Tools for Educators
A short article on the
value of technology in education
If you find this material useful, you may also want to check out several of
our print publications -- Click
on Success: A Practical Guide to Technology Planning and Lesson Plan Design
and Planning into Practice:
Resources for planning, implementing, and integrating instructional technology.
Both contain considerably more detailed information on the topics covered in
The Value of Technology In Education
At this late date in the 20th Century, educators are well-used to hearing about
the promise that technology brings for "revolutionizing" the way teachers
teach and students learn. To even the casual observer, this promise would seem
to flow from an ever-growing awareness on the part of the general public to
the integration of technology into daily life. The popular media deluges us
with images of telecommunications-related change in the way that we live and
communicate - from ordering groceries on-line to sending faxes from the beach
- while ever-so-subtly integrating the now-ubiquitous WorldWideWeb address into
advertisements everywhere. On an even more basic level, few of us would expect
handwritten, or even typed, correspondence from a "professional" business
or company. We simply expect that communications will be produced electronically.
In short, technology tools, and the resources available through the use of these
tools are indeed seamlessly integrated into our daily life.
65 percent of all U.S. schools are connected in some fashion to the Internet
(QED, 1997). Virtually every school has at least one computer, and on the average
in 1996, there is one in-school computer for every 10 students in the country
(QED, 1997). Outside of schools, one-third of all U.S. households have a personal
computer, with that many more planning to buy one within the next year. (Microsoft,
1996) Of course, these statistics mean nothing if teachers are not using computers
and other available technology in ways that support improved teaching and learning.
Research, as well as practical experience tells us that indeed, many teachers
do not have the basic skills, training, or time to effectively use technology
to positively impact their students. How does technology impact education?
While it is possible to use technology to support traditionally passive, didactic,
instructional methods, most researchers see technology's greatest promise in
the way in which it serves to engage students in an active learning environment.
When placed in the hands of a student who is charged with solving meaningful,
real-world problems, the computer becomes a powerful tool for gathering, manipulating,
synthesizing, presenting information. Simply put, technology supports a constructivist
view of education. (Collins, 1991 and NCREL, 1995) Viewing the concepts of constructivst
education and engaged learning in the context of school structure, it can be
seen that technology has a powerful role in facilitating, and in some cases
inspiring, the restructuring of education. (Shiengold, 1991)
Still, we have heard all of this before. District and state educational technology
plans continuously point out the value of technology as a tool for reform. State
curriculum frameworks refer to technology tools as they indicate the content
objectives these tools are supposed to support. Technology manufacturers tout
the value their products have in the classroom. But when it comes right down
to it, how does a teacher take a simple tool - such as a word processor
- and make this technology educational ? We can rather easily understand
how a content-rich piece of technology - such as a laserdisc or a multimedia
CD-ROM encyclopedia - can be used for instruction, but how does a tool with
no inherent content get used in a way that positively impacts student learning?
Given the prevalence of these relatively simple technology tools - the word
processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation manager - teachers need to have
some guidance in making these tools educational.
Applications such as word processors, database management systems, and spreadsheets
can be used by students in exactly the same way that they are used in the "real"
world of work. Students can choose to use these tools to organize, analyze,
and present information. The information the students process comes from their
grappling with particular tasks and problems. By encouraging students to use
real world tools in their problem solving, the tasks themselves become more
authentic and thus more engaging. Proponents of engaged learning argues that
engaged learners are more effective learners.
Another way in which technology tools create greater student engagement is
that they strongly support a constructivist approach to education. By using
a technology such as the Internet or a CD-ROM encyclopedia, a student can explore
and navigate through a wide body of information and discover facts, principles,
and concepts as they go. This type of exploration is largely self-directed,
thereby allowing each student to assimilate information and construct meaning
in a way that is personally relevant. Furthermore, when used to present information
- such as through the use of a spreadsheet or presentation manager - the student
must learn how to manipulate and organize information in such as way as to convey
the meaning that s/he has constructed. Again, this is not only highly engaging,
but also replicates the real world tasks that the student will face outside
of school. Students easily make this connection between "authentic"
tasks and the real world, and this often results in their taking greater pride
and ownership in their work when that work involves the use of technology.(Means,
Finally, technology supports a multiplicity of cognitive styles and learning
behaviors. Students who are not sufficiently engaged with text-based information
may become fully engaged with audio or visual information. Technology can be
used to translate virtually any content into another media, and therefore makes
content accessible to all students.
