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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just Add A Little GIS

I've been following an interesting discussion on a Linked In group.  The original question was "How can technology aid in student achievement? Or also, What is technology's role in education?" There have been some terrific thoughts shared from this great group of professionals (Technology Integration in Education...if you care to join the discussion) 
Here's my addition to the discussion: 
When you're deciding on using technology or any other tool to teach or enhance content.  As the experienced instructors, we must keep asking ourselves, "How will this way be better than the old way?"  The recipe that says "just add technology" doesn't make the most impact.  The right time to add technology is when student achievement and student understanding are drastically changed.


For example, I was teaching Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to my middle school 7th graders as part of the required English Language Arts course content.  Some other teachers were having their students search the Internet and write a report on Mark Twain or some aspect of the time period.  Other teachers would watch a movie from the Biography Channel on Twain's life.  Now both of those examples are adding technology, but the impact isn't much different on the students...you're just using a different vehicle to get there.  I had some experience using GIS(geographic information systems) and saw some potential in that technology really changing student perspective.  Let's face it, when they see an old book and hear that it's about slavery and a river...you might lose them...a bunch of dead authors and dusty books!  My experiment really paid off.  After having students use GIS to examine Twain's trip down the Mississippi River, slavery population maps of the time and look at a historic map that Twain might have used when piloting the riverboat, they were not only more interested, but began to see novel as we read it.  They made the connection between slavery and an old dusty book.  They could see how their state looked at that time.  They started to see Social Studies and Science in what we were studying in English class.  As I included GIS and other geospatial technologies along the way, their critical thinking and ultimately those pesky test scores went UP, really UP and that's a good case for using technology that you don't have to explain to anyone.