Teachers: How to Use Technology to Spruce Up Your Lesson Plans
No matter what field or age range you teach, the World Wide Web offers innumerable resources for your classroom. Check out the list below to learn what the Internet can bring to bear on your subject and for tips on how to effectively apply technology to your curriculum.
Productivity tools such as Excel can be useful when introducing math to students. Excel spreadsheets offer a wide variety of features that can save time, leaving more time to focus on thinking and analyzing data. Excel allows users to introduce data in the spreadsheet, perform complex mathematical and statistical calculations, and display information visually using graphs. It allows you to choose the type of graph and how to organize data. It also has powerful programming capabilities that may remove the need for performing repetitive tasks on different data sets. Other features of Excel focus on data organization, and various filters can be applied to the data, which allows the information to be easily displayed in different formats, depending on the topic for discussion.
The Internet can also be useful for math teachers. Tutorials can be useful when presenting a new concept. Tutorials are software applications designed to provide instruction on a specific topic. They deliver small amounts of information in a sequential manner that can be paced according to the learner, allowing each student to adapt this to his or her needs. Tutorials also check for understanding throughout the process to ensure the learner has mastered the concept by the end of the presentation. In opposition to drill-and-practice applications, tutorials provide teachers with tools for individualizing instruction and monitoring student progress.
The Internet is an almost infinite resource for foreign language education. Thousands of Web sites offer resources, dictionaries, and articles written by natives for different levels of learning. Some sites are also interactive. Students can practice exercises on the site and will receive immediate feedback on the mistakes made and how to correct them. There are also online communities of students and teachers for all languages. This gives an extra dimension to language acquisition—sharing ideas, thoughts, and resources, and even engaging in dialogue with native speakers. The Internet also provides resources that, due to cost or distance, would be impossible to access: foreign language publications, including newspapers and magazines, and access to different cultural institutions of the country. Note that caution must be used when using information found on the Internet.
Teachers can take advantage of numerous sites that offer lesson plans, interactive activities, dictionaries, vocabulary and grammar resources, virtual tours, articles, and book publications, as well as discussion forums that can introduce interesting debates in the classroom. These resources and applications allow students to be creative while teaching them to be flexible and adapt to changes. Rural students who may not have access to formal foreign language teaching can still have access to a foreign language by doing online courses, using materials and resources provided by the institution offering the course. Alternatively, they can form study groups, get connected with a teacher, and work together online as a class.
Various applications of technology can be useful in teaching science. As mentioned previously, online tutorials are useful in almost any topic. For science, it can be particularly interesting to introduce presentations to the class, including pictures, videos, and other media to tie the lesson more closely to the real world and make it more interesting for the students. Simulation software can be applied to science. This application allows students and teachers to generate dynamic presentations of a given topic or to explore a concept as if they were living in the field. To name just a few possible examples, students could take a “field trip” to space, or they could voyage through the human body, experience an active tornado or volcano from the inside, or visit foreign countries and tourist destinations.
Technological equipment offered by government organizations are also important tools that schools can use in the classroom. Most city governments own geographic information systems (GIS) software and are interested in partnering with local schools to share expertise, technical knowledge, and equipment. These partnerships allow students to see how experts work in real-world jobs, and for some projects, they can even participate. Classes can be much richer when these resources are tied to the activities. Devices such as digital microscopes, which allow sample collection, and databases from NASA are just some resources that students can use.
The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program aims to foster collaboration between students and scientists (Green, et al., 2008). GLOBE allows students to collaborate with mentor scientists who answer questions, help the students analyze data, and place measurements in the context of global environmental issues. Students and teachers work in the classroom collecting data. They enter this into a computer that aggregates the data of all students and returns analyses of all the information. After this, students interpret the results and understand the development based on their own experiments.
Digital resources are very important in promoting inquiry-based learning in social studies. Research skills are essential for historical research and learning. There are also specific sources for social science subjects, including an enormous amount of digitized documents available on the Internet that cannot be accessed as books.
Simulation software plays an important role here as well. Virtual field trips can be taken to historical locations, museums, or the country being studied, many of which would be impossible, or very difficult, to undertake otherwise. This connection with historical elements makes students feel that the lesson they are studying is connected to their lives. With this particular software, a class can even travel in time, going to a specific time period and seeing what life was like in the past.
Besides virtual trips, simulation software also allows the class to be a part of the problem they are studying. An example is Decisions, Decisions: Local Government, a simulation game in which users assume the role of the mayor of a community facing a problem. The main activity is to make decisions and then see how the software reacts to it. The software presents the students with the results. With this tool, students can achieve a deeper understanding of social issues and feel more involved with them. They may also get a better understanding of how society works by making decisions by themselves, and experiencing the consequences. Technology fosters the use of real-world problems in the classroom, promotes interactivity, and encourages cooperative education.
Technology multiplies your pedagogical options by several orders of magnitude. Take some time and browse what’s out there! While it may seem counterintuitive, surfing the net can really pay off for you and your students, as long as you know how to use technology to delve deeper into a subject, instead of distract. Look over the examples here as often as you need to make sure you’re on top of making the most of the information age!