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Author: Gloria Petrie
Title: Plans, Procedures and PCs: Using PCs to Facilitate Learning in the K-12 Classroom
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2001

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Source: Plans, Procedures and PCs: Using PCs to Facilitate Learning in the K-12 Classroom
Gloria Petrie

vol. 4, no. 2, August 2001
Article Type: Computing in the K-12 Levels

Plans, Procedures and PCs:Using PCs to Facilitate Learning in the K-12 Classroom

Gloria Petrie

A version of this article also appears in Volume 4, Number 3


As we enter the new millenium, the daily planning involved in teaching in K-12 classrooms is both exciting and somewhat overwhelming. In the USA, the vast majority of states have implemented standard-based curricula with local and state assessments required for graduation. In most instances, this involves the writing of new unit lesson plans with some changes in content and focus. Trying to incorporate the constantly changing world of technology into the teaching and learning processes adds another dimension to those plans. In anticipation of these changes, I began to rewrite my Middle School American History curriculum (1865-present) several years ago. The article that follows includes my rationale for curriculum changes, the processes used in these changes, and some learning unit samples that I developed.

This article is designed to be a practical and useful source of ideas in the planning and development of technologically integrated thematic units into classroom curricula. It is important to integrate the technology in a meaningful way as a tool for teaching and learning and as a means to work toward educational standards. The sample units include specific content and computer software, but the ideas and organizational strategies can be applied to many academic areas and levels as well as various software programs. The purpose of these units is to give students a background in basic content and skills and also allow them to develop and grow in their independent learning. The curriculum is oriented toward student involvement, the extending and refining of content and ideas, and more authentic activities and assessments. Although I am writing from my experiences during 33 years as a teacher in the State of New York, I believe that the basics of curriculum development illustrated here can be useful elsewhere.


With so much information easily available, teachers often feel the pressure of trying to cover all the material in a specific period of time! However, we cant teach it all and allow the students to become more actively involved in their own learning unless we prioritize our curricula and select specific themes and skills. This can be difficult. To lessen the trauma in this kind of decision-making, keep in mind the major themes and skills that thread throughout the curriculum. If your school district is involved in developing curriculum to meet national and state standards (as many of our districts are here in the State of New York), it is wise to begin with a revised K-12 scope and sequence based on these standards, and, then decide on specific units for each grade or assessment level. Also, if you are working with a grade level team, you may want to develop the units in your curriculum to include content and skills from other disciplines. Remember, the development of curriculum and learning units take time and planning. And, they need to be constantly revised and updated depending on new resources, the personality of each class, and the results of local and state assessments. So, begin on a limited basis and have patience! A total of 5 to 10 learning units per year is advisable.

Since I taught social studies at the 8th grade level, I was expected to cover American History from 1865 to current times and include our relations with other parts of the world, particularly Canada and Latin America. So, considering that during my teaching career I added more than 30 years of history to my curriculum, that became an increasingly tall order! I reviewed my curriculum and tried to find 5 major themes that would allow me to adequately include the basics history and geography, economics and politics, skills and concepts - and still give both me and my students the time to integrate computer skills, Language Arts, Math and other relevant content into the Social Studies curriculum.

After reviewing our districts K-12 scope and sequence, the State Standards and benchmarks, prior state assessments, and relying on past experience, I chose the following themes:

Politics and Economics: A study of American and NYS systems; comparisons with other systems; a history of the development of our systems since the 1860s.
Civil Rights: A study of the growth and development of civil rights in the USA since the mid-1800s.
Conflict: A study of the major areas of conflict since the late 1800s in which the USA was involved.
Immigration: A study of the immigration patterns, settlement and influences since the mid-1800s.
Current Events: Todays Issues; during Fridays classes.

After selecting the units, I needed to determine a sequence. I decided to begin with the Politics and Economics Unit first. Then, during election years, the timing would be advantageous. This unit also was the best one for setting the stage for the other units.


