Professional Learning

The Internet-Connected Computer: It’s How You Use It That Counts

November 15, 2006

The value of a current classroom computer is determined by what you do with it. If it's used only for word processing, you might as well replace it with an electronic typewriter. But when it's used to connect to a world of learning opportunities that otherwise would be inaccessible to teacher and students, it becomes a critical tool with which that teacher works to change children's lives.

Because what really matters is how the computer is used, it is important for teachers to learn just what is possible. One of the easiest ways for any teacher to begin making good use of an Internet-capable classroom computer is by finding Web sites that both engage their students and match grade-level curriculum requirements.

To do this, teachers collect a list of high-quality Web site addresses, or URLs (universal resource locators), such as, which connects folks to The George Lucas Educational Foundation, where a host of inspirational and informative stories of technology integration can be found, told in both words and video.

Traditionally, teachers watch what other teachers do, then take ideas they like back to their classrooms, where they refine the original ideas and use them with their own students. So, understandably, colleagues can be a primary source of learning about great sites -- teachers talking to teachers is always a great way for them to learn.

Magazines and journals are also a great source of high-quality resources, and it is a good idea to keep a list of Web sites you want to look at when you get the chance. And don't forget your students: They probably spend more time on the Internet than most of their teachers, so be sure to engage them as you look for the resources and opportunities you need.

But what about a starting point? You have that Internet-connected computer, and you are determined to use it as a way to provide better opportunities for your kids. Where can you start? Here are a few ideas (and remember, this is only a beginning):

National Geographic Xpeditions.Does your file cabinet hold a current reproducible map of Burkina Faso, Brazil, or Thailand? How about each of the fifty states and the provinces of Canada? The National Geographic Society provides many high-quality Web resources, but this one, a complete set of black-and-white political maps of regions and countries of the world, is a foundational resource for every K-12 classroom. These are printable and can be produced as blank outline maps or detailed maps. How about using these in your English classes to put the location of the literature you are reading on the map?

Yes, every nation is here. And if a nation's boundaries should change next week, relax -- this is the National Geographic Society. And don't stop with the atlas. Look around at all the other resources available, and you will see how easily you can become a twenty-first-century social studies teacher!

The Newseum.Today's children will enter an adult world in which global thinking will be critical to their success. The Newseum, by providing Internet access to the front pages of some 500 daily newspapers and close to 300 Sunday papers from around the world, can go a long way in helping you support their development into knowledgeable global citizens. Through these actual front pages, you and your students can see what is so important in Birmingham, Alabama, or Sydney, Australia, that it appears above the fold on the front page. Now, that is news!

National Library of Virtual Manipulatives.At this Utah State University site, in direct support of all K-12 teachers and learners, you'll find all the usual manipulatives, plus a few others -- including geoboards, tangrams, pattern blocks, algebra tiles, balances, fractal visualizations, and polygons. You'll be amazed at how real these feel and act as you manipulate them with a mouse. Each one of these tools includes complete directions on their use, as well as activities and a direct link to the Web page of the National Council on Teachers of Mathematics that lists the standards each tool supports. site, supported by ALTEC (the Advanced Learning Technologies project, at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning), provides some of the very best free online tools and resources. From customizable rubrics and checklists for project-based learning to online quizzes, calendars, and more, these tools are all teacher focused and fill-in-the-blanks easy to use.

MarcoPolo.This collection of high-quality learning materials, sponsored by the Verizon Foundation and featuring the resources of such powerhouse teacher-support organizations as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, offers interactive, engaging, and effective content that will make you an Internet resource user in a hurry!

The Gene Scene and the Genetic Science Learning Center.Genetics, and what our new knowledge in this field makes possible, will change the world. But if you rely exclusively on textbooks as an information resource on this rapidly evolving topic, you and your students will be years behind the curve in obtaining news about current discoveries and technologies.

These Web sites, sponsored respectively by the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Utah, include ideas for hands-on things to do at home, including extracting DNA from common foods with a blender. The Gene Scene is designed for elementary school students, and the GSLC is targeted at teens.

ePals Classroom Exchange.This commercial Web site markets email solutions for students, as well as Internet filtering products, to schools. But it also provides a clearinghouse through which teachers from around the world can establish email connections for their classrooms. Teachers might want to join supported projects offered on the Web site, but the greatest strength of ePals is its ability and willingness to support the efforts of a class to become part of the global conversation.

Journey North.Journey North, sponsored by Annenberg Media and highlighted in a GLEF video segment, is a Web-based project appropriate for grades K-12. Following the migrations of various species through student's reported observations, Journey North is building an international database on this vital topic. There is plenty of support for teachers, encouraging all to share their ideas and experiences so that folks new to the project can make it an effective experience for their students.

Global Schoolhouse.Part of GlobalSchoolNet, this is the original virtual meeting place where educators, students, parents, and community members can collaborate, interact, develop, publish, and discover learning resources. Here, you will find Web-based, teacher-created projects you and your students can join. Or, if you are ready, you can post your own project idea and see who in the world would like to join in.

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