5 great ways to use technology in arts and humanities

Technology has obvious applications in math, science, and even writing classrooms, but these innovative educators are using it to enhance student learning in the arts and humanities at all grade levels.


Technology tools offer a lot more for history learning when they are used not only for creation but also for consumption.

Peer teaching is a great way for kids to engage with subject matter.

Fifth-grade teacher John Howell at Tioga Hills Elementary School in Vesta, New York, had a system for teaching history. He told the story of a historical event, usually using a multimedia presentation or web-based tool to engage students. Then, he says, “I usually set them loose on a piece of reading and then they finish up by answering a few well thought-out questions on a worksheet that I’ve created.” But he couldn’t help but feel there was something more.

So, he started his students with a short reading on the Roanoke Colony, then took them to the school’s computer lab to use technology to tell him the story. They created timelines, incorporating text and images to illustrate key events. Their work showed that they not only understood the reading but also used critical thinking to select the right images. Howell also reports that, not surprisingly, they found the technology much more engaging than the worksheets.

Art History

Peer teaching is a great way for kids to engage with subject matter.

When the fifth-grade class at Monroe Elementary School in Hinsdale, Illinois, prepared to visit the Art Institute in Chicago, Theresa McGee broke them into eight groups and assigned each a different artist to profile. Students created Keynote presentations on Macs, incorporating diverse elements such as pictures of Monet in his garden and clips from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to tell the stories of the artists’ lives, work and relevance.

Completed presentations were loaded onto tablets to make them portable for the field trip. Each group was responsible for leading their classmates to the works by the artist they profiled and presenting what they learned.

McGee says the learning stuck with her students: “I have even had former students return and tell me that they visited ‘their painting’ over the summer.”

Music Performance

Braden Bell recently transformed his middle school choir classroom at Harding Academy in Nashville. First, Bell split students among their vocal parts. He worked directly with one group of students at a time, while the other vocal parts “listened to their parts and practiced along using headphones” to listen to recordings Bell created using his computer. Before he started using technology, these students spent in-class downtime doing homework for other classes.

Bell says the added time to learn their parts separately has allowed his students to “do more songs, and there is more complexity and higher quality” in their performances. Harmonies have become “more fixed in their minds” because of the additional in-class practice time, he says, something he struggled with for years.

Foreign Language

The language classroom is a wonderful place, but it is often lacking one crucial element: easy access to native speakers for practicing vocabulary, sentence structure, and pronunciation. Videoconferencing with students in foreign countries can help bridge that gap.

Gayle Hartigan, computer resource specialist at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, uses the Global Nomads service to manage videoconferences for her students. One particular project paired advanced Spanish students with kids in Bolivia to discuss the state of indigenous cultures in each country. The entire videoconference was in Spanish, so students had to be prepared with a sophisticated vocabulary to discuss the issue and “use critical thinking skills to formulate answers on the fly,” Hartigan says. Teachers were on hand to help with translations, but students had to be well prepared to hold their own.


Digital portfolios are often used to showcase final projects and document learning over time. But high school teacher Amy McGeorge used them to help students navigate through “Catcher in the Rye.”

McGeorge took a “vocal and rambunctious” class at Leadership Public Schools’ College Park campus in San Francisco and integrated PathBrite’s portfolio tool to help the students complete assignments based on their reading. For example, she asked students to research the places Holden visited during the course of the book and write about why those places were important. Her students—even those who were not usually highly engaged—really wanted to participate in the technology components of the lessons, and to participate, they had to do the reading, she says.

McGeorge says the project helped students understand “when I was asking a question, it wasn’t just that I wanted to know the information. I wanted to see how it applied to them and what it means.” It changed their idea of what a novel is, she concludes.

Jennifer Roland is a freelance writer with a passion for ed tech. Her first book, “The Best of Learning & Leading with Technology,” was published by ISTE in July 2009. You can follow her on Twitter at @jenroland.

This article is commissioned by Amplify Education Inc. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not represent those of Amplify Education Inc.