In planning each unit, first establish the goals and objectives that you want the students to achieve or, at least, work toward! These goals and objectives should be based on the standards and benchmarks at the national and/or state level and the districts scope and sequence. As time and opportunity permits, work with teachers in other content areas and focus on those standards also, particularly those of listening, reading and writing (Effective Communication).

Since I feel that students must have a good understanding of a basic glossary for any unit, that was always my starting point. I selected 10 to 20 terms that were essential to the understanding of the content. Some limitations were made for students needing academic modifications. These terms were used throughout the unit. Using many graphic organizers (which I designed) with associated exercises, the concepts and content were taught and learned. This helped students who needed visual tools to grasp the content.

Write exercises to encourage thinking skills for all students. Use a variety of resources. Keep the content focused and organized for the students. Assessments should vary: objective tests, writing samples, student teaching, computer productions, etc. The final assessment I used was similar in format to the state assessment in NYS. A culminating activity or project should be developed to close the unit allowing students to illustrate their ability to handle the content and skills of the unit and to extend and refine areas of interest. Usually, the culminating activity I wrote for each unit was completed in pairs in which both individual and cooperative work ethic and skills are important. Samples of these components are illustrated later in this article as I delve into each component of the units in more depth. And since I am a firm believer in the integration of technology into both the planning and writing that I do and into the daily lives of my students, you will note that my samples include either computer use by myself, by my students, or both.

In summary, each unit I developed included these basic components:

  • Glossary 10-20 terms
  • Basic content, concepts and skills includes graphic organizers and related exercises, readings and videos, presentations, map and graphskills.
  • Variety of assessments; includes a Unit Test at end of unit similar to State Assessments
  • Project or Culminating Activity

Since I used 5 units during the year, and one of those was Current Events each Friday, I planned on 8 to 9 weeks for each unit.

I used a variety of resources and not just one text, so students were expected to keep an organized notebook (3 ring binder). The notebook was divided into the units. Each unit included the glossary, graphic organizers and related exercises and notes, assessments, an outline of the culminating activity, and simplified computer guides for the software used. Pages were numbered. Their notebook became their reference and study guide, and provided students with the necessary tools to be quite independent in their studies and in their computer skills. They were checked and assessed each quarter for completeness and accuracy. I also wanted to assess each students ability to use his/her notebook effectively and efficiently.


Ideas for Glossaries

Understanding the terms that are basic to any unit is extremely important! Help students really understand the meaning of each term, not just memorize the definition. Understanding of the terms is a significant factor for many students comprehension of the content in the unit.

What I did...

Students received a copy of the glossary terms for their notebook. In each class, we discussed the terms, often considering the root, prefix and suffix, if applicable. Together, we would arrive at a clear, concise definition. This was written into their notebooks.

To reinforce the understanding of the terms, students (usually in teams of two) spent a class period completing one or more of the following tasks:

  • Develop a slide in Microsoft PowerPoint (or any computer presentation program) which includes an assigned glossary term spelled correctly, a clear definition in their words, and a graphic that illustrates and enhances the meaning of the term. This helps the visual learner, provides students the opportunity to actually discuss the meaning of the term, and, if necessary, the term can be read (adding a sound file) for those who need auditory reinforcement.
  • Complete a Pictorial Dictionary: a graphic organizer (previously designed by the teacher) for each term in which the students include the assigned term, the part(s) of speech, a clear accurate definition written in their words, a sentence using the term correctly, and a graphic computer or hand drawn. The completed pages were displayed for comparison and for review.
  • Complete a graphic organizer (previously designed by the teacher as a template) illustrating the assigned term using software to design organizers (i.e., Inspiration).

As students progress in their computer skills, they can design their own templates. Student slides and graphic organizers can be printed for class demonstrations and discussions or made into a Slide Show for class use and review. Although this process takes several days, the positive results are reflected in the student interest and involvement and improved assessment grades.

