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Techno-Gadgets for Teaching

There's just no substitute for good old-fashioned teaching, but add a little "gee-whiz" technology, and you'll be sure to capture your students' attention—and keep it. Here's a look at some of the tech tools educators are using today.

Interactive Whiteboards

An interactive whiteboard is a large, touch-controlled screen that works with a projector and a computer. Teachers and students can write on the interactive whiteboard in digital ink or use their fingers to control computer applications by pointing, clicking, and dragging. They can also circle relevant sections on the projected image, draw geometric figures, and underline. The whiteboard can display streamed video clips from the Internet, or be hooked up to a DVD player. It's "a combination chalk board, movie projector, and game board," says Lisa Mims, who recently won "Showcase Technology Teacher of the Year" for the Colonial School District in Delaware. "I use it for basic word processing, interactive games and lessons, to show videos, and to check out anything new I've added to our web site." 


When teachers use classroom clickers, or Student Response Systems, they turn passive lessons into dynamic, interactive discussions that engage and entertain students. The small, handheld devices look like TV remote controls and are connected to presentation software on the classroom computer and a receiver that captures the students' answers to multiple-choice questions. "I absolutely love [clickers]....My students clamor for the opportunity to take tests and the software does the scoring for me," raves Eva Dietz, a fifth-grade teacher at Foothills Elementary School in Buckley, Washington. "We've used the clickers for vocabulary review, science quizzes…and a variety of surveys. I even used them at Open House with parents in a fun twist of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Both students and parents required no training other than how to aim the clicker at the receiver and choose the button to push." 

GPS Receivers

Bring the world to your classroom with the Global Positioning System (GPS), a worldwide radio-navigation system based on a constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations. Entry level GPS receivers, which cost less than $100, display basic geographic information like latitude, longitude, elevation, direction, and bearing. Higher quality receivers include altimeters, magnetic compasses, detailed topographic and city maps, and other points of interest. Educators use them to teach geography, spatial awareness, navigation, and basic mapping and tracking. "This year [we] tracked the Iditarod Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. Each team is equipped with a tracking device," says Sharon Fedoruk. "We would log in several times a day to track the mushers' progress. There's also a Web cam set up at the finish line, updated each minute, so we could plan when a musher was going to finish." 

MP3 Players

Students are so attached to their MP3 players, the headphones and dangling cords almost seem like permanent appendages. These versatile, handheld devices can store, organize, and play audio and video files, and, according to a growing number of educators, can be useful tools in the classroom. The most famous of these ubiquitous gadgets is the iPod, but there are a variety of MP3 players on the market. "Students and teachers use [MP3 players] with clip-on microphones to take 'live notes' on a field trip or in the classroom," says Camilla Gagliolo, instructional technology coordinator at Arlington Public Schools in Northern Virginia. "We edit the recordings in a sound editing program [Gagliolo uses Apple's GarageBand software] to create a podcast, which we then post on our school Web site for other students, teachers, and parents to download onto their MP3 players."

Document Cameras

A document camera, sometimes called a digital overhead, is a small camera mounted on a stand that's hooked up to an LCD projector. Educators can place objects or documents under the camera and project their images onto a screen, allowing the whole class to see photographs, maps, books, magazines, or even 3-D objects like flowers, insects, or coins, without having to pass them around. "I use it to display hand-drawn pictures, share student work, and show how to put physical objects together," says Brock Dubbels from Richard Green Central School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It will even take video. "This thing has remote control, can autofocus, adjust for lighting, and even project what a microscope sees." Hard to visualize? Check out a training video.

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