7 Ways To Bring Tech Into The Classroom
Great Ideas to Encourage Tech Savvy Schools
1. Have your students blog.
Mary Kreul, a fourth-grade teacher in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, has two blogs—one with scheduling information and homework assignments that students and parents can use as a resource, and the other where students can post book reviews, creative writing, and even original podcasts. Why blog? Ms. Kreul notes that it’s far easier to contribute to and maintain a blog than a Web site. Parents like to send links to their children’s work to Grandma or to relatives overseas. And as for the kids, they love having an audience. Kreul notes that her students are enthusiastic about blogging because their work exists beyond the classroom. “The best thing is that the kids know that somebody is reading their work. That authentic audience is so powerful,” she says.
Kreul hosts her administrative blog at and her student-written blog. Classblogmeister allows students to post from home, but it is great for teachers, too, because they can read and approve each post before it goes live on the site. Both sites have no advertising and are free to use. Instead of making the blog password-protected, Kreul protects her student’s identities by having them post under their initials only. Other teachers use protective methods as well, from using first names only to identifying kids by hand-drawn self-portraits or photographs of the backs of their heads.
2. Create a social network.
Andrew Gardner, a technology teacher in Manhattan, has created social networks for sixth- through eighth-grade students at his school. Gardner concedes that Facebook can become an open forum for students to harass each other, but agues that an in-house version can serve several educational purposes. Students who create personal profiles on Gardner’s social-networking site learn to connect over shared interests and leave respectful, constructive comments for one another before they’re even old enough to have a home Facebook account (Facebook is for 13 years and up; MySpace starts at 14).
The students aren’t the only ones with profiles, however. The sixth graders chose characters from assigned novels like Haroun and the Sea of Stories and My Brother Sam Is Dead and created profiles for them—adding pictures, likes and dislikes, and even blog entries from their chosen character’s point of view.
Gardner created his school’s password-protected social network by using free, open-source social-networking software from Elgg. If you can’t host a social network from your school’s Web site, however, social-networking resource Ning allows teachers to create free, ad-free social networks for seventh and eighth graders. (To learn how to do it, go here.)
Angie Henderson, the technology teacher at an elementary school in Gaithersburg, Maryland, works with Gundry Rowe, the school’s media specialist, to record student-created podcasts and post them on the school’s Web site. Rowe notes that the audio files the students create may not count as “real” podcasts, since they’re not syndicated over an RSS feed, but says that students are really engaged with the format nonetheless. Last year, fourth and fifth graders at the school made podcasts sharing the research they had done on the Revolutionary War, with different students taking ownership of particular subjects like the Boston Tea Party and the Articles of Confederation.
Henderson uses the free, open-source sound-editing software Audacity to edit the digital sound files that students record. Mac users can also use the Garage Band software that comes on every computer to create podcasts. Don’t have computers with microphones? Gabcast offers free accounts that let users create podcasts via a phone call to an 800 number. You can then post the files to any blog, though Gabcast will also host them for you, for a price.
4. Use wikis for big projects.
Though blogs may be the easiest Web sites to maintain, they’re not great for large, collaborative class projects that sort a lot of information onto separate Web pages. For that, it may be easiest to have kids contribute to a wiki. It’s a great way to make a large Web site without knowing html or Web design. Nancy Bosch teaches gifted fourth through sixth graders at an enhanced learning center in Shawnee, Kansas. Her students collaborated on a wiki this year called Arrrpirates, where they posted their reports on the history of piracy. The wiki format lets them easily link to each other’s work using the same collaborative method and internal linking that you see on Wikipedia (though the students were not allowed to use Wikipedia in their research!).
Bosch’s students made their wiki on wikispaces, which right now is providing free, ad-free private wiki hosting to the first 100,000 K–12 teachers who request it. (At time of writing, there were more than 21,000 spots left. The service normally costs $50/year.)
5. Try social bookmarking.
Social bookmarking is a great way to share online resources with students, parents, and other teachers. The Goochland County (VA) Public School District has a del.icio.us account that’s shared among the district’s six schools. When a teacher finds a Web site that she wants to share, she can send it to her school’s media specialist with relevant tags, and the specialist will add it to the county’s account. The account currently has more than 530 bookmarks. It’s quick and easy to search for ones that are relevant to you—just click the “french” or “grammar” tag, and of those hundreds of bookmarks only the relevant sites (often as few as two or three) will pop up.
You don’t have to go districtwide to take advantage of social bookmarking, however. Create your own del.icio.us account and make it your classroom’s home page so students can navigate to your favorite Web sites easily. Once they have your user name, they can track your bookmarks from home or the library as well.
6. Post video.
Nathaniel Balcom, a fourth-grade teacher in Grand Island, Nebraska, encouraged his students to create video “discussions” of each chapter of Surviving the Applewhites. In the videos, students summarize a chapter of the book and raise several discussion questions about that chapter. Balcom also sent a link to the videos to all the parents in the class.
Balcom edited the videos on Apple’s iMovie, created fun intro credits on Animoto, and posted the results on TeacherTube, a YouTube-style online video-hosting site without the inappropriate content present on YouTube. Unlike most of the Web sites mentioned here, TeacherTube is advertising-supported, though none of the sponsors is inappropriate for a classroom setting. Not a Mac user? There are plenty of open-source video-editing programs that work on Windows and Linux, including Avidemux and VirtualDub.
7. Explore with google maps.
Who doesn’t love Google Maps? With a little creativity, Google’s mapping resource can be useful for more than just locating Azerbaijan. Gardner’s Manhattan-based fifth graders made an in-depth Google map this year to track the locations of Odysseus’s journey around southern Europe. At each major stop (including Troy, Sardinia, and Tunisia), students included an illustration and a description of what happens at that point in Odysseus’s journey. Students also used Google Maps to find all of the major buildings for the Beijing Olympics and then created virtual 3D models of the buildings using Google SketchUp, an architechture program that makes creating such models easy and intuitive.