Ideas for Basic Content, Concepts and Skills

This is the part of the unit that obviously takes a lot of planning and prioritizing on the part of the teacher. What content should be included? What content can be deleted? What concepts and skills need to be emphasized? And, it is the section that will probably need modification each year, depending on the character of the classes.

In selecting the content of each unit, I used an approach that began with basic essentials and developed them into more specific and complex examples. (Remember, this was for Middle School students.) Let me begin with examples from the Political-Economic Unit to illustrate the strategy and process that I used. I focused on the types of political and economic systems using a graphic organizer to illustrate the systems. Then, I included the current national and state systems here in the USA and compared those with Canada and the old USSR. This gave me the opportunity to review the democratic-capitalistic system of the USA, and develop the skill of compare and contrast with a variety of political and economic systems.


Writing Sample #1:

The United States and Canada are both democracies. Yet, there are similarities and differences between the political systems of these 2 countries.


Write an essay to clearly illustrate at least 2 similarities and 2 differences between the political systems of these countries. Include an introductory paragraph, a paragraph that includes the comparisons, a paragraph that includes the contrasts, and a concluding paragraph.

First, organize your information using the graphic organizer. Type your rough draft using Works or Word. Double space. Print. Edit.

Single space. Add a correct heading. Print your final copy.


Once the basics of politics and economics had been addressed (the economics lessons were taught using a PowerPoint presentation using a 32TV monitor), students began to look at the history of the politics and economics in the USA beginning with the Age of Big Business (1860s). After a discussion of characteristics and era, students used a variety of sources to prove that the following characteristics were representative of the Age of Big Business. They used CD-ROMs, a textbook, and several copies of an old newspaper with reproductions of actual articles from the late 1800s. Thus, they were using technological, secondary and primary sources and searching for facts to support the thesis.

Note: All graphic organizers are considerably larger than illustrated to allow for adequate writing space. The organizer shown below also has the following characteristics listed on the reverse side: Westward Expansion, Imperialism, Development of a Society of Haves and Have Nots, and Reform/Reformers. There is a section to write in conclusions after class discussion.

Students worked in pairs for three days or so at different stations finding facts to support these characteristics. Then, a couple of days were set aside for students to student teach their findings using a transparency of this organizer on the overhead projector. All students were expected to edit their notes as the student teachers went over the supporting facts.

This exercise took approximately a week (certainly less than I used to spend) and gave the students a basic understanding and feel of this time period. I usually concluded this part of the unit with comic satires of the Robber Barons and a discussion and/or writing sample of their role(s) in the American society of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Roaring Twenties included the writing of headlines to identify the characteristics and to illustrate how headlines can be an effective means of communication! A laser disc presentation displayed the highlights of this era. CDROMS, a reading about the dustbowl, a PowerPoint screenshow, and excerpts from videos provided the background for the Depression along with economic charts and graphs of the economic cycle.

By synthesizing the material, often using graphic organizers, using very defined readings, and developing relevant specific exercises for each one, this allowed time for students to complete the unit assessment and work on the following activity or project.

Cover Page for the Political-Economic Learning Activity: This activity, like the 6 to 8 other activities and projects during the year, includes a number of objectives. The choices of administrations begins with Truman in 1944 to Clinton (current).

In this project:

  • Students design a PowerPoint presentation.
  • All specifics for the project are outlined for the students in a 5 page outline; a graphic organizer for organizing notes is included.
  • Research tools are listed and include texts, specific administration books, CDROMS, and Internet Web Sites
  • Students become Student Teachers and, using their presentations, teach their classmates using a computer and large- screen TV.
  • Students in the class are given note sheets on which to take notes while their peers are teaching. Total Time = 2 weeks app.

This activity meets several of the (New York) State Standards, not only in Social Studies, but also in Language Arts, Mathematics and Technology, and fits into the local scope and sequence for Social Studies. A teacher must always keep in mind this larger picture and the educational value of the activities and learning experiences.

