An Interview with Bob Howard on Technology and the Classroom
A well-known and highly respected expert on technology in the classroom,
Bob Howard is in his ninth year in the Professional Development Department at the
Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association (TRECA),* where
he helps teachers integrate technology into lessons and student projects. During
this time, he has worked with school districts in Delaware, Knox, Marion, Morrow,
Muskingum, and Wyandotte Counties. Before moving to TRECA, he taught math in Columbus
Public Schools for twenty-seven years. For the last fourteen of those years, he
taught in the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow at West High School.
Sue Misiak had the opportunity to interview Bob for this issue of
In Perspective. The interview is highly engaging, and we encourage you
to listen to it in its entirety.
Below are some highlights that have been summarized from the interview.
How do you approach your work with
My focus is strictly on professional development— working with teachers— that is what
I am about. So what I often do first is sit down with the teacher, and then the
teacher and I work through the project together. Frequently, the teachers already
have a technology plan— for example, they know they want to use iPods. But sometimes
I even get involved helping with a technology plan: The teachers and I talk about
their vision, and then I help them figure out how they can integrate the appropriate-to-the-task
technology in the classroom. You have to consider the grade levels at which you
would incorporate different parts of technology and how fast the students might
What are some of the basic issues
that must be considered as technology is incorporated into a class or school curriculum?
Well, certainly first you need to have administration support. If the superintendent
and the school board and the community are not behind it, none of this is going
to happen at the teacher level. But when you move down to the teacher level, I believe
first is skill building, because you can't envision how you might use a spreadsheet
in a classroom, say, for teaching social studies, unless you know what a spreadsheet
is. Then we move from there into thinking about how you might integrate the technology
into the classroom.
The key is to integrate technology into assignments and projects and things that
you're already used to doing. For example, if you are a science teacher teaching
a unit on animals, you might teach the traditional way— where students would go to
the library, do research on different animals, and write a typical report. But by
incorporating technology, you might have your students go to a website and do research
there. Then they might create a movie where they talk about and animate animals,
or they might use the computer to create a newspaper about the animals, or they
could pretend they are a National Geographic writer
and use the computer to create a magazine article.
So there are different ways to incorporate technology where you're still accomplishing
the same thing. You're replacing some of the old ways with some of the new ways.
I would say the essential thing, though, is teacher change— obviously that takes
a lot of time. I feel it takes at least a year or two minimum for a teacher to start
feeling comfortable doing a few technology projects in the classroom. Again, I'm
not talking about extremes. I'm not saying everything we do has to involve technology,
but certainly part of the curriculum should include technology because it's part
of the real world.
When we refer to incorporating
technology in the classroom, so often people think just of the computer. What about
People in the real world are using cell phones for text messaging; they might be
using MP3 players and creating podcasts in order to distribute information they
have. So I think that is a motivation for teachers to include these technologies,
because teachers want their classes to be relevant. They know that if students don't
feel that what they're doing in the classroom is relevant to their world, then they're
not going to do their best. They're going to get their work done and get it over
with. We really don't want students to have that attitude. In our classroom, we
want them to feel that it's exciting. We want them to feel that what they're doing
is relevant to their lives.
How can teachers incorporate out-of-school
technology such as MP3 players and cell phones into their classroom assignments
There are so many ways! Just to name a few: A student who uses an MP3 player or
an iPod, for example, that plays video clips could create her own video clip to
describe how the frog life cycle works. A student could listen to poetry on his
iPod. Or students could listen to their teacher's assignment given to them on a
podcast— they could download the assignment on their iPods, and they would have it
with them. The advantage of technology such as the podcast is that it's 24/7.
I'm not suggesting that students are always going to say, "I'm going to listen to
my lecture in biology on my iPod, rather than listen to some music." But as we already
know from our own experience at the school districts I've been in and the TRECA
Digital Academy, if they have access to it, the students will use a podcast relevant
to them and even make use of text messaging. What I mean here is that teachers can
send out text messages to their own students and have the messages accessible to
them, and likewise students can send back messages to the teachers.
It seems kind of odd and somewhat funny to many adults— especially to ones like me
who are middle aged— that teenagers today will often text-message rather than actually
call by phone. Personally, I think it takes longer to type out the message, although
the kids can be very quick at this. But yet that is the trend— that is what students
would rather do, and we might as well meet them where they are and make it relevant
I know you are working with the
Cardington schools. What kinds of technology are teachers now using in their classrooms?
One of the newest things that has really taken off— started two years ago— is podcasting.
Podcasting is like a radio broadcast in that it is a delivery mechanism. Podcasts
can also have visuals, which might consist of videos (some people call them vid-casts),
and whether just audio or video too, these are all playable through iTunes, which
is available on Mac and Windows; if the platform plays iTunes, it can play a podcast.
Let me give you an example of how you might you use a podcast. We had a sixth grade
social studies teacher whose class was comparing countries. The teacher created
a podcast for her class explaining the assignment, and in the podcast she reminded
the students what they needed to include in the project— for example, the presidents
of the two countries being compared, the populations, the flags' colors, the money,
and the natural resources. And she would give examples of all these things. This
way, the students could refer to the podcast as they were doing the assignments.
And to do their assignments, the students could create their own live podcasts with
a camera or import a video as part of their podcasts, and that would be a real-life
Here's another example; this time the subject is math, and the problem is a common
trigonometry problem that math teachers are familiar with: How can you find the
height of a tree? Three students presented the solution, which involves right triangle
trigonometry, in a videotape of a tree that they were actually measuring. Besides
filming their solution, the students also used a draw program to record their numbers,
formulas, and steps used to determine the height of the tree. These drawings were
put into slides, which were inserted into the video using the GarageBand program.
The students also used their voices, which they had recorded during filming, as
their soundtrack. This type of real-world project forces students to explain what's
going on mathematically, and it just really makes a difference in their understanding— they
walk away knowing what that math concept is.
For twenty-first-century students,
is technology a new literacy? We have reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking,
viewing. We have the literacies of reading, math, science, and social studies. Would
you say for the students of the twenty-first century, that technology is another
Well, in some ways I would say yes. It's a new literacy because students need to
know how to use technology the same as they know any other subject area they might
think of traditionally. But I also believe it should be incorporated into these
other subject areas. I think students today don't view technology separate from
everything else. They view it as just part of life. So they don't think about making
movies and creating video clips or doing spreadsheets and generating charts and
graphs as a separate area from being in a science class or doing writing or being
in a literature class or a music class. It is a new literacy but not necessarily
a separate strand so to speak, so it's really part of everything else.
Note: Be sure to read "'Politics'
at Cardington— It's a Technological Thing!" and "How
to Get Started Integrating Technology," both of which are in this issue
of In Perspective and both of which are written by classroom
teachers who work with Bob.
*TRECA is an Information Technology Center Site— a consortium
of over forty Ohio School Districts located primarily in Delaware, Knox, Marion,
Morrow, Muskingum, and Wyandot Counties. TRECA provides software, hardware, staff
development, and technology integration support for member schools.
Return to top