How Technology Can Level the Playing Field

April 22, 2010 at 3:09 am (ED TECH 541, Portfolio) (, , , , , , , , )

Free, compulsory public education is a given in the United States. It has not always been this way, and it certainly isn’t that way around the world. That often gets lost in the shuffle of discussing the future of our future education. However, even within our school system, we have long left many students out in the cold for a variety of reasons—race, religion, gender, and those students with disabilities. Some of this inequity was resolved through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. At the same time, children with disabilities were still not being included fully in the education process. With the creation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 1970’s, attention was finally being paid to ALL students. IDEA put into place six general principals, and, for the first time, gave a clear definition to who these students are. (Parent Mentors of Ohio)

Six Principals

  • free appropriate public education
  • appropriate evaluation
  • individualized education program
  • least restrictive environment
  • parent and student participation in decision making
  • procedural due process

Who Qualifies for Special Education?

  • Mental retardation
  • Hearing impairment (including deafness)
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Visual Impairment (including blindness)
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Autism
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Other health impairment (now includes ADD/ADHD)
  • Specific learning disability

Simply having the principals and categories laid out by an important piece of legislation is not enough to ensure equal access to education, and, even when there is access, a fair and equitable education for these students with special needs. This gap has spurred many different groups to step in and try to create educational materials and processes that ensure every child has access to a quality education. One such group is the National Center on Response to Intervention. Response to Intervention (RtI) combines individual education plans, assessment, and intervention activities into a school-wide or district-wide system of implementation to meet the diverse needs of all learners. (National Center on Response to Intervention) With the increased acceptance of this plan of attack, it has become increasingly important for teachers to reach all learners to ensure success. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the testing requirements outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB, and its eventual re-authorization, have increased the impetus of schools to meet each child’s needs. Okay, so meeting all learners’ needs is a valid goal and something almost all teachers want to do. With the increased pressure, teachers need new tools to reach these diverse learners as outlined above. And technology can do just that! Whenever I think of technology leveling the playing field for all learners, I start with two sources. First, the federal government created a set of Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, known best as Section 508. If I am going to build a technology component or incorporate a component in a program, I want to make sure that it meets minimum accessibility standards, and Section 508 is a great starting point. (National Archives, 2001) I would then evaluate a product to see if it complies with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles as laid out by the Center for Applied Special Technology. (CAST, Inc., 2010) By choosing programs and publishers of content that can demonstrate Section 508 compliance and that adhere to UDL standards, you are ensuring that many students will be able to access the content you are presenting.

Standards and design principles are important to many categories of special needs learners, and ensuring appropriate Response to Intervention is an essential starting point for building student learning. But what are some of the actual tools for reaching students? It would be nearly impossible, and is certainly outside of the scope of this blog entry, to try and list them all. Instead, I can quickly list a few ideas that show the power of technology to reach learners and some resources to go to find tools for specific needs. The tools listed below are not even the tip of the iceberg; assistive and learning technologies are available to a mind-bogglingly overwhelming degree. Technology Tools

  • Screen readers and text-to-speech tools—These tools help students with visual impairment to access content on a screen in ways they would never be able to do with print, becoming part of the general classroom.
  • Close captioning—For students with auditory deficits, captions are becoming an increasingly available option for accessing voiced materials.
  • Skype or other streaming video chat—Students who are unable to attend classes in person for a variety of reasons can become part of the classroom with their peers.
  • Practice software—Individualized, CD-ROM or Web-based software that provides just-in-time, targeted instruction has the potential to reach kids where they need instruction most. If the software includes remediation and differentiated feedback, it is like having a teacher’s aide in the classroom.
  • Collaboration and communication tools—Students that may struggle with learning English or be reluctant to participate in class with other students can become more participative by using Whiteboard clickers, leaving audio or video blogs, and so on. This involvement enhances their learning experience

Web Sites to Assist in Selecting Assistive Technologies


CAST, Inc. (2010) UDL guidelines—version 1.0: introduction. Retrieved from

National Archives and Resources Administration. (Dec 21, 2001). Electronic and information technology accessibility standards. (Federal Register) Retrieved from

Parent Mentors of Ohio. (n.d.). The history of IDEA. Retrieved from

National Center on Response to Intervention. (n.d.). What is RtI? Retrieved from


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Integrating Arts across the Curriculum

April 18, 2010 at 8:52 pm (ED TECH 541) (, , , , , , , )

For anyone following schools over the last five to ten years, there is no secret that arts classes and physical education are taking a backseat to math and reading instruction to allow schools to meet the strict goals set forth within the No Child Left Behind Act. It is clear that the arts are often seen as “effective and expressive, not academic or cognitive,” allowing that instruction to easily be pushed to the wayside. (Holcomb, 2007) However, there is a growing body of evidence showing that the arts are an integral part of the curriculum, and should be integrated into the curriculum wherever possible.