I have included an outline of the Conflict Unit (completed as a PowerPoint presentation) to illustrate the fact that once you have defined your processes and goals, you can use these to develop each unit. For instance, in each unit I began with this question in mind: What outcomes and objectives do I want to reach in this unit? Then I would work backwords, building toward these final goals and objectives, using technology as a meaningful integrated component for teaching and learning. I always took the time to explain my expectations very carefully to my students. Students need to know what is expected of them and see themselves as part of the teaching-learning process.

Ideas for Assessments

During each unit try to use a variety of assessments. I included 6-8 assessments during each unit. The following list illustrates the types of assessments included:

  • 1 test in which students match graphics or illustrations with terms and content.
  • 2 objective tests similar to the State Pupil Evaluation Tests (1 was the Unit Test)
  • 1 Open Notebook Test to check the accuracy and completeness of notebooks
  • 1-2 Writing Samples to assess thinking and writing skills
  • 1 production/communication project, i.e., screenshow, publication

The reasons for the variety of assessments were to allow different types of learners to succeed, to develop writing skills, to develop traditional test-taking skills, and to allow students to perform and to share with their peers what they have learned. I let students know ahead of time how they would be assessed and basically what content to review.

The projects or culminating activities should be an integral part of each unit: the goal to work toward. The content and skills developed during each unit become the focus of each project. Depending on the topic and the class personality and needs, such projects can be individual or co-operative in nature. As noted earlier in this article, each project includes specific goals involving social studies content, research and writing skills, often graphing and map skills, and the use of computer software. Each is based on specific standards and benchmarks. Since individual skills and content have been tested during the unit, the assessments for these projects/activities are rubrics designed to evaluate several components of the overall production. (See the Effective Communicator Rubric, page 12)

Ideas for Current Events

Current events is current and should be discussed briefly each day or as warranted. But, in addition to these discussions, I developed a project or activity for each quarter that helped students become more familiar with the content of the other units, the software that I expected them to use, and to see the relevance of current events beyond just the events.

Here is one example. During the first quarter while we were studying the political and economic systems, the current events activity was a brochure using MS Publisher about a specific country in the news. I designed the template and loaded it on each computer. That way all students would have the opportunity to use text, graphic and WordArt frames and have an attractive product (which is important to students). Students were given an outline of the goals and expectations of the brochure including the specifics for each frame in the template. For each country, using CD-ROM databases and encyclopedias as well as the Internet, students researched the political and economic systems, the geography and the societal data of each country. In addition, they included two articles: one explaining why this country was currently in the news and one explaining why they would want to (or not want to) live in this country based on their research.

During the second quarter, my peers and I planned a more integrated activity. This one was based on the stock market. Once again, I designed a template but gave students more freedom to make personal changes in the template after the project was otherwise completed.

The most difficult portion was this: students had to include a national or international event that affected the stock market each week. Newspaper and Internet sources were invaluable. Because this is/was a more complex activity or project, the procedure for the project is summarized below.


The students work in teams of two. Approximately one month before the activity began, an introduction to the selection of stocks and mutual funds was given. Students write business letters to request information and prospectus materials from stocks and mutual funds of interest. In Math, students are expected to learn the necessary fractions needed to write the decimal equivalents for these fractions used in stock quotations.

I spend time going over the activity with the students, explaining the goals and expectations. Once this activity begins, students monitor the stock/mutual fund quotes and write them in their log sheets. They also record the S&P 500 so that they will have one indicator to assess the progress of their investments. Students are expected to follow the process included in the activity outline to develop their graph. Each week the teams identify current events (national or international) that have an effect on the stock market. Part of their homework during this activity is to use encyclopedias, CDs and other database reference materials to develop a concise, chronological summary of the development of the stock market in the USA. The advertisement focuses on skills students developed in creating ads in Language Arts and Home and Careers.

Students are given Fridays for 6-7 weeks to complete this activity. Any other necessary time needed to complete the work is considered to be homework. They keep a log of their work. For example, students will often use the computers in the cluster in my class during their study hall to work on this activity - for research and for writing and graphing - while another class is in my room. Or they may use time before or after school or during lunch.

