Parent Guide to Classroom Technology

Okay; it’s time to get really specific. Whether you’re a technology expert or a complete beginner, you’ve probably wondered what technologies you should see in your child’s classroom.

Your child’s school may be chock-full of the latest, most expensive equipment; or your teachers may work to make do with just a few hand-me-down computers. But no matter what, teachers and students can use the equipment they have for engaged learning.

Remember, there’s no single “right way” for your child to use technology to learn. Instead, there are a bunch of good uses. Why? It’s pretty simple – because there are so many different technologies in the world today. And the things your child does with technology should depend on what they’re trying to learn. Are they learning how to multiply fractions? Why World War II started? How to write a letter to their senator? How a microchip works?

For all you busy parents, we’ve compiled this quick roundup of common classroom technologies, some of the “jargon” you may hear, and how ways your middle schooler might use them for engaged learning!

The World Wide Web/the Internet
What is the World Wide Web/the Internet? An enormous network of computers around the world where people and organizations can post information, graphics, video, interactive programs, and so on. Anyone who has an account with an Internet server can create a Web site – from kids to corporations.
Related Terms and Products Web browser (programs you can use to surf the net) brand names like Netscape, Mosaic, or Internet Explorer
Web programming languages such as Java or HTML code
What Kids Can Do With It “Surf the Web” to find info on almost any subject.
Use Web page software to create Web sites that show others their projects or what they’ve learned.Think about what makes information reliable: Who created the site? Where is the information from? Where else do you find this information? Do other sources have competing points of view?
Watch Out For Kids believing everything they see on the Web; using the Web as the only source of information; getting lost in information rather than learning to control their Web searches.
Most schools have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that outlines the ways students will use the Internet and how the school will protect kids from inappropriate information and keep them safe. If you haven’t seen your school’s, ask for a copy.
What is E-mail? People can send and receive letters in electronic format over the same network that the Web uses. E-mail can be sent and received in a fraction of a second. Some schools may provide e-mail accounts for classrooms or students.
Related Terms and Products E-mail program brand names such as Eudora, Exchange, Outlook, Netscape
What Kids Can Do With It Write and get responses from experts and fellow students anywhere in the world.
Create or join listservs (group e-mails on a specific topic) to connect with networks of people who are sharing thoughts and questions on all kinds of topics.
Watch Out For Most schools have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that outlines the ways students will use e-mail. If you haven’t seen your school’s, ask for a copy.
Educational Software
What is Educational Software? A wide variety of computer programs designed to teach kids specific skills or to give them a problem to solve. They are produced by companies, non-profit organizations, or even teachers with programming skills. The software often take the form of games, stories, or other playful activities.
Related Terms and Products Company names such as Broderbund, Learning Company, Knowledge Adventure, Creative Works
What Kids Can Do With It Solve complex problems that are also interesting and fun, through simulations or games.

Express their thoughts and create music, artwork, or construct models of all sorts.

Watch Out For Glitzy software that entertains kids but doesn’t challenge them; software with lots of repetitive activities or memorization (okay for very young kids, but not appropriate for middle schoolers); folks who think schools must have special commercial software to teach kids well (all kinds of software can be used educationally).

For tips on selecting educational software, check out the magazine Children’s Software Revue or the California Technology in the Curriculum database.

