From laptop carrying high school students to website creating
middle schoolers, technology has moved beyond the walls of a
computer lab and is now being used throughout all curriculum areas.
Elementary schools are no exception.
Thanks to technology, today's elementary students not only have
the opportunity to learn how to use the latest tools and software
but are also learning a lot about themselves and the world around
"Technology is taught as a tool to be used, just like pencil and
paper," says Amanda Davey of the Science
& Arts Academy, Des Plaines. "Technology skills are
integrated into our everyday curriculum, rather than being taught
as a separate class. Students begin using the Internet, Word,
PowerPoint and Kidspiration in 1st grade as tools to complete
projects in language arts and social studies."
For example, last year students in 1st/2nd grade homerooms used
the technology tools to help them with an oral presentation on a
"They searched the Internet for relevant facts, took notes in
Word, and then prepared a PowerPoint presentation that they used
during their oral report," says Davey. "These same tools are used
in all our grade levels, with the skill level and complexity
increasing as the students gain more experience each year. "
"Technology is very real for children. It is very much a part of
their everyday life," says Phillip Jackson of Chicago
Grammar School, Chicago. "Young children view technology as a
form of entertainment. Why not show them they can actually learn
something from it as well?"
Toward that goal, Chicago Grammar School uses large screen
monitors connected to teachers' laptops, and uses the Internet to
help further illustrate in-class lessons, encourage discussions,
provide structured breaks to enhance attention to tasks and reward
"The ease of the Internet is such that augmenting lessons with
audio and visual examples becomes so facile that there is no excuse
or reason not to do so," says Jackson. "Additionally, as
things come up in discussion, a live Internet connection allows the
teacher to provide visuals or information that keeps the
conversation flowing, rather than 'let's look it up later.'"
While integrating technology into the classroom is an important
part of the elementary curriculum, computer classes have not gone
"Our computer program has its own curriculum, but technology is
being used throughout all classrooms," says Jeff Oldham of Da Vinci
Students gain experience using the keyboard as well as various
software programs such as Microsoft Office-all of which are
incorporated into their classroom work outside of the computer lab.
As with many other schools, Da Vinci believes that technology is a
"We try not to get too bogged down in the specifics of what the
tool looks like today," says Oldham. "It is important for students
to realize that technology will continue to change and look
different than it does today. We want them to be flexible and
adaptable to new tools."
Technology has gone a long way towards helping students prepare
for the world outside of their classroom, but it has also brought
the real world to them. For first grade students at St. Michael
School, Orland Park, a lesson on penguins became more relevant
when their interactive lab allowed them to not only view penguins
in their natural habitat, but have real conversations with experts
in the field-even though "the field" was located in Alaska.
"We have been blessed beyond words to have donors give us access
to such tools," says Bernadette Cuttone of St. Michael. In addition
to learning about penguins in Alaska, students have visited with a
Holocaust survivor in Germany and even invited local Veterans into
their school to have a conversation with U.S. soldiers currently
serving in Iraq.
Use of the Internet also allows for a smooth transition between
classroom lessons and at-home learning.
"Our first unit in science is a study on the moon," says Becca
Yu, third grade teacher at Christian
Heritage Academy, Northfield. "Each night, students need to
look up the phase of the moon in the Internet and do a moon
Teachers also post documents and websites on the school's
internal website, which is also sent to parents. This type of
learning environment in school and at home motivates students to do
"When they know they get to practice online, they get excited
and become more motivated to learn," says Yu. "This motivation
means they will often work longer and harder on a technology-based
exercise as opposed to traditional methods."
Taking this one step further, many schools are using technology
to better communicate with parents on everything from upcoming
tests and homework to providing advice for parents on what areas of
learning need extra time or attention.
Chicago Grammar School has daily online reporting that gives
parents an "eye into the classroom and beyond" (along with photos
and video clips if relevant).
"It helps the parents help the child," adds Jackson.
Regardless of how technology is being used, educators agree that
embracing new tools and strategies is the best way to keep students
engaged in learning.
"Students today learn differently than students of the past.
Before they enter school, they have learned an enormous amount from
television, movies, and probably computers," Davey says. "They play
games on consoles and cell phones. Using technology in today's
schools is not only necessary to keep students current with
knowledge they will need to succeed, it is necessary to engage and
keep their interest. Technology allows students to be interactive
while they learn, rather than passive."
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