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Friendly Computers: Technology Helps People Help People

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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I met an interesting guidance counselor in a rural K-8 school the other day. I was at the school to advocate for the effective use of technology to support teaching and learning across the curriculum, and I was sharing with her my feeling that guidance folks need to be connected to the technology-driven realities of the kids in their schools.

Agreeing with me about the importance of attending to the students' social and emotional health as well as their academics, this counselor mentioned something that struck me as an innovative use of technology: Her laptop has a built-in camera, and she was using it in a one-on-one setting to let kids take photos of themselves expressing happiness, anger, frustration, and other emotions so they could reflect on the images.

Here she was, using a state-of-the-art laptop to support that most fundamental form of human communication -- the facial expression. This strikes me as an interesting case of using the very latest to support the most foundational, the highly technical to support the very human.

Oh, and most important, the guidance counselor told me it has been effective: The students are able to see the pictures of themselves instantaneously and can try again, which helps them become more aware of how they look to others and how to use appropriate facial expressions to become better connected with their classmates and teachers.

There's a wonderful Web site called FreeRice that does the same sort of thing -- uses technology to help people at a basic level. It's a multiple-choice vocabulary quiz that gives you a word and four possible definitions. You simply click on the answer you think is correct. The site determines what vocabulary level you can handle to begin with, and if you get three correct in a row, you move up a level. If you get one wrong, you move down. A vendor at this year's Florida Educational Technology Conference told me the site had a database of 50,000 words and is growing rapidly.

On its surface, the site is a place to practice vocabulary. But the point is not just to help kids score well on the SAT. The key is that for every word you get correct, the site donates 20 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Program. Yes, I know 20 grains of rice is not much by itself, but by the time I left the page, I had donated 780 grains. And I discovered that the word mizzle means light rain. (Mizzle is a new one to me. I missed it, because I thought it was a red herring -- you know, too close to drizzle.)

So, here are two examples of the highest technology (a laptop with an onboard digital camera, and a database-driven, interactive Web site) that we can use to support people in the most foundational of ways (for face-to-face communication and for donating rice to the hungry). High tech, high touch. Technology in support of humanity. Let me know what you are doing, and what you are seeing others do, in this area.

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (12) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Todd Lewis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Free Rice is such an addicting but educational site. It is nice to see something that can be of use to students and keep help those out whom can't afford food.

It is also interesting to see how different educators are using technology to help students. I wonder if parents would have a issue with taking picture of their children? Sounds like a good idea though.

Brooke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I haven't seen as much as I'd like to see as far as technology being used with our use in the classroom. I did like how the program mentioned donated rice to the needy and that's one way that our society is using technology to help. I would definitely love to see more. I would love to get to a point where school districts get together and highlight programs such as the rice one mentioned. Think of what it could do for everyone, those needing food and our students. Not only would it be "fun" but it would be teaching very valuable life lessons.

Julie Nikolai's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As educators we often hear the term life long learners, and the importance of setting examples to our students of being a life long learner. What better way to show your flexibility and willingness to learn new things than by incorporating technology into your classroom? When our students look back on their educations, most of them are likely to recall having computers in each classroom. This memory speaks to how much education has changed and will continue to change. Aside from my students using computers on a daily basis, I incorporate technology in my classroom in several other ways. Our social studies curriculum provides websites that reinforce or have short video clips on specific topics. I use a laptop to display these quick and helpful reinforcements, showing my students the endless resources found on the internet. We have a Smart board in our classroom, which allows our students to be involved in class discussions from their seat, without speaking. Our class also uses the school's digital camera to take photos of fun and memorable lessons, and then post those photos on our class web page. The resources are endless, as are the lessons taught to our students by showing the use of and incorporating technology each day.

Jen Davidson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first year teaching at an online public charter school. Previously, I had taught pre-K for ten years. It was a very unique transition from the traditional classroom setting to a virtual classroom. I entered this position a bit intimidated by technology. I soon realized the vast opportunity that technology has given students to succeed in learning. I have students who medically cannot sit in a traditional classroom, young mothers who work to support their family,and many traditional home schooled students. The online school option offers these students the opportunity to work at their own pace to master course material. It also enables students to connect with other students across the state of Ohio. I am currently working to obtain my Master's Degree and we were given the assignment to participate in an educational blog. This is my first experience with blogging and what a valuable teaching resource it is. As I visited the rice site, I realized that the possiblities technology has to offer students are endless. I do not feel as intimidated by technology, at this point I am excited to learn more ways to implement technology as a learning tool.

Monica Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! This is an assignment that I had to do for school, but what an amazing amount of information can be learned from reading fellow educators blogs and comments. I had never heard of the website Free Rice but I told my studnets about it and they even log on at home because they said it is fun to learn and to help others. Also the technology used by the school counselor sounds amazing. What a simple idea that turned into a fantastic way to help children.

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

I love this comment, with the simple statement, "...what an amazing amount of information can be learned from reading fellow educators blogs and comments." To help your learning from others continue, here is another web resource they will like - a great way to learn base two: Enjoy!

Christina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am an online educator so I realize how important technology is to our students. We have to find new and interesting ways to teach our curriculum over the computer. I loved the FreeRice website because it not only teaching our students vocabulary but it's also showing them a small way to make a difference. Even though I teach social studies, I am still going to share this website with my students.

Marsha Schultz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed this post! Thanks for sharing the new idea on showing expression through a laptop computer's camera capabilities. This is a great way for children to access technology and learn emotions at the same time. I have plans to use this technique in my class soon. I also checked-out the free rice site. What an awesome site. I will certainly pass both ideas along to my colleagues. Thanks again.

Jenny's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is wonderful idea! I let my technology club take pictures all year around and we make a huge bullitin board.The bullitin board consist of everything going on through out the school year. The students love this! They will like this as well. Who wouldn't want to see how they appear to others?

cheap computers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The students are able to see the pictures of themselves instantaneously and can try again, which helps them become more aware of how they look to others and how to use appropriate facial expressions to become better connected with their classmates and teachers.

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