Information & Technology Literacy
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What is Information and
Technology Literacy and
Why is it Important?
by Bill Breitsprecher

Information technology is the driving force behind our "new-world" economy.  Information technology skills represent information gathering, organizing, and problem solving tools that students will need to be successful in their education and build careers.

Most parents want their children to have computer skills. Today, few would argue against the importance of computer literacy. Reasonable people, however, can disagree about what skills represent computer literacy. Keyboarding is probably part of that skill set, as are software applications like word processing/desktop publishing, Web browsers, and even email.

Is this enough? Knowing HOW to use technology is important, but the real skill is to use technology to identify information needs, research, organize, communicate, and solve problems. Creating lists of specific tasks utilizing technology, by itself, will not move us towards meaningful information and technology literacy. Applying a set of technology skills in different contexts, situations, and actually solve problems represents authentic life skills.

So is information and technology literacy important for today's students? It is when we define it as learning how to learn. The world has changed dramatically as we move forward into the 21st century. Yes, reading, writing, and arithmetic are important; but is everything we need to know found in traditional style textbooks?

Most of us that have been in the workforce for more than 10 years have seen that the skills we need to survive constantly change -- the pace of this change is accelerating. Web-based technology not only allows us more direct access to sources of information that are continually changing, they expand the walls of our schools, libraries, and even home offices and play spaces.

The good news is that locating information has never been easier -- a variety of documents in different formats are widely available in viewable, printable, and downloadable versions. Intellectual access to this information, however, requires strategies that encompass defining needs, locating relevant sources, analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, creating, and sharing.

These are higher-level skills, actually processes that involve fairly complex, constantly changing perspectives and technologies. Pretty intimidating stuff -- yes, today we demand that schools document student learning and academic achievement. Is it really possible to move students with diverse needs towards these outcomes while continuing to improve academic achievement on core academic subjects?

Perhaps it would be more meaningful to ask:

"Can we expect equitably empower diverse learners to achieve high levels of academic achievement without building the information skills that underlie all learning?"

Core academic skills are important; resources to support that learning are increasingly available in different formats and styles. "Learning how to learn" means identifying information needs and locating and utilizing appropriate resources to meet those needs. Due to the nature of today's information formats and retrieval tools, technology skills are inherently part of most any information search.

Rather than ask if an emphasis on information and technology literacy somehow distracts from academic achievement, it may be more relevant to ask if we can really expect to raise academic standards without teaching relevant skills that form the foundation of learning. In that context, we see that information and technology literacy enhances all instruction across the curriculum.

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Teaching Information and Technology Literacy with Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's Model
by Bill Breitsprecher

In 1998, Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Information and Technology Literacy were published. The idea was to identify and define the knowledge and skills relating to access, evaluation, and use of information and technology that today’s students need to succeed.

These standards have been created for integration into all other content areas of the school curriculum and represent essential skills that focus on learning within information and technology rather than learning about information and technology.

The implementation of these standards is the responsibility of all school instructional and administrative staff. In terms of technology, Wisconsin’s standards state that, “computer literacy objectives and activities shall be integrated into the kindergarten through grade 12 sequential curriculum plans”

Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Information and Technology Literacy bring together two new national standards that address information and technology standards. The 2 national standards are the National Educational Technology Standards for Students published by the International Society for Technology in Education and the Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning developed jointly by the American Association of School Librarians and the Association for Educational Communications and Technology.

DPI’s publication Information & Technology Literacy Standards Matrix presents how these skills are correlated across the 4 assessed standards of English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. Working collaboratively, academic skills can be taught and reinforced while building technology and information literacy skills. For more information about specific examples across the curriculum, please see your Library Media Specialist.

Academic Standards Definitions

All Wisconsin Model Academic Standards have been created with content and performance standards. Many also include performance indicators.

  • Content standards represent general statements that describe what students should know and be able to do. For example, “Students in Wisconsin will select and use media and technology to access, organize, create, and communicate information for solving problems and constructing new knowledge, products, and systems.” 
  • Performance standards tell how students will show that they are meeting the content standard.
  • Performance indicators (listed by DPI under content standards with bullets) describe specific activities that indicate proficiency of a given performance standard.
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"Take Five!" Research Process

Knowing when you need information, how to find it, and being able to evaluate and organize are important skills.  Information literacy enhance our personal lives, school work, and careers. Thinking about "reseach" as a process helps.  The most popular method presented in schools is the Big6"Take Five!" presents a simple system that emphasized research as a series of tasks.  The results can be used to create any type of project. 