A compendium of research from the Arts Education Partnership (Deasy, 2002) identified upwards of 65 distinct relationships between teaching the arts in educational settings and increasing social and academic success. These 65 relationships demonstrate the power of the arts in the curriculum. The compendium took these 65 relationships and separated them into six major categories of benefits tied to student growth. The six categories include the following.

  1. Reading and Language Skills
  2. Mathematics Skills
  3. Thinking Skills
  4. Social Skills
  5. Motivation to Learn
  6. Positive School Environment

What to do with the arts then? How can we justify spending the time to incorporate them into the curriculum, based on the evidence showing that they are valuable pieces of the education puzzle? We have to find a place for the instruction within the school day. The idea of integrating arts across the curriculum allows us, as educators, to try to work the arts in where there is time. Whether that is reader’s theater or creating music videos or any other of a number of activities, the idea is to turn the students into creators of content and interpreters of content. And that is where technology comes in. There is an incredible array of technology tools out there for incorporating the arts into the curriculum, and with the increasing focus on 21st century tools and technology in the classroom, this is another way to bring arts into the curriculum and demonstrating their value.

Using technology tools in the arts also provides many students an outlet for creativity that they would otherwise struggle to create. Speaking as someone who has some ability in music, but no creative/artistic gene, I always dreaded drawing or modeling activities. With technology tools, I would have had a creative medium and tool set that otherwise was unavailable to me, helping me to be more involved in certain projects. Below I am sharing a few links that provide access to online tools for the arts.

  • Mr. Picassohead—( With this site, any student can draw like Picasso. When studying fine art, a site like this offers a great opportunity for all students to create, share, and appreciate concepts embodied in the work of one of the world’s great artists.
  • ToonDoo—( This site is an example of a comic-strip generation tool available online. These sites allow the arts to be incorporated into the reading and writing curriculum. Of course, it is best to choose the site wisely, as you have to be careful about what strips others have made and posted.
  • Myna—( Aviary’s Myna tool serves as a free, online product very similar to Garage Band in many ways. A tool like this provides even the most musically ungifted individuals to create a musical masterpiece!
  • 3D Modeling Software—( A variety of free, online tools exist for incorporating 3D modeling into the classroom. While not specifically one of the “arts,” it is a way to pull in artistic representations of student work.
  • Art Education 2.0—( On this site, teachers looking for innovative tools for incorporating arts instruction through technology can discuss ideas with others and have access to some successful things other teachers have done. A great resource for learning through the arts.

These sites are only a small representation of the many, many sites out there for integrating the arts into the classroom. There are options out there for everything you can think of. It is simply a matter of finding what you really want!


Deasy, R., ed. (2002). Critical links: student academic and social development. Retrieved from Arts Education Partnership at

 Holcomb, S. (January, 2002). State of the arts. NEA Today. Retrieved from

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Integrating Language Arts into Your Curriculum

March 21, 2010 at 1:55 am (ED TECH 541) (, , , , , , , )

I have spent all eleven years of my professional career working on reading and language arts programs for the K-8 classroom, so you can guess how important I think it is to incorporate language arts into the curriculum. My thoughts are summed up very well, if in a little more of a touchy-feely way than I would probably say it, in the following quote.
“Language is key to students’ intellectual, social, and emotional growth; and, is a necessary means to learning in all disciplines.” (Rend & Paquette, 2006) I absolutely believe this to be the case, and I have seen this first hand. As I have visited classrooms and participated in field testing for our programs, I have witnessed struggling learners from the worst of possible backgrounds suddenly blossom into confident, successful students by growing their reading and language strengths.

Mildred Donoghue in Chapter 4 of Language Arts: Integrating Skills for Classroom Teaching describes language arts as the gateway to the listening, speaking, reading, writing, and viewing skills and strategies needed to succeed across the curriculum. (Donoghue, 2008) In order to truly access content-area learning, students must have a solid foundation in language arts, or they will struggle with the text and information they are being presented. Science and social studies textbooks, math story problems, music lyrics, all become a challenge without strong language arts skills. Communicating what you have learned or believe is an essential task in schools and in the workplace; again incredibly challenging without language arts skills. The same can be said for listening to lectures in high school and college. The list goes on.

