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Focus on Function: Innovative Uses of Technology

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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En route to work in a school in Illinois, I was sitting in a narrow seat on a regional jet. It had been a bit of a long day, and I began to drift off to sleep, only to be snapped back awake time after time by the uncomfortable shape of the headrest. I needed a pillow, but this was a late-afternoon flight on a regional jet, meaning my chance of getting one was nil.

So I took my paperback copy of Daniel H. Pink's A Whole New Mind, rolled it up, placed it at the base of my neck, and slept. It wasn't quite the ever-sought-after "like a baby" version of sleep, but the support of this fine tome (seriously: Pink's book has made a huge impact on my thinking, and I urge all to read it) gave me the support my spine needed in that pesky base-of-the-neck region.

And this experience got me to thinking about innovative uses of stuff, and I remembered a high school science teacher from South Portland, Maine, who was in a session in which I was demonstrating the ProScope digital microscope. She was impressed with the device but shared that, using a simple point-and-shoot digital camera and a traditional microscope, she and her students were collecting dramatic images that were proving effective in supporting student understanding of complex concepts.

In a previous post, I wrote about various ways a digital projector can be used in a classroom, and many of those ideas go more than a bit beyond the traditional uses of projecting a computer screen onto a larger screen or even an interactive whiteboard.

But I know there are brilliant innovations out there I will never think of, so my question is, "How are you using technology in innovative ways to support your teaching and kids' learning?" Go for it -- surprise us!

And, as a bonus, after you read A Whole New Mind, you'll understand just how fundamentally important this innovation thing is.

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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Shannon Coombs's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach 9th and 10th grade English, and I am always looking for new ways to bring technology into my classroom. I set up Power Point presentations to review information with my students. I try to do "Jeopardy" style games with using a projector and will often let my students be "Alex Trebek." It keeps them all involved in the lessons.

I also use the laptop labs in my classroom when students are learning about the Holocaust. I allow them to go through websites that show them the different concentration camps and what took place in each of them. While they are doing this, they take notes of specific information they received and found particularly insightful on the word program that is on the computers. They reflect on the information and pose questions to other students on what they found. It proves to be rather interesting because there are many websites conducive to Holocaust research.

Another lesson I like to do would be when we watch a video in the classroom, I set it up on my laptop and at particular points, I will pause the video and pull up discussion questions on the screen . This way, it is more visual and stimulating to students. I use different colors on slides for different information, and when it comes down to testing, I have actually had students say "Oh wait. This question or information was on the (green) screen. I remember now." I find that very interesting.

I look forward to learning more technology skills I can learn and value information given to me. I hope these ideas were helpful as well.


J.P. Tuttle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not a teacher (I'm a college freshman), but I've definitely had some cool teachers in the past in regards to technology.

Ms. Wigfall, at Boston Latin Academy, was my 7th grade math teacher. She wrote her own computer programs (in Visual Basic) to generate problems to do in class (complete with solutions) or to quiz students. She also used PowerPoint, and developed the odd ability to write quite legibly with a normal computer mouse (using the PowerPoint pen tool). Definitely cool.

Other cool technology would of course include SketchUp (I have used it; not in school, however). If you need something fancier than SketchUp, Blender is a great open-source, cross-platform (Windows/OS X/Linux) 3D suite. It takes quite a bit of getting used to, but it's extremely powerful. Other cool open-source apps include Inkscape (similar to Adobe Illustrator), The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP -- yes, I know, it needs a new name) -- similar to Photoshop, and FreeMind -- a free mind-mapping program.

If you look around on Google, there are tons of lists of open-source software. Check some of it out -- it's quite awesome.

-- J.P. Tuttle

J.P. Tuttle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


As far as I know, I've never seen this used in schools, but I think there's a lot of potential for activities in English class. Ever play any of the old Infocom text adventures -- Adventure, Zork, etc? Basically, the game would describe where you were, and you would type in a command -- "go north", "examine book", etc.

Inform 7:
is a natural-language text-adventure design system. To quote their web page:
"In place of traditional computer programming, the design is built by writing natural English-language sentences:
- Martha is a woman in the Vineyard.
- The cask is either customs sealed, liable to tax or stolen goods.
- The prevailing wind is a direction that varies.
- The Old Ice House overlooks the Garden.
- A container is bursting if the total weight of things in it is greater than its breaking strain."