We will not talk about the final product here -- it may be a report, speech, multi-media project, Web page, video, or any other type of presentation.  We will focus on gathering and evaluating information before actually using that information.  Different projects, in different formats, require different approaches.  If you want more information about writing, please check out Mr. B's Writing Quick Tips for some "tips & tricks" and links to other Websites that cover virtually all aspects of a writing project. 

"Take Five!" Research Process

  1. Define Need or Topic

  2. Preliminary Research

  3. Locate Sources

  4. Evaluate Information

  5. Document Sources

While we have presented these processes as a numbered list, in practice, it is not sequential.  We are defining a set of tasks.  At any point in the process, it may be valuable or appropriate to "revisit" what we have done.  Preliminary research can help us shape and refine our need or topic.  The availability of suitable sources may require us to do more preliminary research to help us discover better keywords and subject headings.  To get the most out or "Take Five!," do not consider it a linear set steps.

Task 1:  Define Need or Topic.  The first part of any research project is to think about what you want to accomplish.  In school, teachers often assign topics or general subject areas.  Most of us will enjoy a project more if it is based on something we are personally interested in.  When looking for ideas for topics or themes, there are Web sites that can help, try Hot Paper Topics, Idea Generator, and Backgrounders from PBS.

Task 2:  Preliminary Research Let's look at an example.  Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived a rich life that touched many people.  The life and times of Dr. King could support a wide array of topics.  It's a good idea to do a little preliminary research on a general topic BEFORE selecting a specific topic.  This helps us think about what aspects of our general topic will be most interesting.  Consulting an encyclopedia can be a great way to do some quick, basic research.  Be sure to check out the reference section of your library or try Encyclopedia Britannica MSN Encarta, Encyclopedia.com, or Infoplease.

Task 3.  Locate Sources.  Once you have a fuller understanding of what you are looking for, it will be easier to do meaningful research.  Use a variety of sources in different formats -- a reference librarian or library media specialist can help you get started finding material in their collection.  Libraries are organized to provide "intellectual access" to resources.  This means that information is organized so that you can find it based on ideas, topics or information needs.

For information about search strategies, check out the resources at breitlinks.com's Reference and Bibliography links.  You will find basic and advanced search strategies as well as sources for a variety of information in various formats. 

Keywords versus Subject Headings

Most of us are familiar with keyword searches, where computers scan for the occurrence of terms in a document.  Keyword searches can be good places to start and represent how most search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN Search, and Ask Jeeves work.  You can also do keyword searches in most electronic library catalogs, but to really take advantage of how libraries are organized, you have to look for subject headings. 

The problem with keyword searches is that many search terms will appear in a variety of different contexts from different documents.  Keyword searches can generate many results, but the results may represent such a broad range of topics that the search becomes unmanageable. For example, a search on AIDS will retrieve items on aids for the hearing impaired, school aids, AIDS (the disease). 

Professional librarians organize collections by subject headings, carefully used terms that collect resources that relate to specific topics.  The advantage of using subject headings is that, once you locate appropriate subject heading for your search, the results will be more useful for your research.  When using an online library catalog, try using keyword searches to get started.  When you find a good resource for your needs, see what subject headings have been used to catalog it.  Then, do a subject heading search for similar resources.  Usually, this just requires clicking on those subject headings, conducting a new search.

You can also try to use these subject headings as keywords searches too.  Many documents that present common or overlapping information will not appear together in searches that are done by keywords.  Subject headings provide connections between similar resources, even when these documents do not contain the same keywords or rankings.

Library collections are organized so that information can be located by subject (cataloging or "intellectual access") and by looking at books on shelves, called browsing (classification).  Check out the Library Media page at Breitlinks for more information about how libraries catalog and classify information.   Of course, you could just talk to your friendly, helpful local librarian too!

Taking Notes:  Paraphrase

Be sure to take careful notes, being sure to keep track of what information comes from each source.  DO NOT "COPY & PASTE" OR TAKE NOTES WORD FOR WORD from a given source unless you intend to directly quote and fully cite a source.  Write your notes in your own words; this is called paraphrasing.  Not only does this help you better understand the information, it helps avoid problems with plagiarism (stealing someone else's work). 

Start by getting the basic facts, dates, statistics, definitions, and general background information together.  Basic reference books are a great source to document general facts; these will provide guides to locate more in-depth information about a topic.   When researching a controversial topic, it is especially important to obtain fact and details from sources that will be acceptable to people with different views on the topic.