The Due Date is the day on which all projects must be finalized and printed.

As in all projects, students were given an outline of the project with the goals and objectives listed, a place for the filename of their project (actually, 2 filenames, as I always had them save a backup copy), directions for designing a graph from a datasheet, a log to keep track of their work, a printed data sheet to track their stocks and mutual funds, and the assessment rubric.

The following page illustrates the actual template (of 2 pages) with the directions typed in each frame. Once completed, the projects were hung in the classroom or in a hall nearby. Time was given in class for closing discussion, reflection, and students evaluations of the project.


Taking the time and effort to periodically rewrite curriculum on my PC resulted in some very positive outcomes. As the teacher, I knew the scope and sequence of my course intimately; I was clear in my goals and focus. I had ownership in daily work and a great comfort level each day in my classes. I could alter the lessons and activities as needed due to class and individual differences. Because I wrote the material in advance, each month the students and support staff received a copy of the months plans with a calendar. (These could be placed on the school Web site.) Students and parents appreciated the calendar for organizational purposes. Members of the support staff (teachers assistants, resource teachers) found the plans helpful and could follow through on remediation and refinement of content.

There were (and always are) limitations that face each of us. (Work with and around these.) The limited access to the Internet for research 1 station for 130 students meant that some modifications had to be made: students with access at home completed some of their research there with parent signature slips showing approval, sites used, and time spent; those students without access at home signed up for time on the school station; sites were bookmarked to save time. I had 4 PCs (stand alone units) in my class which had to be signed out for student use as fairly as possible. The computer lab was available on a sign out basis. To have the flexibility of using a large monitor, I wrote a grant to purchase a 32 TV and a VCR, rebuilt a PC and a portable cart so that the students and I could use the system for learning and teaching in the classroom, LMC, and Computer Lab. By using what was available and showing our potential needs, we slowly were able to prove the necessity to upgrade the hardware and software for our classes, LMC, and computer lab.

However, any drawbacks, such as these technical difficulties and restrictions were outweighed by the positive results. The most significant outcome was the reaction of the students. Students of many learning styles were learning more easily. They began to understand the direction and goals of the work. Those who had previously learned by rote and memory did have to adjust to the fact that learning also includes other skills. By giving students some ownership in their education, so many students of all abilities became more excited about learning. Students academic content and skills were kept within the scope and sequence of the course, but students were also provided with the tools and opportunity to individualize their work using technology. And, by using the technology, they were developing computer expertise, research tools (including those needed for the Internet), analytical thinking, individual and cooperative work ethic skills, and problem solving techniques, all of which are needed in the academic environment and in the workplace. Did the students really learn the content effectively? The test scores of the students, both at the local level and at the state level, improved. The overall assessment results were good; very few students failed.

A high energy level, some technological expertise, (and a willingness to keep updated with selected hardware and software) and careful organization are essential for this style of teaching and learning. A day was often extended as students frequently came in before school, continued through lunch and stayed after regular hours doing Social Studies to complete a more in-depth project, to personalize their work, or to find additional available time on the computers. But, I felt it was worth it. To watch students become interested and excited about learning, sharing and teaching what they had learned, made each day very worthwhile even if it was exhausting at times!

There are many viewpoints concerning the effectiveness of technology in education. Adding PCs, the Internet, and other technologies to our educational systems are expensive, and, by themselves, do not necessarily improve learning or enhance education. Technology (with all if its components), like any other tool, is only effective if it is a planned, constructive part of the entire teaching-learning environment. Technology training and the development of a basic scope and sequence are essential. And, it needs to be balanced with other academic and social needs: class size, tutoring and individual student support, parent or mentor involvement, music and the arts, etc. However, in this Age of Technology, whether we like it or not computers are a part of our society, and, so, should be a part of the educational system.

Gloria Petrie
Educational Consultant/Model Schools Trainer or
Member of the New York State Academy for Teaching and Learning