Authentic, Technology-Based Activities in the Era of NCLB

Article excerpt

A fourth grade teacher described it best: "There's so much in the curriculum pushing at us."

Media specialists everywhere have stories to tell about teachers who believe they no longer have time to teach their favorite units, collaborate, or use technology in educationally sound or creative ways. The combination of NCLB and other demands have created a situation where teachers have little time or interest in using technology beyond basic instructional management and easy-to-implement instructional tasks they are comfortable with. A study by the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) reported that teachers are more likely to use technology for instructional management tasks than they are for instruction.

According to the report, "When Congress passed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002, with its large mandate for testing and accountability, it not only restructured the way school technology is funded but also shifted the focus of school technology spending toward improving school testing and dataanalysis capabilities. The climate for experimental endeavors and instructional usage thus shifted toward practicing for test-measured skills." (National Education Association in collaboration with the American Federation of Teachers "Access, Adequacy, and Equity in Education Technology," May 2008.)

But you can help by bringing your creative ideas to your teachers!

For example, I'm excited about two of my current favorite instructional activities. Both support and complement the demands of NCLB and a tight curriculum while providing authentic and engaging activities that students enjoy and their teachers consider worthwhile. The first, Eye Spy Math, challenges students to use geometric terms as they examine and analyze primary source photos presented in a PowerPoint presentation. The second, an Excel-based chart and graph activity, supports state math standards, state information, and technology literacies; it also creates connections between reading and technology.

EYE SPY MATH

Eye Spy Math (in "Guides and Overviews" at www.loc.gov/teachers/preview/professional/guides) was developed by Gail Petri, education resource specialist with the Library of Congress Office of Strategic Initiatives. The primary source photos, which are mostly of buildings and scenes available in the American Memory collection, were selected because they illustrate geometric shapes and terms. As students view Eye Spy, they brainstorm the terms depicted in the photos. In one photo two men wearing 1950s era hats and clothing are playing checkers. It elicits the terms square, rectangle, circle, parallel lines, and oval. A photo of "men on horseback riding inside circle of tipis on a Washington Indian Reservation" challenges the students to discover triangular shapes in the teepees, hillside trees, and the confluence of roads. They find cylinders and rectangles in the sides of the tents. A challenging photo of two wagon wheels helps students review perpendicular, concentric circles; students who may have difficulty with some terms eagerly identify the pentagon and a variety of other shapes depicted in the photo. For another example, see Figure 1.

Eye Spy Math is ideally used as a whole-class activity with students viewing the photos on a projection screen. As students brainstorm and share the terms, others can point to them on the screen. Fourth grade students love to use a pointer and take turns at the screen. Eye Spy Math is a powerful yet easily manageable way to engage students. It's also a nice break from the demands of test preparation because it's fun while also supporting curriculum.

I've used the activity with students in grades 4 and 7. A fourth grade teacher is thrilled with how well it supports and encourages a review of geometric terms prior to students taking their state math test while also providing an engaging experience. …