Educational researchers have demonstrated time and again that the most meaningful learning takes place when students have direct, first-hand experience with concrete materials: math manipulatives, science equipment, art supplies, photographs, news reports, surveys, maps, and copies of historical documents. This is true whether you're teaching the concept of intersecting sets, constructing graphs, or throwing a football; students learn best by doing.
Today's computer-based technologies offer powerful new ways to provide students with direct experience in the classroom curriculum. And, through using teaching and learning resources that can be manipulated electronically, technology can extend the experience of students far beyond the time and space limitations of conventional materials. Examples of such applications include these:
* Productivity software such as word processors, databases, spreadsheets, and multimedia programs that manage and display data concretely in a variety of forms, and allow parts of documents and collections of information to be manipulated like building blocks.
* Problem-solving software where students have repeated opportunities to use inquiry skills in computer-based investigations. Examples include Sunburst's classic Puzzle Tanks software for manipulating electronic representations of physical materials, and the interactive videodisc series Science Sleuths and Math Sleuths from Videodiscovery.
* "Cyber-materials," such as the onscreen Toolkit for Interactive Mathematics (IBM/EduQuest) or the combination computer-manipulative package Lego TC Logo (LEGO Dacta), both of which allow the user to move and assemble a variety of computer-controlled objects into devices that can be operated electronically.
* Simulated environments where users can move around in contrived computer habitats, make moment-by-moment choices, and see the results of their decisions. Examples include the SimCity 2000 city-building simulation (Maxis) and the popular adventure game Myst (Broderbund).
* Computer telecommunications that allow students to use the resources of the worldwide Internet and commercial networks--including America OnLine, CompuServe, Delphi, eWorld, and Prodigy--to locate, retrieve, organize, evaluate, and process global information, such as tracking international weather patterns using downloaded maps.
Making It Work
What are the techniques that are most effective for teaching effectively with technology in large-group, small-group, and individualized situations? To a large extent, they are the same as those used to encourage discovery learning in any context. The following methods have been documented extensively with hundreds of successful teachers, and should have observable results in your classroom.
Techniques for Initiating Technology-Based Learning
* Relate Each Technology Activity to Student Experience: Your students need to understand the purpose of every technology-based activity, and a good way to accomplish that is to integrate local content into the experience. For example, a database activity on decimals and percent might use data from area sports teams, or results from school surveys. It is also helpful to relate each new technology activity to a previous activity. For example, a link between an elementary manipulative experience with pattern-blocks and the Thinkin' Things (Edmark) problem-solving software section on auditory memory might involve a brief review that starts with the question, "Last time, how did you make patterns using colors and shapes?" followed by "Today we will work with patterns in sounds."
* When Introducing Unique Materials, Provide Unstructured Time: If students are being given their first opportunity to use new hardware (a scanner, for example) or tool software (such as a drawing/paint program), it is difficult to focus immediately on a structured activity while they are captivated by the experience itself. …