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Volume 13, Number 6
November/December 1997

Technology Works Best When It Serves Clear Educational Goals


As a physics and engineering teacher at San Francisco's Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, Dennis Frezzo uses computer technology with the precision of a strategic strike. Last spring, his students laid cable to link computers for an upcoming trade show at the San Jose Convention Center—a real world task that put students' fledgling engineering skills to immediate use. And this year, when students build electrified go-carts, Frezzo expects they'll use computer spreadsheets to track costs, special software programs to help with design, and simulation programs to "check the shocks and springs" so they don't have to build their go-carts 10 different times.

"I have kids use computers the same way engineers use computers," says Frezzo, a former electrical engineer with a keen commitment to Thurgood Marshall's philosophy of using project-based learning to boost achievement among its students.

Several hours north, in Mendocino, CA, School Superintendent Ken Matheson has a similarly clear vision about the role of technology in learning. "It's our curriculum that drives the way we use technology," says Matheson of the small rural district's commitment to reform first and technology second. Over the last decade, Mendocino has made widescale changes in teaching and learning. Real-world projects and activities that encourage students to explore on their own drive the curriculum. Students have begun to build portfolios of their work in the early grades, and teachers have been granted additional preparation time to work with each other on units of instruction.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

J. Cradler. Summary of Current Research and Evaluation Findings on Technology in Education. San Francisco: Far West Laboratory, 1994.

C. Fisher, D. C. Dwyer, and K. Yocam, eds. Education and Technology: Reflecting on Computing in Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.

J. Hawkins, R. Spielvogel, and E.M. Panush. National Study Tour of District Technology Integration: Summary Report. New York: Center for Children and Technology, 1996.

B. Means et al. Using Technology to Support Education Reform. Washington, DC: Office for Education Research and Improvement, 1993.

J.H. Sandholtz, C. Ringstaff, and D.C. Dwyer. Teaching with Technology: Creating Student-Centered Classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press, 1997.

C. Smith, D. Maclin, L. Grosslight, and H. Davis. "Teaching for Understanding: A Study of Students' Preinstruction Theories of Matter and a Comparison of the Effectiveness of Two Approaches to Teaching about Matter and Density." Cognition and Instruction 15, no. 3, 1997: 317-393.

M. Wiser. "Use of History of Science to Understand and Remedy Students' Misconceptions About Heat and Temperature." In D.N. Perkins et al. (eds.), Software Goes to School: Teaching for Understanding with New Technologies. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

M. S. Wiske, D. Niguidula, and J. W. Shepard. Collaborative Research Goes to School: Guided Inquiry with Computers in Classrooms. Washington, DC: Office for Educational Research and Improvement, 1988.