The wonder of content-neutral, applications, technology is that it can
be applied to so many different learning environments, virtually content areas,
and the same program can be suitable for a wide range of grade levels. The following
pages provide some highlights as to how individual applications can be beneficially
integrated into the classroom.
- Internet Usage in Public Schools, Quality
Education Data, 1997
- The Connected
Learning Community: A New Vision for Technology in Education, Microsoft
- The Role of Computer Technology in Restructuring Schools, Collins,
Allan; Phi Delta Kappan; September, 1991
- Plugging In: Choosing
and using educational technology, North Central Regional Educational
- Restructuring for Learning With Technology: The Potential for Synergy,
Sheingold, Karen; Phi Delta Kappan; September, 1991
- The Link Between Technology and Authentic Learning, Means, Barbara,
Olson, K; Educational Leadership, April, 1994
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e.g., Microsoft Excel, AppleWorks
A spreadsheet is a program which organizes "cells" of numerical data
into tables of rows and columns much as one would find in an accounting ledger.
Through the use of equations (written in a simple programming language unique
to the particular spreadsheet program in use) the spreadsheet program is able
to perform basic mathematical functions across the rows and columns. For example,
it is possible to total a column of numbers, divide that total by cells within
the column, and report the resulting average elsewhere on the spreadsheet. Most
spreadsheet programs provide a capacity for graphing data. Graphs can range
from simple X-Y line graphs to more complex three-dimensional representations.
Spreadsheets are excellent tools for students to collect and analyze data and
thus work well in curriculum units that call for students to deal with both
interdisciplinary content and process/information analysis tasks. Students can
design spreadsheet layouts, collect the data to fill in the various rows an
columns, and then write equations to analyze the data they have collected. In
this way, a spreadsheet becomes a vehicle for learning about and representing
both simple and more complex relationships between numbers and pieces of information.
While the use of spreadsheets is very common in mathematics and science curricula,
they can be used any place where data collection and analysis is required. Many
teachers use spreadsheets in social studies curricula where students might collect
numerical information and organize it chronologically. Projects on genealogy
and immigration make particular use of spreadsheets.
- Provides a highly integrated use of mathematics in a wide range of subjects.
Anything that can be counted and categorized can be placed into a spreadsheet
whereupon mathematical operations can be performed amongst the categories.
- The structure of a spreadsheet encourages students to think of information
in terms of domains and sets
- Allows students to see the relationships between ordered sets of information
- Most spreadsheet programs easily produce graphs and charts as another (visual)
way of analyzing and reporting quantitative information.
- A middle school mathematics teacher in Oregon uses spreadsheets, graphing
software, and Hypercard as tools for students to investigate the relationship
between observations and data. Margaret Niess's students in Corvallis, OR
measure and record the volume of water stored in different bottles when those
bottles are filled to different heights. Clearly, bottles of different shapes
will hold different amounts of water at different filling heights. When this
data is graphed, students then compare the curves of different graphs with
the bottles they represent. The goal here is for students to develop a sense
of the relationship between physical shapes and their one-dimensional data
representations. Further understanding of these relationships is demonstrated
by having students predict the appearance of a graph based solely upon examination
of the physical bottle. Students also write descriptions of their predictions.
In these written passages, students must set out hypothesis and develop written
proofs. Finally, students use a Hypercard stack which takes them through
a series of other data/observation/prediction/proof exercises. For example,
students can predict relationships between a person's height and shoe size,
or that between study time and test grades. In all of these cases, the technology
is a tool that aids in the development of process skills related to mathematics
and scientific reasoning.
Margaret L. Ness, Analyzing and Interpreting Graphs in the Middle Grades
- Bottles and Beyond in The Computing Teacher; December/January, 1994-5;
pgs. 27 - 29.
