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Adapting Existing Materials

Finding time to design technology and information-rich learning experiences for students is one of the greatest challenges facing both PK-12 teachers and university faculty. Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) research showed that although many teachers feel like they’ve moved from the survival to the mastery levels in terms of technology integration skills, it takes time and experience for them to move to the next steps of impact and innovation (Sandholtz, J.H., Ringstaff, C. & Dwyer, D.C., 1990).

Time is often given as the primary barrier to innovation. In their 1998 article, Blood, Sweat, and TEARS: 50 Years of Technology Implementation Obstacles Leggett and Persichitte identified the TEARS of time, expertise, access, resources, and support as the major barriers to technology implementation.

The Art of Adaptation

Teachers don't have time to develop all of their materials from scratch. It's essential that they learn the "art of adapting." Adapting involves taking an existing resources and revising it to fit particular needs.

The art of adaptation begins by asking whether teachers are making the best use of the existing resources both in their building and online. Resources include hardware and software, but also support personnel and other educators. For instance rather than everyone developing independent units on each habitat, could all the fourth grade teachers share their favorite aspects of their lessons on a collaborative website. Rather than keeping the digital cameras locked in the cabinet special events, could they be used daily as part of an ongoing science project?

As you explore potential lessons and activities, apply what you know from past teaching experience. As you look at a potential activity or resource, consider the content, process, product, and evaluation components. Also, think about the reading, communicating, and thinking that’s required of students. How will this help address specific standards and individual needs of learners? How will technology enhance the project?

Each teacher must identify their best approach to designing instructional materials. While some teachers prefer to create materials from scratch, others would rather modify existing materials. Some teachers like to work alone, while others enjoy collaborating.

WebQuests are a good example of this range of possibilities. Some prefer to develop webquests from scratch, while others are more successful adapting existing materials. According to Dodge (2002), developing a WebQuest from scratch can seem like a daunting task. He suggests taking advantage of the WebQuests that others have created. Dodge recommends a series of steps in adapting existing WebQuests: choose a standard or topic, search for existing WebQuests, determine whether you can use one as is, select those with high potential, identify changed needed, get author permission, download the WebQuest, modify and enhance, and finally, evaluate and revise as needed. Consider ways to combine an information inquiry model with the WebQuest format.

try itExplore WebQuests. Use the WebQuest Search to find examples.

Adapting Ideas

Start with an interesting idea or a project you think might work in your school. Then, modify, expand, or enhance it. Be sure you cite the original work if you publish your project on their web.

try itBrowse through the Big 6 website. They have lots of great ideas. Can you think of a way to adapt one of their ideas to a different topic?

video clipView Fact Sacks (0:52).

In this video, a teacher explains how she uses “fact sacks” as an organizational tool for an animal project. Brainstorm ways that you could adapt this idea for another topic or classroom project. – Excerpt from “Primary Learners – Introduce Learning Skills in the Early Grades,” Pt. 10 of Know It All Series by GPN / Univ. of NB series

Use of this video clip complies with the TEACH act and US copyright law. You should be a registered student to view the video.

video clipListen to NPR The Morning Edition radio program on History Essays (3:36).

In this radio broadcast, learn about the current state of writing essays in high schools.

eye means readRead Rethinking reports from LearnNC.

Learn More

Leggett, W., & Persichitte, K. A. (1998). Blood, Sweat, and TEARS: 50 Years of Technology Implementation Obstacles, Tech Trends, 43(3), p. 33-36.

Sandholtz, J.H., Ringstaff, C. & Dwyer, D.C. (1990). Classroom management: Teaching in high tech environments: Classroom management revisited first-fourth year findings (ACOT Report #10). Cupertino, CA: Apple Computer, Inc., Advanced Technology Group, Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow.


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