool, PowerPoint is stronger than ever, along with competitors like Keynote, Google Docs presentations, VoiceThread, and SlideShare. The software hasn’t failed; the presenter has. If used well, presentations can be a powerful tool in the classroom by both students and teachers. Used poorly and, well, don’t even bother.

Looking back
Presentation software initially took the place of a slide projector, where slides were arranged on a screen instead of in a tray. Used mostly for business training, presentations provided visual support to presenters, a way to show pictures, text, charts, and graphics on the screen. Slides were generally presented in a very linear way, with the presenter clicking from one slide to the next (Roblyer & Doering, 2012)

Today
Recently added features have equipped today’s presentation software with hypermedia capabilities that allow a more dynamic experience. Through hot spots users can click on hyperlinks to jump to other slides, other presentations, or even websites. Video and sound can be creatively embedded within slides (Roblyer & Doering, 2012).

Why use presentations?
Roblyer and Doering give three reasons teachers should use presentations as a “complex, multipurpose classroom tool” (2012, p. 128):

  • Presentations help teachers organize their thinking on a subject. A teacher must think through what he or she will say and in what order, essentially planning the perfect delivery of a lesson. They also help with sequencing and breaking large concepts into smaller parts. Additionally, using multimedia presentation software “provides an avenue by which students can learn through the act of organizing information” (Siegle & Foster, 2000, p. 3).
  • Presentations, when done well, enhance and support what the teacher says, especially when appropriate hypermedia tools like graphics, images, and sound are incorporated. Presentations also engage children who have various cognitive learning styles. “Cognitive principles suggest that a coherent blend of verbal-visual material boosts retention of scientific concepts beyond the level attained by verbal summary alone” (Marek & Christopher, 2002, p. 70).
  • Presentations allow students to practice collaborative skills, especially through sites likes SlideShare or Google Docs presentations. Students can work together online simultaneously.

Supporting Research
Researchers have studied presentation technology for years, and they “have looked at its impact on both educational processes and outcomes” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 128). While students generally respond more positively to presentation-enhanced instruction, the impact largely depends on how teachers use such tools (Roblyer & Doering, 2012). One study by Siegle and Foster (2000) showed that using multimedia presentations helped boost student biology achievement scores.  Additionally, and these were strong benefits found back in 2000, presentations can help students be active not passive learners, develop research skills, encourage cooperative learning and problem solving, and engage in more meaningful learning (Siegle & Foster, 2000). Teachers who model well the use of technology for presenting also help train students in the application of such technology (Marek & Christopher, 2002). Solid research indicates that teachers should not discount presentations as a potentially effective tool for learning.

Ideas
The following ideas from Roblyer and Doering (2012) show effective uses of presentation software:

  • Presentation of information summaries: when trying to focus student attention or guide note-taking
  • Demonstrations of materials for discussion: electrical circuits, diagrams, or types of animals
  • Presentation of illustrative problems and solutions: chemistry and mathematical problems
  • Practice screens: spelling and vocabulary review, states and capitols, etc.
  • Assessment screens: pictures of animals or instruments, essay prompts
  • Brief tutorials: reviews of simple concepts like grammar or how-to procedures
  • Book reports: teachers can provide templates for students to fill in missing information
  • Student presentations of project work: a powerful strategy where students create individual or small-group projects and become experts of content by later presenting their work to the class

Tips for better presentations:
Life after Death by PowerPoint: A great presentation on what NOT to do
Death by PowerPoint and how to fight it: Presentation tips on keeping your audience engaged
teAchnology: Good and bad uses of presentations for teachers
PowerPoint in the Classroom: A fun tutorial for students on creating presentations

References:
Marek, P., Christopher, A. N., & Koenig, C. S. (2002). Applying technology to facilitate poster presentations. Teaching of Psychology, 29(1), 70-72.

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Siegle, D., & Foster, T. (2000). Effects of laptop computers with multimedia and presentation software on student achievement. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED442465

Relative Advantage of Instructional Software in the Classroom

Teachers have a responsibility to equip their students with knowledge that will prove useful throughout the course of their lives. Current methods should be examined and a teacher must determine if goals are being met and what might be adjusted in order to achieve more. Numerous technology tools are available–even to those with limited resources–that can greatly enhance student experience. Research shows that when teachers wisely evaluate, select, and implement instructional software in the classroom, student achievement, retention, and motivation increases. Students also gain valuable 21st-Century skills that help equip them to be lifelong learners.

I created this presentation for a group of English teachers here in Nepal. I outline advantages of integrating instructional software that will help students enhance and practice their English skills in ways not possible through traditional exercises. Most of the resources I’ve listed are free and accessible online from anywhere. While students do not have computer access at home, they can use cyber cafes around town to practice emerging language skills through drills and tutorials. Teachers can also use their computer in the classroom for group role-playing, vocabulary drills, educational games, and pronunciation guides. I think they would see maximum benefit for minimal effort.