- Elementary students in Grahamstown, South Africa used databases and spreadsheets
as research tools in an interdisciplinary history, science, and mathematics
project. This project involved collecting birth and death date data from gravestones
in local cemeteries. After collecting and analyzing their data, the students
created a number of hypothesis from their observations - such as "women
live longer than men" - and then were able to support their hypothesis
by organizing and presenting their data in graphs, tables, etc. Examination
of their data also led many students to hypothesize as to the causes of varying
mortality rates between centuries, sexes, and amongst children. The questions
raised through this data examination gave rise to other research projects,
not all of which made direct use of technology or data-based research. The
Grahamstown teachers who organized this project felt that the gravestone data
project offered many advantages over a more traditional (e.g., library based)
research project. These advantages included development of technology skills
such as keyboarding, computer graphing, and spreadsheet manipulation; student
exposure to primary sources of data; development of higher order thinking
that linked statistics and history; and the integration of mathematics into
social studies and other "real world" explorations.
James R.M. Paul and Colette Kaiser, Do Women Live Longer Than Men? Investigating
Graveyard Data With Computers in Learning and Leading with Technology;
May, 1996; pgs. 13 - 15
- Microsoft has an excellent curriculum guide which explains how its popular
Excel program can be used for simple classroom projects.
Out of the Classroom with Microsoft Office, Microsoft Corporation,
- Oregon State University's Project Connect is a math and science initiative
designed to help K-12 teachers incorporate technology into a wide vareity
of math, science, and integrated curriculum activities. Check their WorldWideWeb
site for a number a lesson plans and other activites which make use of spreadsheets.
In particular, see the lesson entitled What
Tops Us? A lesson in gathering data by Oregon elementrary school teacher
- For more information about the Cruncher, a spreadsheet program for
young students, see the Davidson and Associates
- For more information about ClarisWorks, an integrated software package
which contains a strong spreadsheet program, see the
Claris Corporation's WWW page.
This site also contains a number of software templates for use with the ClarisWorks
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Database Management Programs
e.g., Microsoft Access, FileMaker Pro
Databases work much like spreadsheets, although they are often used where textual
information is more important than numerical data. A database management
program is used to create, organize, and manipulate information in databases.
Databases are primarily used for creating "records" of collected information.
Most database management programs allow for some degree of numerical analysis
of the collected information (e.g., counting, grouping, sorting by rank order,
Databases are often used in interdisciplinary curriculum units. They become
a vehicle for information collection and organization. The manipulation of information
within a database calls for mathematics and critical thinking skills. These
skills are further enhanced when a student designs a database using a
database management program.
- The act of creating databases - using a database management program - encourages
students to understand categories of information, and the relationship between
- A database gives structure to otherwise disparate information. When a student
adds records to a database, s/he must understand enough about any given piece
of information (e.g., a book or a movie) so that s/he can complete a number
of descriptors about that piece of information (e.g., the title, date of creation,
- Creating a database requires that a student sufficiently investigates a
subject such that s/he can create an adequate number of descriptive fields
of information relating to that information.
- Creating a database is a productive exercise in terms of learning how to
search or use a pre-created database.
- Databases can be created to catalog virtually any type of information, in
particular, qualitative (versus quantitative) information.
- High school language arts students in Jeannine St. Pierre Hirtle's Houston,
TX classroom collaborate on a research project which evaluates children's
literature. St. Pierre Hirtle's students work with second graders in a local
school to gather information about these children's interests and abilities.
Then, they worked with each other and elementary school librarians to gather
book examples, and to create templates which analyzed the basic elements and
structure of children's books. Using the information they gathered, the high
school students ultimately produced over 60 original children's books for
the second grade students. St. Pierre Hirtle's students used a variety of
technology tools in their work. Tools such as wordprocessors, spreadsheets,
databases, presentation managers, scanners, and desktop publishing packages
assisted in data gathering, presentation, and book production.
Jeannine St. Pierre Hirtle, Constructing a Collaborative Classroom
(parts 1 and 2) in Learning and Leading with Technology; April, 1996 pgs.
19 - 21 and May, 1996 pgs. 27 - 30.
- FileMaker Pro is a database management program produced by Claris.
See their WWW site for information
on this program, software templates, and teacher reviews of the program.
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Word Processing Programs
e.g., Microsoft Word, ClarisWorks
Most teachers are familiar with word processing programs in that the teacher
likely uses such a program to create lesson plans, student/parent communications,
and personal correspondence. Students make use of word processors in similar
ways. Certainly, research papers, projects, and other written communications
can be accomplished with the use of a word processor.
