Posted tagged ‘education’

Spreadsheets and Databases in the Classroom

February 22, 2010

computers displaying dataWhat is a Spreadsheet?

Computerized spreadsheets are the digital descendent of paper spreadsheets. They consist of rows and columns wherein a user records and compares data (Rogers, 2010, para. 1). While they are traditionally used for numerical data, spreadsheets can also be used to store and sort text information. The most common computerized spreadsheet program today is Microsoft Excel; another popular program is Lotus 123 (para. 5). Google Docs has a free online spreadsheet program that is gaining in popularity.

In the classroom, spreadsheets can be used to collect, sort, compare, and calculate data. They can also be used to generate charts, tables, and graphs (Steffen, 2006). A relative advantage of using spreadsheets in the classroom is that they provide students with a visual, manipulate-able way to read and share information, improving calculations, and increasing organization.

What is a Database?

A database is similar to a spreadsheet, in that it organizes information in tabular form. However, it is designed to maintain large amounts of information organized into records. Each record corresponds to an item for which information was gathered and inputted into the database (Chapple, 2010, para. 2). For example, a business might keep a database of all its vendors and customers, with contact information, billing information, etc. The most common database software is probably Microsoft Access. Mac users may be more familiar with Appleworks.

In the classroom, databases can be used to keep track of students or projects. They can be used with tech-savvy students (or any students, if the database is set up beforehand) to compile customized sets of information. A relative advantage of using databases in the classroom is that they allow users to organize and manipulate large amounts of information. Students work at higher cognitive levels to compare and contrast data, rank importance,

How Do Spreadsheets and Databases Differ?

A database is, to use a popular expression, like a spreadsheet on steroids. Databases permit users to do complex actions, like retrieving records based on a certain set of criteria, updating multiple records, or cross-referencing records (Chapple, 2010, para. 4).


Chapple, M. (2010). What is a database? Retrieved from

Rogers, C. (8 February 2010). What is a spreadsheet? Retrieved from

Steffen, P. (2006). Integrating spreadsheets in the classroom. Retrieved from

TeAch-nology (2007). Using computer databases in the classroom. Retrieved from


Instructional Software in the Language Arts Classroom: Relative Advantages

February 16, 2010

The use of instructional software in the classroom can enrich the material and supplement instruction.

Tutorials, educational games, simulations, databases, applications, and drill/practice programs are available for practically any subject area. Some subjects naturally lend themselves to certain types of software; there are, for example, many more games available for social studies classrooms than for language arts, and math teachers can choose from multitudinous drill programs.

In the language arts classroom, applications and tutorials are the most common useful software offerings. There are a variety of programs available to help students strengthen their skills in language arts – various drill/practice programs that build grammar and vocabulary knowledge, for example. For the purpose of this post, I would like to move past these programs and focus on applications that take student writing outside of the five-paragraph essay and into the expanding “real world.”

Most schools make Microsoft Office programs available to their language arts students, but there are many other applications that can be used to good effect – particularly now that online publication and “new literacy” is becoming an important skill in the secondary English classroom. The frosting on that particular cupcake is that bringing Web 2.0 applications and software into the classroom increases motivation and engagement, hence improving performance.

I have witnessed the powerful, positive effects that the introduction of blogging can have on a classroom. Using a teacher-controllable platform like Edublogs, students have control over their own little piece of the Internet. They go from being a voiceless teenager to a published author with the click of a button. What’s more, their writing is no longer incubated in a vacuum solely for the benefit of their teacher; other students, and even readers outside the school, read and interact with their work. Blogging gives equal class-discussion standing to the shyest and quietest students. It has measureable effects on fluency, creativity, and peer responsiveness – and underlying all this is the enormous benefits it can have on students’ confidence in their own writing.

If you are interested in bringing blogs into your classroom, I recommend starting with free Edublog accounts. If it seems to be right for you, write that grant and get funding for an Edublogs Campus subscription, which will allow you greater control and connectedness at your school.  Although I have not used them myself, there are other school-centered blogging platforms such as ClassPress and 21Classes that might be a better fit for your needs. You can also use a regular blogging platform, such as WordPress or Blogger, although they offer less options for monitoring and teacher control. Another option that I have used with fairly good results, although it did end up being much more work than I’d anticipated, is to build a blog platform through a customizable social network like Ning.

For more information, check out these resources by Glencoe, Tech&Learning, PBS Teachers, the Western Australia Department of Education, and TeachersFirst.

What Principles Should Guide Tech Integration?

February 9, 2010

As with any new tool or resource, integration and implementation should be done judiciously and with a full understanding of the rationale behind it. As pointed out in Deubel’s article, these tools “should not be implemented just for the sake of adopting technology” (2010). Otherwise, schools run the risk of chasing trends fruitlessly, becoming reactionary and chaotic collections of gadgets and doo-hickeys instead of dynamic learning environments.

There are three essential principles that should guide technological integration in the classroom: content, added value, and assessment (Dexter, 2002). This parallels the relative advantage charts, where content –> problem, added value –> relative advantage, and assessment –> expected outcome.

Content: What Are You Trying to Teach?

Teachers should consider what their learning outcomes are – true in any situation, but particularly important when considering the integration of instructional technology. Associated with this is understanding what cognitive skills are being exercised in an activity. Different technologies will be helpful – and, of course, unhelpful – depending upon whether students are practicing recall, analysis, or creation. As Sara Dexter points out, “When learning outcomes drive the selection of technology in a classroom, the educational technology will be a better fit for teaching and learning, supporting the achievement of the designated outcomes” (2002).

Added Value: What Will Technology Bring to the Classroom?

