Sunday, August 29, 2010

Technology: Embrace it as a learning tool!

This week's Blog Cruise question is one similar to one recently asked by a member of my local homeschool support group.

Do you use technology (iPods, Computers, Videos, Digi. Cams,etc.) in your homeschool? 

I think sometimes people get so wrapped up in the potential negative of something that it prevents them from seeing the many benefits. I've seen the use of technology in the home fall into this category.  And while overuse of technology, as well as the information being passed along, can bring about concerns, I wouldn't say going technology-free is the better path.  Technology is a tool.  Tools are something that have the capability of hurting you if you don't know how to use them properly.  However, using tools certainly can make ones job easier.

I certainly use technology as a tool in my homeschool, with the computer being the most used tool by far. Young children need to be trained how to use technology properly, but I really don't know what I'd do without it at this point.  Below are the various ways technology has helped my children become better learners.

1. Educational software

I have a picture of my daughter playing on the computer at about 18 months with a Jumpstart program.  I'm sure some will be appalled at that, but she loved this game and learned a lot from it.  It was just like any other toy in her toybox and it taught her that a computer isn't a forbidden item but something available for her use when appropriate. We've always had a variety of educational software games available to the kids to use within limits.

2.  Online Classes

At about 3rd or 4th grade, both of my kids started with an online class experience.  For our family, it is a very convenient way to have the kids experience another teacher without the limits of what is available locally or a creating a disruption of the day's schedule.  For my daughter, online classes have been wonderful and she usually takes 2-3 a year.  For my son, they have been a good experience in small doses, but not something that he's ready to utilize for heavy coursework quite yet.  Most don't realize how interactive online classes can be, but it really is no different than sitting in a classroom. Since online meetings and webinars are growing trends in the business world, giving your kids this experience is multi-purpose.
3. Email

Probably many don't think of email as a learning tool.  However, not only does email give kids the means to connect with other kids, near and far, it also forces them to learn how to type, write, and spell!  I also sometimes use it as a way for me to communicate to them their schedule or give them an assignment.  That way, there is no question about whether or not they were asked to do such-and-such and/or given directions.  (smiles)

4.  Audio podcasts, lectures, and stories

My kids didn't have ipods until last Christmas and I haven't yet utilized them for audio podcasts, but this is on my to do list.  There are all kinds of  resources available for free using an ipod or just your computer, if you don't own an ipod or MP3 player.  One great resource is  Learn Out Loud.  You can sign up for their newsletter that highlights a free resource every Friday. There is also a section of free resources just for kids.  Other audio resources that I happen to have bookmarked include LibriVox, Internet Interactive (I've linked to the Old Time Radio files), Open Culture, Lecture Fox (free university lectures), and  Free Books (Accelerated Schools),

5. Video resources
One of my favorite video podcasts for kids is the CNN Student News. This is a great way for kids to keep up on current events.  There are many sites that have categorized video segments by topic for a quick tutorial in a certain area. HippoCampus is one such site. Other sites include:,, Annenberg Media, Internet4Classrooms , The Futures Channel, and Academic Earth.  You can even have your kids watch Liberty Kids, a PBS show about American history, completely free the Jaroo website.

6. Video cameras and movie making

My oldest has done several video presentations for classes, camps and special projects, which I've shared here in the past.  My youngest will be taking a class this fall which will focus more on the technical side of movie-making. I think such projects are a great opportunity for hands-on learners to grasp a subject and also a wonderful way for your student to show off their work to others.  Let's face it, Grandma and Grandpa would probably rather watch a cool video clip than read a 10-page research paper.  There is quite a bit involved with movie making, though at the same time the technology part isn't too difficult.  Students need to not only learn the material for the video, but have to plan, decide on graphics, work on presentation skills, etc.  Video making is also a fun group project.

7. Educational DVDs and lessons

Some of our curriculum has lessons presented on DVD and I have even purchased full courses on DVD.  Sometimes I watch the lessons with the kids and sometimes my students are independent enough on the subject to be able to watch without further explanation.  Either way, I'm thankful to have options like this for our home.

There are plenty of great resources out there; I've only shared a few. In fact, I found a new resource in the process of writing this blog post, Free Technology for Teachers, which is directed more toward traditional classroom teachers but still has plenty of useful information on teaching with technology. And while the abundance of technology resources can be overwhelming, in addition to requiring caution to not overuse and/or screen properly, there is no reason a homeschool should throw out all the good with the bad.  Instead, use technology wisely and embracing it as a learning tool in your homeschool.

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