Aside from simply making student work appear "neater", word processors
have pedagogical importance in that they have been found to encourage students
to write more and to more easily edit and revise their work. In this way, they
are powerful tools in developing writing, critical thinking, and research skills.
Further, word processors as a technology-based tool, encourage and motivate
certain students who have difficulty with the manual task of handwriting. Finally,
many students take greater pride in work that has been produced with a word
processor. This motivates these students to continue writing and performing
the other learning tasks associated with their writing.
Word processors are not just used within Language Arts curricula. Students
may word process work related to any subject area. Also, word processed work
often becomes the basis for importing data into databases, spreadsheets, and
presentation programs. In this way, the word processor is often the cornerstone
application within integrated application suites such as Microsoft Office,
Microsoft Works, or ClarisWorks.
- Word processors encourage students to edit and revise their work to a much
greater extent that is often the case with pencil-and-paper writing. Thus,
word processors are key tools when teaching the writing process.
- Word processors produce "neater" end products thereby increasing
student pride in their work.
- Word processing and the use of a computer keyboard is a key - virtually
mandatory - basic skill for most post-school jobs and careers. Virtually all
jobs require some familiarity with a keyboard.
- Some students who have difficulty with the manual task of writing (e.g.,
motor deficiencies, dyslexia, etc.) find it easier to use a word processor
to write than to use pencil and paper.
- Word processors are about putting words on paper (or increasingly, into
some sort of electronic format). Thus, they can be used anywhere where
writing is required.
- A good summary of the use of word processors by young children is provided
by Ithel Jones in his article on the effect of word processors on composition
amongst second-grade children. Aside from showing that the technology generally
encourages students to produce higher quality writing, Jones' article offers
a summary of the basic research into the value of word processors in writing
Ithel Jones, The Effect of a Word Processor on the Written Composition
of Second-Grade Pupils, in Computers in the Schools, vol. 11(2),
1994, pgs. 43 - 54
- In an broad survey of current classroom practice, researchers from the University
of Arizona discuss and overview the ways that multimedia, telecommunications,
and writing/editing applications (e.g., word processors) can support the processes
of reading education. Examples of classroom use are included for each category.
For multimedia, the researchers discuss schools where students and teachers
create multimedia activities and presentations to illustrate research projects
and create films/videos/etc. Telecommunications examples include using electronic
mail to conduct surveys and gather information for student research projects.
Often, the results of these projects can be formatted for multimedia presentation
on the WWW. Writing and editing tools in fact support both multimedia and
telecommunications as well as functioning as stand-alone resources (e.g.,
word processing standard "written" reports). Writing and editing
using the computer is a standard part of the process of creating multimedia
presentations or formatting information that is to be telecommunicated. In
assessing the impact of these technologies on reading and writing processes,
the researchers came to few conclusions except to note that if there is to
be any impact, the technologies must be fully integrated with the "regular"
or existing curriculum. They noted that technology seems to have differing
impact on students of different abilities - e.g., word processors seem to
have some impact on improving the creative writing skills of "average"
students where as there is little observed impact on "advanced"
students. Nevertheless, more data on impact is bound to be obtained as more
and more schools integrate technology tools as an aid to basic skills development.
Jay Blanchard, Judy Lewis, and James Crossman, Technology in Middle School
Reading Education: Opportunities to Transform the Classroom in Computers
in the Schools; vol. 11(3), 1995; pgs. 79 - 91
- Apple Computer has an excellent WWW site containing a wide variety of lesson
plans that demonstrate the value of technology in integrated instruction.
Their Newswriting Through History lesson demonstrates the use of word
processors and (if available) multimedia authoring tools to create student
"newspapers" from different points in history. This lesson may be
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e.g., Microsoft Powerpoint, Hyperstudio
Presentation tools allow students and teachers to take text, numerical data,
graphs, sounds, and visual images and organize this information into "multimedia"
presentations. While it is possible to use multiple media (e.g., sounds and
images) within a presentation, it is also possible to create a text-only presentation.
It is important to remember that although most presentation tools allow for
the creation of very sophisticated products, the degree of sophistication and
complexity is very much under the control of the author.
Virtually any student project can result in a presentation. Presentations can
be made before an entire class or be designed for individual viewing. Multimedia
presentation tools can be integrated into any lesson or unit that would otherwise
result in a "paper and paste" project product.