The next principle involves determining what result the technology will have in the classroom – what the relative advantage of integrating said technology would be. A convenient reference for this is Andrew Church’s Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, which shows how different technologies might be utilized in order to exercise different skill sets (2008).

Deubel’s article lists several key questions to be answered before integrating new technology. If the teacher can answer yes to at least one of the questions, then the technology may be helpful to students. These key questions explore whether the technology would assess prior knowledge, enhance organization of information, promote active engagement, provide feedback, acquire monitoring/evaluating skills, and adjust to student differences (2010).

Within this principle lies the critical point in the integration of educational technology. There are many exciting digital toys available to us, and more are created every day. The savvy educational technologist must carefully filter which of these gadgets will and will not bring any added value to the classroom. It’s bursting with potential and features, but will Google Wave actually benefit the average history class (O’Donnell, 2009)? As cool as it may look, does the English classroom really need a combination taser/MP3 player (Newman, 2009). Wait – don’t answer that…

Assessment: Will Technology Help Assess Student Learning?

Assessment is one of the fundamental elements of instruction (Danielson, 2007). A professional educator is constantly assessing student ability, knowledge, and learning – all a part of what one of my favorite professors called “knowing your students”. Another part of assessment is that a well-constructed activity will provide assessments directly to the students, allowing them to see how they are progressing.

Two of Deubel’s key questions ask whether a new technology will “provide the instructor with relevant information about students’ knowledge and skill level” and “provide frequent, timely, and constructive feedback” (2010). The critical issue, then, is whether a particular tool or resource will help teachers with effective assessment, and/or whether it will provide students with the tools for self-assessment.


Churches, A. (2008). Bloom’s Taxonomy blooms digitally. Tech&Learning. Retrieved from

Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Deubel, P. (2010). Technology integration: Essential questions. Retrieved February 6, 2010, from Computing Technology for Math Excellence Web site:

Dexter, S. (2002). eTIPS-Educational technology integration and implementation principles. In P. Rodgers (Ed.), Designing instruction for technology-enhanced learning (pp.56-70). New York: Idea Group Publishing.

Newman, J. (2009). 10 totally ridiculous combo gadgets. PC World, November 27, 2009. Retrieved from

O’Donnell, E. (2009). Google Wave and schools. Teaching matters: Innovating for student success. Retrieved from

What is Technological Literacy?

February 8, 2010

The definition of literacy has changed as new tools have entered the educational environment. According to the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group, contemporary literacy includes “scientific literacy, economic literacy, technological literacy, visual literacy, information literacy, multicultural literacy, and global awareness” in addition to the more traditional reading/writing literacy (Deubel, 2010). This technological literacy, also called digital literacy, refers to a person’s ability to find and assimilate information online, to successfully accomplish tasks using digital tools, including the creation of new digital documents, and to make judgements about the content found online (Jones-Kavalier & Flannigan, 2006).

It is no longer sufficient to teach our students how to decode information they find in a book or how to write a paper using pen/paper or a word processor. Students need to learn how to research and communicate using existing and as-of-yet unimagined digital technology, which means that they need to learn more than “how to use this application” – they need to learn how to learn new applications. A low-tech correlation is the student of music; a piano teacher strives to teach her students how to play piano, not just a given set of songs. A well-trained pianist can teach himself to play any song within his range of ability, and a well-trained 21st-century student can teach herself to use any digital tool or resource.

Technological literacy builds upon the commonly-accepted cognitive hierarchy of Bloom’s Taxonomy, as adapted for the digital age by Andrew Churches. As we see in the diagram below, technological literacy concepts are present at all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – from bookmarking and searching, to linking, tagging, blogging, podcasting, and even computer programming (2008).

Bloom's Digital Taxonomy Map, created by Andrew Churches in 2008

Ultimately, in order for our students to be technologically literate, we must go beyond putting them in front of computers. Our students need to learn to create and collaborate online, to be critical and thoughtful researchers and problem-solvers, and to be good “netizens” who exercise courtesy, judgment, and safety in their online activities (ISTE, 2007).


Churches, A. (2008). [Diagram illustrating activities and objectives within Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy]. Bloom’s digital taxonomy map. Retrieved from

Deubel, P. (2010). Technology integration: Essential questions. Retrieved February 6, 2010, from Computing Technology for Math Excellence Web site:

International Society for Technology in Education (2007). The ISTE national educational technology standards (NETS-S) and performance indicators for students. Retrieved February 6, 2010, from

Jones-Kavalier, B.R. and Flannigan, S.L. (2006). Connecting the digital dots: Literacy of the 21st century. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2006, pp. 8-10. Retrieved February 8, 2010, from

Technology Integration Proposal

February 7, 2010

Our assignment was to pick an audience (other teachers, parents, administrators, etc.) and make a presentation in support of technology integration. I decided to personalize this as a proposal to integrate technology into the language arts curriculum at my school, via the creation of a new class.

I had a lot of fun, believe it or not, creating the actual slideshow – up until the point when I had to convert it into a Flash file. I had enormous amounts of trouble finding a convertor that did what I wanted, or that worked at all. SlideShare removed all animation, and I’d worked far too hard on great animation to stand for that. AuthorPoint LITE wouldn’t communicate with my PowerPoint software. Ultimately I used a trial download of PowerFlashPoint, which worked terrifically – it’s just too bad that it costs so much to buy the actual program. In fact, I liked PowerFlashPoint so much that I made three presentations for my juniors using it.

My presentation is published online here.

Relative Advantages: Secondary English

February 6, 2010

My relative advantages chart for the high school English classroom is online.

Timeline of Educational Technology History

February 2, 2010

I used Dipity – which was kind of a headache, incidentally – to create this timeline of some highlights in the history of educational technology.

I started to add all kinds of earlier technology – pencils, ballpoints, etc. – but ultimately didn’t….