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Integrating Technology into the Standard Curriculum
Research Connections
Fall 1998

Integrating Technology: Promising Practices


"When combined with appropriate instruction, technology can turn struggling students into successful students." 
Lynne Anderson-Inman, University of Oregon
The U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has a long history-spanning nearly three decades-of supporting research and development related to assistive technology. From supporting research that produced closed captioned television and the Kurzweil reading machines in the early years, to research that brought us eye-gaze technology and chemistry laboratory instruments in the 1980s, to research that is using virtual reality applications to help children navigate wheelchairs in the present, OSEP has been an innovator in validating tools that increase independence, enhance individualized instruction, and support teachers in ensuring students' success. 

Technology as a tool for meeting curriculum goals is an important area of focus for OSEP, and one that is showing great promise. Researchers are exploring how students can use technology to act on information and thereby learn. As such, technology is emerging as a cognitive tool or "partner," that supports the learning process. 

The following research-based applications have been selected to show how technology is being integrated into curriculum and instruction to support a wide range of student abilities.

Enhancing Literacy Goals

How can a web site enhance literacy? Ask students from Mary Lou Krausey's resource room at Post Oak Elementary School in Lansing, Michigan, and they will tell you the following:

"I liked using computers to write personal stories."

"You could learn how to read and write by writing on chatroom."

Students in Krausey's class were part of an OSEP-funded research study being conducted by Michigan State University researcher, Carol Sue Englert. "We have developed and are now evaluating a web-based curriculum for elementary students with mild disabilities that enhances literacy learning, particularly writing." 

The web site called TELE-Web (which stands for Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments on the Web), serves as a literacy development environment. It offers teachers and students a set of integrated, multifunctional tools, consisting of server-side software and client-side plug-ins that work with a web server and database applications. It enables teachers to adopt, develop, manage, and share multimedia literacy materials, as well as to initiate, conduct and manage collaborative learning projects. Students' reading and writing responses also can be archived.

"Within the web site environment, students explore, experiment, and experience independently and collaboratively with their peers from the same school or from a school afar," Englert describes. "We have also included tools that help students develop performance abilities in reading and writing, in addition to the metacognitive skills related to becoming goal-oriented, self-regulatory, independent learners." 
 


"TELE-Web increases and enhances academic skills of students with special needs. What's more, because students teach others as they learn, they build self-confidence and self-esteem." 
Patricia A. Rose, Principal, Post Oak Elementary School

TELE-Web in the Classroom

Englert set up TELE-Web in Krausey's classroom as four central environments-writing room, reading room, library, and publishing room. Each environment has teacher and student interfaces which allows
  • Teachers and students to create assignments.
  • Students to create, revise, and complete assignments.
  • Teachers and students to add on or to comment on other students' work.
  • Students to read other students' stories.
"In each environment, students are able to receive cognitive and social support," Krausey tells us. "TELE-Web supports instruction by building in opportunities for discourse-which is an important instructional medium for helping students develop understanding of concepts." She offers the following examples of how TELE-Web was integrated into a unit on castles. 
  • TELE-Writing Room. A KWL (what I know, want to know, have learned about) activity on castles; retelling stories in one's own words; creating cognitive webs; play and story writing.
  • TELE-Reading Room. Castle spelling words; castle chat.
  • TELE-Library. Internet search on castles; castle word-sort; email to people knowledgeable about castles in Poland and Scotland.
  • TELE-Publishing Room. Stories for editing and comments; journal of castle life contrasts.
Englert and her colleagues are currently analyzing data from three classrooms where TELE-Web has been integrated. Preliminary analysis suggests that children are more motivated to write, and that they are writing longer and more descriptive stories. 
You can access a selection of lessons on Woodward's 
website, Tools for Understanding: A Resource Guide for Extending Mathematical Understanding in Secondary Schools.

Improving Access to the Science Curriculum

Judy Zorfass, Associate Center Director at Education Development Center, Inc., in Massachusetts, is finding that technology tools can be integrated into science curriculum and instruction to
  • Help students develop understandings about important science concepts.
  • Ensure access to instructional activities, allowing students to participate more fully as inquirers.
  • Provide students with the tools they need to observe the world around them, gather data, document what they find, and communicate their findings to others.
Zorfass' OSEP-funded Project ASSIST (All Students in Supported Inquiry-Based Science with Technology) brings together teachers, science specialists, special educators, and technology specialists regularly to plan, act, and reflect upon technology and how to support student learning in inclusive classrooms. "One person cannot do this alone," Zorfass stresses. "Involving specialists in the curriculum planning allows them to bring their expertise to the teacher in a deeply contextualized and coordinated manner." 