Of course, this class is focusing on the importance of incorporating technology across different teaching experiences. Language arts instruction most definitely can benefit from the use of technology in the learning experience. I often go back to something I read many years ago about the value of technology in the classroom, but specifically tied to language arts in the classroom. “Technology has everything to do with literacy. And being able to use the latest electronic technologies has everything to do with being literate.” (Bolter, 1991) There is truth in that. As the Partnership for 21st Century Skills has worked to demonstrate, using literacy without technology in this day and age is not truly literacy. I agree to some extent, but would not quite go that far. In my opinion, language arts skills and technological literacy SHOULD go hand in hand, but you can build language arts skills and then apply them to technology literacy.

In thinking how language arts can be, there are myriad opportunities to do so. For one of the assignments I completed for my thematic unit, I had the kids searching the Internet, then presenting content to the class. Both the act of searching and presenting information represent the incorporation of language arts. On the schedule of assignments, there is a week where we will be creating a Glogster online poster; using this presentation medium is another way to incorporate language arts into the curriculum. During the week 8 assignment, I had the students in my class working in teams to respond to a series of questions in writing, a great opportunity to use language using technology tools. Other opportunities for incorporating language arts I am sure will present themselves over the semester. At the same time, I can see incorporating journal-writing assignments, paired reading and discussion practice, report writing activities, responding to youtube/classroom lectures, and other examples of language arts in the assignments.


Bolter, J. D. (1991). Writing space: The computer, hypertext, and the history of writing. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Donoghue, Mildred. (2008). Language arts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Martin Rend, J. & Paquette, D.K.R. (2006). “Using Technology to Integrate Language Arts Across the Curriculum”. In C. Crawford et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2006 (pp. 3276-3277). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved March 20, 2010 from

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Opening Up Social Networks

March 7, 2010 at 12:35 am (ED TECH 541) (, , , , , , , , , )

Protecting students is an essential responsibility for schools around the world. Addressing student safety has taken on a whole new debate around what level of access schools should provide to students in terms of Internet usage. For the most part, schools have tended to err on the side of caution by completely blocking access to the Internet at school (or at least during school hours) or opting for walled gardens, which limit students’ ability to search outside protected areas. (Walled Garden, 2010) But is this the right approach to prepare today’s students for the future?

In order to answer this question, I would first want to better understand if there is a need to allow students access to social networks in education. Is it even worth the significant discussion and commitment to plan how this can be done effectively? According to the Pew Research Center, the answer to this question is “Yes.” Two recent surveys for the Pew Internet Project indicate that nearly 75% of all teens and young adults use online social networks. (Lehart, et al, 2010) This statistic demonstrates that students of the millennial generation do have an interest in accessing social networks, but isn’t the Internet full of too many bad things to let our kids loose on the Web? Can’t the same thing be said about books? When Gutenberg invented the printing press, there wasn’t universal acceptance that more books in the hands of more people was actually a good thing. Eventually, people saw the benefit to having books as part of the general education process. Should we now ban the majority of books from schools because there are many bad books out there? (Magid, 2010) That is basically what we are saying if we just outlaw all social networking in our schools. And that, of course is the safe and simplest answer. Just wall off almost everything.

But, thankfully, that is not how it should or has to be. There is a growing understanding that the digital divide is not disappearing; in fact, discouragingly, it is actually shifting from those without access to technology to those without access or knowledge of social networks. (Zhao & Elsh, 2006) Gone are the local neighborhoods, local jobs, and large, localized families. Online social networks have replaced these time-honored support networks. A program like ePals ( provides safe, controlled access to social, connected classroom networks around the world. This gives students an easy way to begin understanding safe a controlled social networking. Another option for schools is to install a contained social networking platform such as School Centers SC Webtools package ( or McGraw-Hill Education’s CINCH Project ( These pre-built environments make it easy to incorporate social networks without the fear!

Times have changed, and schools, as always, have to evaluate the best and essential ways to change with them. While there are clear risks involved, there is also a compelling impetus for schools to become a guiding light in introducing students to safe use of social networks by teaching them the basics of digital citizenship ( Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook can be great tools to bring reluctant readers, writers, and communicators out of their shells, and a program like the Skype an Author Network ( ) can open up a whole new world to kids. As long as schools are willing to take chances on the right social networking opportunities, and teachers work with students to prepare them to be responsible users of these engaging learning options.


Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., Zickuhr, K. (Feb. 3, 2010) Social media and young adults. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from

Magid, Larry. (Feb. 25, 2010) Social networking belongs in schools. Retrieved from

Walled garden. (2010, March 4). Retrieved from

Zhao, S., & Elesh, D. (2006). The second digital divide: Unequal access to social capital in the online world. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association . Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Retrieved March 5, 2010, from:

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