Word Processing Software
What is Word Processing Software? Programs used to create written documents. In addition to typing, most have built-in spelling and grammar checking programs.
Related Terms and Products Software brands like Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, ClarisWorks, Microsoft WordPad
What Kids Can Do With It Write and edit their work speedily and efficiently. Kids can spend more time writing and less time recopying.
Watch Out For Lots of class time spent on software skills, not learning how to construct a good written piece; depending too heavily on spelling or grammar checkers (those programs aren’t perfect!).
Studies show that although kids who use word processing software write more, faster, and enjoy it more, they don’t necessarily write better. It takes skilled teaching to actually help your child’s writing improve!
Database Software
What is Database Software? Programs used to build organized collections of information (text, pictures, numbers). Users can then use preset features or program the database to do calculations that combine and process the data in different ways.
Related Terms and Products Software brand names such as Excel, Lotus
What Kids Can Do With It Perform calculations that help them understand how different pieces of information fit together and relate to each other.
Build their own databases to learn what information is important to record and in what form.
Watch Out For Kids who use databases but don’t learn the principles behind them (e.g., statistics or data organization).
Presentation Software
What is Presentation Software? Programs used to create multimedia “slide shows” that combine words, charts, video, and audio.
Related Terms and Products Software brand names such as Power Point, SlideMakerPro
What Kids Can Do With It Learn how to organize information concisely to make a point, persuade an audience, and communicate effectively.
Use presentations to help them become more polished speakers.
Watch Out For Spending more time on the look of the presentation than on the content that goes into it.
Graphics and Desktop Publishing Software
What is Graphics and Desktop Publishing Software? Programs used to create computer drawings, animation, or charts. They can also be used to design written documents with pictures, graphics, and professional-looking design.
Related Terms and Products Software brand names such as Harvard Graphics, PaintBox, Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Draw, QuarkXPress
What Kids Can Do With It Build their visual skills and learn to present information about what they’ve learned effectively.
Watch Out For Spending more time on the look of the presentation than on the content that goes into it.
Video Recording and Editing Equipment
What is Video Recording and Editing Equipment? Used to produce TV shows and videos; also used to record plays, concerts, and guest speakers. More and more of this equipment is digital, meaning kids can drop in recordings to Web pages, presentations, or programs they’re making.
Related Terms and Products Tech terms like “online editing” (editing digitized video on a computer) or “DVD” (digital video disk)
What Kids Can Do With It Create programs to show their class what they’ve learned or even broadcast shows on a local cable station.
Can teach effective communication techniques and real-world skills that middle schoolers find especially exciting.
What are CD-ROMs? Contain large quantities of information (i.e.: the contents of an entire set of encyclopedias plus videos and interactive programs) on a single disk that looks just like a music CD. Often more cost-effective than print resources and updated more frequently. Many companies produce CD-ROMs for education and entertainment.
Related Terms and Products Related terms like “multimedia” (mixing text, sound, and video) or “RAM” (Random Access Memory – the computer memory CD-ROMs use to run)
What Kids Can Do With It Obtain information and view demonstrations about almost anything.
Understand complicated science and math principles by helping them visualize natural and man made occurrences and concepts – such as the result of a chemical interaction, the construction of a bridge, or the process of photosynthesis.
Distance Technologies
What are Distance Technologies? An all-purpose term for tools that unite far away people via their computers.
Related Terms and Products With videoconferencing, students viewing one screen can see, talk and interact with people in another place just as if they were actually there. With Instant Messaging (IM) or real-time chat, students can type messages to each other and read them immediately.
What Kids Can Do With It Children can communicate with peers and teachers anywhere in the world.
Distance technologies are particularly helpful for students who are isolated because of where they live or a disability.
Assistive Technology
What is Assistive Technology? A broad term for technology that helps kids with disabilities (e.g., deafness, blindness, difficulty moving or speaking, or behavioral/learning disabilities) counteract limitations to participate in “regular” learning activities.
Related Terms and Products Adaptive/assistive technology
What Kids Can Do With It Work with peers who have all kinds of different abilities.
Help kids who might otherwise be “shut out” to communicate more easily and connect with other and build confidence in their abilities.All kids can benefit from seeing assistive technology in action. Kids learn to understand differences, and to collaborate effectively with people with different talents.

A Web site with many good assistive technology resources is

What are LANs? A network that connects all the computers in a building so they can share programs and other information between classrooms.
Related Terms and Products Brand names of software used to run networks, like Novell or Oriole
What Kids Can Do With It Share work and ideas with students in other sections of the same subject or students in other subject areas.
Share the Web or software programs so all kids and classes use the same resources across subjects.Teachers and administrators may share administrative software (programs to keep school records and “paperwork) through the LAN as well.
Computer-based Assessment Software
What is Computer-based Assessment Software? Programs that check how well kids are learning and progressing.
Related Terms and Products
Education terms like “norm referenced tests” (tests that compare kids’ scores to national or local average scores) or “performance based/authentic assessments” (evaluations of how well kids use skills in real-life situations) or “rubric” (a description of the qualities a students’ work should have)
What Kids Can Do With It Test their own knowledge on their own or with the entire team.
Track on the computer how their work is improving.
Watch Out For Computer-based assessments only; students should be assessed in a variety of ways; computer-based assessments as a measure of what “track” your child should be in (a single measure rarely offers a full picture of your child’s strengths and challenges)
Programming Languages
What are Programming Languages? Languages adults and kids can learn so they can create their own computer software programs.
Related Terms and Products Names of common languages like C++ or Lego/Logo (specially designed for kids)
What Kids Can Do With It Learn logic and math, since programming languages are based on them.
Understand how digital technologies work.