To support educators in talking about children's science learning, Zorfass and Project Director, Lori DiGisi, created an action/reflection process. The team cycles-and then re-cycles-through these phases:

  • Plan activities.
  • Implement instruction.
  • Reflect on progress.
During the planning phase the classroom teacher and the specialists develop a lesson containing clear science learning goals. The lesson is related to science standards, includes modifications for students with disabilities, and is supported by technology where appropriate. Teams are encouraged to select a student with disabilities, along with two other children, as a focus for planning and reflection. 

After the plan is completed, the teacher implements the lesson. Typically, some of the team members also participate. Their role is to closely observe the focus children and gather data on their responses to the lesson. Observers also interact with these children, questioning or probing them to explain their thinking. In some cases, team members try different teaching methods to see what works with a particular child. An important task for team members is recording what children say as they engage in an inquiry. Such information is of critical importance during the reflection phase. 

The reflection phase occurs soon after the lesson. Each team member shares the data he or she has gathered regarding student learning. The teacher and the specialists describe, interpret, and reflect on the students' work as it relates to the criteria that have been set. According to DiGisi, "This conversation gives every member of the team feedback on how their suggestions worked within the context of the science lesson; but it also provides a time to generalize beyond the targeted students to the class as whole and to plan for the next action/reflection cycle."

School District Teams

Educators in Cambridge Public Schools, Massachusetts, have been piloting the ASSIST model. According to Zorfass, "Educators started with a strong standards-based curriculum, made a commitment to include students with disabilities, and supported the students with a variety of tools." 

Special Needs Technologist Alan Field, who has been working with numerous ASSIST groups in Cambridge, Massachusetts, notes the importance of starting with curriculum. "This is not a fix-it type of approach. With a grounding in curriculum and instruction, technology applications are much easier to integrate." This has been an important distinction for teachers, according to Field, who, he says, view their participation as "satisfying the needs of all students, rather than just using technology for technology's sake."

While data and analysis are yet forthcoming, project staff and practitioners are learning a great deal. "One thing is very clear-it definitely calls for someone to undertake a new role of curriculum/technology specialist," Field says. "Unlike traditional technology specialists who troubleshoot problems and help write technology plans, I actually work in classrooms with teachers to support and promote technology in the curriculum-something I could not do very well without a deep understanding of science."
 

Improving Concept Development in Mathematics

What do spreadsheets, French fries, and the odds of one's surviving on the Titanic have in common? Math, if you are in Cindy Bush's junior high school class. With the help of an LCD panel, one classroom computer, and spreadsheet software, students who have a history of math failure are learning how to pose questions of mathematical data and analyze the results. "We start with real life problems that students are interested in-like the odds of surviving on each of the Titanic's cabin levels, or the odds of getting 16 French fries in a package rather than the standard 15 (and what that costs the restaurant)-and discover how math can help us find solutions," Bush explains. 

Unlike traditional math story problem lessons where students read a problem in text and are expected to calculate answers, Bush takes the data from real-life problems and enters it into a spreadsheet program. No longer hampered by reading difficulties and laborious calculations, students begin manipulating the data and formulating answers-activities, Bush points out that, "typically are not thought possible for students with cognitive disabilities."

Bush has been working with researcher John Woodward of the University of Puget Sound in Washington. With the support of OSEP and Microsoft Corporation, Woodward has been studying how technology can be integrated into mathematical problem solving activities to provide access to students with cognitive disabilities. "Essentially, technology enables us to engage students with disabilities in challenging curriculum-which is a major accomplishment given that many experts believe that students who do not possess basic math skills cannot learn higher level math skills." 

Spreadsheets are an excellent tool because they model or provide visual representations of the problem, crunch the calculations (which Woodward points out is a tedious turn-off for many youngsters, but especially the case for students with disabilities), and thereby focus the students' attention on understanding the mathematical operations in a real-life context. "We are finding that spreadsheets free students who heretofore had difficulty with math to keep asking questions, to continue analyzing the visual representations of the data, and eventually to use their higher level thinking skills to formulate conclusions-kids are really thinking through what mathematical problem solving really means." One of Woodward's most promising findings is that when computer-generated visual representations are tied to concepts rather than to answers, the student's ability to think mathematically is enhanced. 


 
Research-Validated Practices

OSEP has conveyed information on research-validated practices through partnerships with associations and organizations. For example, with OSEP funding, the Chesapeake Institute worked with the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to produce Technology for Students with Disabilities: A Decision-Maker's Resource Guide.  The guide contains current thinking on using technology to support learning, finding the right technology and paying for it, developing policies to support implementation, and locating resources.

Next Section: State-Wide Efforts
Previous Section: Extending Learning Opportunities



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