While a presentation tool such as Powerpoint is simply software, this software
usually requires the use of particular hardware to acquire digital images/sound
and to display the resulting multimedia presentations. Nevertheless, much of
the material that makes its way into most presentations results from other software
applications such as word processors and spreadsheets (which create tables and
- Presentation managers encourage students to think in a structured way about
the information that they are presenting. Different types of managers require
or encourage different structures - e.g., PowerPoint is very linear whereas
HyperStudio encourages non-linear, multilayered, connections.
- Students must think critically about what information they choose
to place into a presentation. The act of assembling the presentation using
the software encourages reflection and critical thought.
- Presentation managers are designed to display information to a large number
of individuals. Therefore, the student successfully using a presentation manager
must think about the information that s/he is presenting as something which
much appeal to an audience that extends beyond oneself and the teacher.
- Presentation managers allow students to mix textual, visual, and audio information
in the same presentation. This encourages multiple modes of expression.
- The act of creating a multimedia presentation is extraordinarily engaging
for many students. Thus, the use of presentation managers very much encourages
- High School sophomores in Deer Park, TX use HyperStudio to create
presentations for their research in world literature from the Middle Ages
through the Renaissance. Working with partners, students conducted a semester
of library research on integrated curricular topics related to their particular
interests (e.g., Renaissance town life or medieval medicine). They then used
the second semester to create presentations on their research using the Hyperstudio
application. Each team of students were given specific requirements for their
presentations that specified how much text, video, graphics, etc. there were
to include in the final presentation. Students were required to flow chart
their presentations and this demanded that they make the cognitive connections
between the various points of their presentation/research. The writing and
revising of text that went into presentations was first accomplished in the
school's computer writing lab, and later modified as necessary within Hyperstudio.
Final presentations were evaluated by the teacher as well as by student peers
(through group presentation). This project shows one way in which a technology
tool can be used to enhance rather traditional library research skills. Furthermore,
the use of hypermedia tool lead to the development of technology skills and
perhaps greater development of information synthesis skills through the assembly
of research information in a connected, flowing, presentation.
Karen Milton and Pattie Spradley, A Renaissance of the Renaissance - Using
Hyperstudio for Research Projects in Learning and Leading with Technology;
March, 1996; pgs. 20 - 22.
- The publisher of HyperStudio,
has an excellent WWW site which contains sample student projects and several
curriculum and "how-to" guides for using their product.
- Microsoft has an excellent curriculum guide which explains how PowerPoint
can be used to create student and teacher presentations. In
and Out of the Classroom with Microsoft Office, Microsoft Corporation.
- The May, 1997 issue of Learning and Leading with Technology has a
large section on presentation managers and their use in the K-12 classroom.
Check out this issue for a number of tips and pointers using Microsoft PowerPoint.
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The Internet is one of the most exciting new technology "tools" available
to teachers and much is written about the instructional benefits of using this
resource. In its broadest sense, the Internet is telecommunications. A vast
network of networks, the Internet allows students and teachers to reach out
to a world of information that can be accessed, analyzed, and brought into research
and other projects. Further, the Internet provides students with the capability
of becoming information providers. Whether through sending electronic
mail or by publishing WorldWideWeb pages, students can place their knowledge
and work before the interconnected users of the Internet.
Some describe the Internet as a vast "library." This analogy is only
partially correct. Like a library, the Internet contains many pieces of information.
This information is held on WorldWideWeb servers (i.e., webpages) and by individuals
with which anyone with electronic mail can communicate. But unlike a library,
the Internet has no particular order to the information it contains. Anything
and everything, published by anyone who has computer access to the 'net, can
be found on the Internet. Thus, the Internet is really more of an electronic
"town square" than an organized library. This presents challenges
and problems for the students using the Internet. In this wide-open information
universe, critical thinking and research skills must become much more refined
than when using a closed information universe such as a traditional library
or even a CD-ROM encyclopedia. Many teachers believe that the critical thinking
skills that grow out of successful Internet use are the major educational benefit
of the Internet.