The Internet is full of sources, though it will be an advantage to have basic facts documented before going online.  Remember, information on the 'net may or may not be "refereed," meaning edited and fact-checked, by others.  Having basic facts BEFORE checking the Internet will help us when we get to our next task, evaluating the information we find.  For now, be sure that online sources generally agree with facts from other sources.  Don't forget databases either.  Wisconsin provides access to a number of high-quality information database resources bundled together as "BadgerLinks."  Many libraries and school also have subscriptions for other academic and professional database.

Task 4:  Evaluate Information.  Not everything we read is generally accepted as correct, especially when using the Web.  Traditional print sources (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) have editors and publishers that work with authors to be sure information reflects standards -- this doesn't mean that the information is "better" or "more true."  It means that we can easily identify sources and judge the quality of these source based on the publisher's reputation.  Savvy information users evaluate ALL information they find based on:

  1. Accuracy.  The first step when evaluating  is to be sure that information generally agrees.  This is why starting a research project by looking at the reference section in a library is a good idea.
    • Basic information and concepts should be the same from source to source.  If not, be careful. 
    • Sources that contain errors, even many "typos," should be used with care.  After all, if a source did not take the time to verify the basics and present it in reasonably correct form, why should anyone believe the rest of the information in that6 source. 
    • Always look to see if a source is advocating and idea or contains bias.  Be careful when a source has an "agenda" or strong point of view.  The information may or may not be good.  It is likely that the information does not fully present other points of view.
  2. Authority.  Why is this source qualified to give you information?  Are they an "expert?"  If so, are their credentials clearly identified?  Are they affiliated by another organization, company, or institute?  If so, is there bias?
    • Can you tell who is the publisher?  This is easy with traditional print sources, but can be difficult on the Web.
    • Is there contact information?  Does the author indicate that they are open to hearing from others or fielding requests for clarifications or additional information?
  3. Content.  What type of information is being presented and how does the author intend the information to be used?  Does the author identify any limitations for their work?
    • Who is the intended audience?  Students should be careful that sources are appropriate for their grade level.
    • Is the purpose of the information to inform, advocate, or sell?  This usually determines it completeness.  In general, sources that only seek to inform present a more balance view than those that promote ideas or sell products and services.
  4. Currency.  Information has a time value -- even historical information get reviewed and revised over time.  Just because an idea was generally accepted in the past does not mean it is accepted today. 
    • Some information can come from older sources and still be valid.  Try to find current information. 
    • Dates of birth and death and some other types of facts are likely to be accurate even when a reliable source becomes old. 
    • Be careful, some information from older sources has little or no value today.   Traditional print sources clearly identify when they were published -- be careful with Web pages.  If you cannot identify the date that a site was created or updated, it is probably not a good source. Check the links on a Web page; if they do not work or are not being kept up to date, the rest of the information is probably not being updated either.
  5. Documentation.  Even when a site is accurate, has authority, is content appropriate, and current; be sure to look for documentation where the author obtained their facts.   When a source intends to inform, the author usually identifies their sources or resources for further study.
    • Does a source contain a bibliography or identify the sources that were used to create a resource?  Does this list of sources appear fairly comprehensive or balanced?
    • Are the sources that were used to create a resource also reasonably current?  If other Web pages are part of the  list of sources, are they still working links?

Task 5:  Document Sources.  Keeping track of where information comes from is an important part of the research process.  Representing the work of another person as your own is plagiarism -- it is stealing.  Students can expect to be disciplined or receive failing grades if they plagiarize.  It is also possible to be sued.  Like every other law, copyrights demand compliance.  Using someone else's work without permission or under "fair use" without citing the source if a violation of intellectual property rights.  For more information about copyrights, check out the copyright issues link at Breitlinks

On a more positive note, documenting sources when conducting research makes the job easier.  Few things will be more frustrating than having to go back and find the original source from some fact, figure, quote, or piece of information AFTER deciding to use that material in a project.  It is much easier to keep track of where ALL information comes from BEFORE starting to create a project.  Keeping track of sources while gathering information will also make it easier to go back and review good sources to pick up more good information.  Always carefully document the sources that are used when researching.

Teachers often have expectations as to what types of sources are valid for a term paper or presentation.  Many projects, especially those done in school, will have standard formats to organize and cite information.  If a format is specified, it will be helpful to write down source documentation in the required format -- this will make it less likely that a given resource will need to be looked up again because important information is missing.  The most common formats for documentation are MLA and APA.

Whether taking notes on note cards, paper, or computer, clearly identify where information comes from, carefully including all information that will be required to cite that source.  Be sure that you know what format you will use to cite sources or create a bibliography.  This will make it less likely that you will forget important information that is required to properly cite your sources.