It's quite easy to use, comes with a bunch of well-written documentation, and runs on Windows or Mac. One could probably have lots of fun using it to write interactive stories and to study aspects of stories (plot, character, dialogue, etc.)

Just a neat idea.

-- J.P. Tuttle

Sarah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach 6th grade Science and have received lots of new technology equipment this year. In all of our classrooms we received a projector, laptop, document cam, and wireless mouse. I have established a regular use of the document cam for everyday things, the wireless mouse and projector are great for powerpoints. I also make use of a CPS system where students have an individual remote and respond to questions on the projector. I give several assessments using the CPS system, which provides the students with immediate feedback.

Jim R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

CPS systems can be a powerful tool for formative assessment - they provide the capability for a teacher to ask a "quick question" to check for understanding before moving on to a new concept. Assessment for learning and of learning as opposed to strictly summative assessments is so important... Here is some more thinking on this:

Jim Hirsch's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

innovative technology uses in my 34 years of serving in public education have typically included doing the unexpected with less cost..... so using a $9.50 software package to annotate and save class notes as web pages along with a $99 wireless keyboard and mouse to allow students to lead the class from their own work areas rather than get up and "move to the board" save a minimum of $1,400 over the least expensive interactive digital board and leads to a more engaging classroom....

Mike Whitman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is going to seem a little different to some, but we use a lot of different kinds of technology in the engineering technology class I teach to 6th grade students. The challenge I give the class to become a manufacturing company that will mass produce a product and sell it to the public. (I use "The Apprentice" television show as an introduction into the unit.) The students use computers to design a product (CAD) and then use a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) milling machine to manufacture the product (CAM). Students then advertise the products by designing posters to hang around the school, making a company web site, and filming a commercial that is broadcast during our morning news. All of this by use of the computer. Finally a package is designed, printed and assembled and a cost accounting sheet prepared in hopes of showing a profit. Oh, did I mention, they have to make up their own original company name and design a company logo? The logo will appear on everything the company produces, including business cards!

Amber Cregan's picture


I only have 3 computers, an over-head, and(on loan) a document camera. I too teach Kindergarten and always trying to advance in the classroom with the pieces of technology that I do have. I am curious to see if you have found any additional resources and what ideas you have come up thus far.

Jenny's picture

I really like what many of the commenters have shared. I have an old-style projector in my classroom and a computer for teacher use only. Needless to say this limits me in incorporation of technology. However, we do have 2 computer labs in our building and a great set-up in our library with a very knowledgable Library Media Specialist. I have options, but availiability is the struggle. However, after reading everyone's comments I have come up with some new ideas for my classroom, so thanks to everyone!

Clair's picture

It's great to see everyone sharing such great ideas on here. I am an elementary teacher and also a M.Ed student (Majoring in Educational IT). We have recently been looking at how interactive all these Interactive White Boards actually are... and it seems that most teachers are just using it as a glorified projector to present visual materials to a large group. Perhaps this is because pedagogical practices haven't changed dramatically in recent years?

I myself have been guilty of using IWBs more as a displaying device and would love to see how to get more students using it to make it truly interactive. When using powerpoint or other demonstrative software, I used to keep the lessons short and NEVER simply read from the slides. When we divided into small group work, one group would "play teacher" and take turns repeating the powerpoint presentation to their group, mimicking my every move. They would remember where to point, what to say and even how to say it with the correct intonation. It made me much more aware of everything I said and did during those lessons, knowing they were about to repeat it. We did this once a week for every subject and it was a great small group activity. At first I had trust issues, unsure if they would be able to responsibly operate the board on their own while I worked with another group, but we talked about appropriate use and I never had any problems.

Of course, we also tried out cool software and games that make learning fun and "interactive", but the biggest drawback with IWBs is that only one user can be operating the board at one time, so the class comes to a standstill while waiting for one student to use the pen. While sometimes beneficial for critical reflection, this can create great lapses and boredom for some students and they lose interest. That is when I revert back to traditional white boards where several students can be writing at a time.

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