The networked world of the Internet provides a wonderful ground for student
collaboration. Students can electronically "meet" with individuals
connected anywhere else on the Internet. This means that students researching
a particular subject can communicate with adult researchers, access primary
information sources, and gain in-depth content area learning experiences. Students
can share cultural experiences with peers located around the globe. Students
can share their work with anyone by publishing it on the WorldWideWeb. Indeed,
the availability of the Internet means that "school" is no longer
defined by four walls and a particular geographically-bounded community. The
Internet brings the world to teachers and students.
- Students have access to a truly astronomical amount of information including
original research and primary sources. This challenges the student's research,
critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
- Students can publish their work before a global audience of peers thereby
adding perceptions of importance to their work and increasing pride in ones
- Students can communicate with peers and individuals around the planet thereby
increasing cultural understanding.
- On the Internet, students can electronically collaborate with other students
around the globe to solve problems and create information and knowledge. The
Internet is a huge arena for collaborative learning.
- Second grade students in Washington, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, Massachusetts,
and Spain use the I*EARN (International Educational and Resource Network)
e-mail network to communicate with students in Central America. Through I*EARN,
the US and Spanish students learn of the impoverished conditions in Nicaraguan
villages outside of Managua. Groups of US and Spanish students organize within
their schools to raise money for the Nicaraguan villages. Teachers in these
schools begin to integrate information on Nicaragua and Central America into
their curricula by asking students to write essays on Central America, its
environment, economy, politics, etc., and to share these essays via e-mail
with children in Nicaragua.
Peter Copen, Connecting Classrooms Through Telecommunications in Educational
Leadership; October, 1995; pgs. 44 - 47
- Students at Century High School in Santa Ana, CA participate in interdisciplinary
projects which match teams of students with community non-profit groups requiring
assistance. The "Prophets"
project asks students to select social or environmental topics to study.
Then, students are matched to community groups which focus on those chosen
topics. This matching takes place on a community-access WWW server operated
by Access Sacramento (a local community services provider). Since the students
in this project are located at a considerable distance from the community
groups (all of which are in the Sacramento area), technology is used to facilitate
interaction and discussion. Students use Internet-based videoconferencing
and WWW resources to communicate with their community groups and cooperatively
solve problems related to their topics. The community groups serve as on-line
mentors and "experts" for the students. Students participate in
"authentic" real-world tasks which provide them with useful career
skills in technology, environmental, and scientific fields. One of the major
outcomes of the Prophets project is that students help the non-profit groups
design WWW presences. Most importantly, students feel connected to the real-world
and its problems through their "hands on" work in solving some of
Thomas March and Jessica Puma, A Telecommunications-Infused Community Action
Project in T.H.E. Journal; vol. 24(5); December, 1996; pgs. 66 - 70.
- IBM has developed a WWW
site that contains a number of grade and subject specific curriculum materials
and on-line lessons. Well developed, documented, and researched resources
are compiled into "Internet Activities" for teachers to integrate
into their classroom work.
- North Carolina teacher Caroline McCullen helped organize MidLink Magazine
a cooperative effort amongst middle school students around the globe. MidLink
Magazine is a project which uses the WorldWideWeb (WWW) to regularly publish
student work. The magazine "issues" are sometimes generally about
the participant schools, and sometimes focus on particular themes such as
holidays around the world. Schools participating in the project each have
their own in-school MidLink project where a team of students collaborate
on tasks such as writing, editing, electronically posting materials, communicating
with other MidLink schools, etc. Students at all schools use a variety
of technology tools such as word processors, HTML editors, graphics programs,
and e-mail. Schools with their own WWW servers are linked to the main MidLink
site, whereas schools which are not as fully on the Internet send their materials
to another MidLink school site for posting on the net.
Caroline McCullen, World Wide Web in the Classroom: The Quintessential Collaboration
in Learning and Leading with Technology; November, 1995; pgs. 7 - 10
- One of the best on-line resources for K-12 teachers and administrators isKathy
Schrock's Guide for Educators. This site is a comprehensive subject
guide for virtually all K-12 curricula. Kathy has scoured the Internet to
find lesson plans, original sources, on-line collaborative projects, and other
Internet-based resources. Further, this site has a number of links to search
engines and other Internet tools. Finally, Kathy has authored several presentations
which are designed to show teachers how to use the Internet as a tool for
teaching and learning. These presentations are available on her site. In short,
Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators is an excellent "first stop"
for any teacher use of the Internet.
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Last updated, January 8, 2001