Conclusion.  Do you see that our "Take Five!" research process is designed to help clarify an information need before actually conducting a full-scale search.  Before you fully decide on a topic; be sure to do some preliminary research, after all, it will be much easier to create an interesting topic when you check your understanding before committing yourself to an extensive research project.  Our process focuses on defining needs and then finding sources.

We have chosen to omit how this information is used to create a specific project, because once we have defined a need, located appropriate resources, and documents our resources, we are ready to put that information to work creating any number of projects.  Just remember, sometimes things do not go as planned.  Our process is presented as a set of tasks, not a series of steps.  At any point, the research process may require us to reevaluate our topic, sources, or how we have evaluated them.

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Computers and Language Arts Skills
by Bill Breitsprecher

Since the 1930s, research has demonstrated that integrating language arts skills in typewriting and now keyboarding classes does build a variety of important skills.  This should not be surprising because reading and writing are correlated -- working on one skill builds the other.  Reading and writing underlie virtually ALL school-based learning; they are fundamental skills to master.  

As students become comfortable and functionally proficient, composing skills are introduced and reinforced. After all, keyboarding is the way people write today.   Studies show that students write more and will edit and revise their writing more if they are writing on a computer. While using a computer, by itself, will not improve writing; coupled with integrated curriculum and effective teaching, dramatic results are possible.

Effectively implemented, writing with computers results in students that: 

  • Are more motivated, on-task, and actively engaged then when writing with pens and pencils.
  • Are more willing to share their work and collaborate when working with legible work they created on a computer.
  • Write more and write better.

While all students perform better, low achieving students benefit the most from integrating computers with their writing instruction.  Today, a wide range of technologies are working their way into the classroom. The area where technology can provide the greatest positive impact on students learning is in the writing process.

According to research findings, writing skills are enhanced by computer usage for the following reasons:

  • Students write more efficiently and write more with computers.
  • Student's writing becomes more detailed.
  • The more students write, the better they become at it.
  • Students can learn language structure and grammar with the use of application software tools such as a spell-check and thesaurus.

While research indicates that computer instruction can enhance academic performance across student populations, this impact is greatest with students that perform below class expectations and "at risk" populations.  Alternative delivery methods work, especially with reading instruction. Computers engage students in an active learning mode and can be effective components of reading instruction.

Because current state and federal laws mandate improvement of test scores, increasing the performance of underachieving students is vital - statistically, that is where gains must be made in standardized test scores.  The key is to realize that computers are much more powerful tools than drill and practice machines, virtual worksheets, or electronic flashcards.

Effective computer instruction, therefore, needs to:

  • Focus on meaning and comprehension
  • Apply active learning, analysis, creativity, and reasoning
  • Support learning across the curriculum
  • Deliver a variety methodology and subjects
  • Stress reading, writing, integration of different subjects
  • Focus on mandated state approved curriculum
  • Involve frequent monitoring and evaluation of students' progress
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Computers and the Writing Process
by Bill Breitsprecher

Writing

Writing is a process and getting students to look past the accomplishments of a first draft is one of the challenges of teaching and reinforcing writing skills. According to the National Council of the Teachers of English, the writing process consists of:

  • Prewriting
  • Rough Draft
  • Revising with Major Changes in Ideas and Organization
  • Editing for Surface Errors Such as Spelling and Grammar
  • Publishing the Final Draft for Others to Read

Technology and the Writing Process

Today's computer software makes rough drafts, revising, and editing much easier and help students locate and correct surface errors in grammar and spelling. Computers can more fully connect students with the writing process and allow all learners to create "professional" looking final drafts.

To successfully integrate computer technology with writing, however, two factors must be considered to maximize student performance:

  • Student Skills
  • Teacher Expectations

While all students can benefit from learning to write with computers, research indicates that low achievers will make the most dramatic improvements.

Student Skills

Experience applying the writing process is critical. To write successfully, students must be mature enough to accept editing and revisions as a normal part of writing, not a punishment.  Learner's keyboarding skills are important if students are going to adapt computers to the writing process. Students are unlikely to master word-processing software until they develop comfort and competency at the keyboard.

Once students develop skills in keyboarding and software applications, their abilities and attitudes towards writing improve. They enjoy writing more, think and write better, experiments more, and want to continue writing on computers.

Teacher Expectations

While teachers must be comfortable with the technology being used, they must also understand that computers do not replace them - teachers teach writing.  Teachers instruct students how to take advantage of the computer's unique ability to assist in each stage of the writing process. As teachers work with students applying each step of the writing process, a better understanding will emerge about the computer's role.

Implications

Some students find writing skills particularly difficult to acquire because of the cumbersome process of having to revise their writing over and over again.  Today's computer technology allows students to create, edit and revise their work efficiently and proficiently.  The key is that  students have solid keyboarding, software, and analytical skills.  To reach across the needs of diverse learners, computers need to be integrated with the writing process.  All students can benefit from the power of technology.

To increase student engagement and create positive attitudes, students must be given time to learn to use computers comfortably. It probably takes a full year of keyboarding and computer instruction to teach and reinforce the basic computer skills students need to successfully apply the writing process.

Students are more likely to share their work when they are able to create documents that approach professional standards. Computers represent a great vehicle to stimulate cooperative learning. Research indicates this is an important strategy to improve skills and should be included in any computerized writing program.

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Math and MS Excel
by Bill Breitsprecher

Algebra skills are used in business everyday. In fact, we probably use the skills that are taught in Math classes much more often than we realize.

Expressions and Variables

An amount written using numbers and operation signs is called an expression. An example would be a + b.  A symbol that represents an unknown number is called a variable. For example, the variables in 8x2y3 are x and y.

Equations and Formulas

An equation is a statement showing that two expressions are equal. The = sign is used to show that equality.  Note that the expressions in an equation may consist of 1 more terms. For example, the equation 5 + 10 = 15 consists of 2 expressions (5+10 and 15). The expression on the left consists of 2 terms (5 and 10).  When solving equations, we determine one of more unknown terms or variables. A solution to an equation is found when all variable are replaced with terms.

Formulas are equations that help us solve specific problems. They are an important part of Algebra and real-world problems solving. Excel is an ideal tool to solve a variety of problems with formulas. So formulas are used so often, that they are built into Excel. These preset formulas are called functions.

Introducing Excel:  The Basics

Spreadsheets are computer programs that let you work with numbers and text in a grid of rows and columns. Microsoft's spreadsheet program is called Excel. It is also easy to create charts, graphs, maps and work with data from other computer applications.
Excel organizes this grid with columns that are identified by a letter column heading and rows that are numbered. Each square in this grid (intersection of a column letter and row number) is called a cell.

Each cell can be identified by a unique cell address consisting of its column heading (letter) and row (number). The top cell at the left of an Excel spreadsheet has the cell address of A1. The cell K9 (also known as the dog cell) is the intersection of the 11th column and the ninth row.

Sometimes, it is useful to work with groups of contiguous cells (cells that touch each other and share common boundaries). A group of cells is called a range. A range of contiguous cells can be identified by its upper left cell address, a colon, and its lower right cell address (i.e. A1:K9)

Each Excel file is called a workbook and consists of a collection of related spreadsheets called worksheets. These are stacked like pages in a notebook.


Working With Data

A cell in Excel can hold a number, text, or some type of mathematical statement. Just like in Math class, we call statements for calculations a formula. In many ways, spreadsheets are the most powerful, programmable calculators you can use.

Formulas tell Excel to perform a calculation using information stored in other cells. For example, the first 10 cells in column A might contain all the points you have earned for assignments in a class. You can create a formula to add these numbers up and display the result.

Creating Formulas

Formulas can use normal arithmetic operators such as + (plus), -(minus), *(multiply), and / (divide). When you create formulas in an algebra class, you use variables to represent the data you are working with (i.e. you might create an algebraic statement like x =a+2b).
When creating formulas in Excel, you use cell references for the data you want to work with.  The same formula above could be written in Excel as =A1+2*B1. Do you see that the statements take a value and add to it 2 times another value?

Formulas in Excel can be created using basic principals of algebra. Excel has a number of special built-in mathematical statements. These save the user the time it would take to create common or complex formulas. They are also easy to use.

The preset mathematical statements are called functions. Excel has functions to add up the values of cells in a range, calculate square roots, determine averages, and perform a variety of financial and statistical calculations.

Getting Around in Excel

Each worksheet in Excel has more than 16 million cells. This is more than many of us will use in a lifetime. The cell the cell that is selected and displays a thicker border is called the active cell.  Immediately above the spreadsheet grid, two white boxes appear. The smaller one on the left is the name box and displays the cell address of the active cell. The longer white box to the right is called the formula bar and displays the contents of the active cell. 

Excel provides a variety of ways to move around the cells. You can always just point and click with the mouse. Here are some keyboard commands as well:  Arrow Keys: moves active cell 1 row or column in direction indicated; Page Up/Down: Moves active cell 1 screen as indicated.

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Integrating Information and
Technology Literacy
Across the Curriculum

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