I just read Jen Wagner’s Today My Kids Have Pencilogy blog post and chuckled but then quickly realized that I am the Pencilogy teacher at my school. Yes, my students still come to the lab twice a week for 30-45 minutes at a time depending on the grade level. I sat down and figured out that if my students never have a holiday and aren’t ever sick and never leave early for a game or some event at school, my Elementary students will have 35 hours of technology instruction for the year and my Middle School students will have a total of 52 1/2 hours of technology instruction for the year. So, not only am I the Pencilogy teacher, I have very limited hours to teach whatever it is I should be teaching.
I really wish that technology in my school could be described as Chris Lehmann says “.. like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.” Unfortunately, it is not. At our school, in the computer lab, we have 18 10-12 year old computers with 9GB hard drives and 256MB of memory that mostly work – slowly but they work. They don’t have the newest graphics cards and can’t run things like Google Earth and a few of them have CD drives that don’t work. There is no projector (or IWB) but we get by with a large monitor and a connection to allow projection of the screen onto a large TV – not the best resolution but it works. We do have Internet access in the lab and I’m fortunate that not much of anything is blocked. Our classrooms have, at best, 1-3 even older computers and no access to the Internet from the classrooms.
I have been struggling with what to teach during the students’ time in the computer lab and have felt guilty that we’re not integrating technology into the classroom. I have, however, come to the conclusion that I need to do the best with what I have and continue to try to find resources to make things better. To me, doing the best with what I have means that I need to teach my students the skills they will need when (not if but when) our school gets the funding to upgrade the equipment and move the technology into the classroom. So, for me this means that I will concentrate on:
Digital Citizenship – More and more of our lives are being spent online. Employers and colleges are looking at the digital footprints of applicants. Something posted today can come back to haunt someone years from now. Many of our students apply to local private high schools and I can see the high schools looking up a student’s online presence at some point. It is imperative that students learn what it means to be a good digital citizen and I feel that this needs to be my primary focus in the computer lab.
Productivity tools such as Microsoft Office – our students need these both now for required projects and reports and as they go to High School. I also intend to expose them to Google Docs and maybe Open Office (if I have disk space to install it) and presentation tools such as Prezi. I want them to understand what they are doing with these applications and not just where the button is they have to push to format a paragraph or change a font, for example. If they understand what they’re doing, it won’t matter what the tool is, they’ll be able to figure out how to create the document or spreadsheet or presentation they need.
Keyboarding – I still believe that keyboarding is an important skill that students need to know and that if they learn how to touch type, they will be able to type faster and more accurately. This will only help them as they move on in school and have to type more and longer reports. I can see keyboarding going the way of handwriting as we move toward touch screens and touch pads but right now my students still need this skill so I still include it.
Does this mean that I’ve given up on trying to integrate into the classroom curriculum? Not at all. Integration is a great way to teach the productivity tools and to practice keyboarding. What better way to teach search skills, how to cite sources and how to format a report or create a presentation than by using the real work that the students need to do. Joining online projects that can integrate into the classroom and the computer lab helps me with my goal of teaching digital citizenship and how to communicate responsibly online and it helps to get the teachers excited about using technology to go along with their lessons.
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one still stuck in this older model – still running the pencil lab. Is there anyone else out there doing the same thing? What do you feel are the most important things you should be teaching?
Note: The title of this blog post comes from the song You’ve Got No Time by The Cowsills
4th Grade is an interesting year. They are ready and eager to learn how to type and we do spend a bit of time keyboarding. Many of them are very involved in some kind of social networking sites at home so Internet Safety is a topic that I feel must be covered. For all the time that 4th Graders can spend online, they still need a lot of guidance not only in safety but in Internet Literacy. I definitely need to cover this more next year in the lab. They love competing against one another in computer games and enjoyed World Math Day and love to visit sites like Arcademic Skill Builders and Tutpup. Most 4th graders still enjoy using KidPix and other graphics programs and it’s amazing how good some of them are in using these programs.
The major online collaborative project that 4th Grade participated in was the Voices of the World project. This was the second year that 4th grade has done this project. I love the idea of classes all around the world using art and voices to express themselves on a theme each month. However, there is not much interaction between schools other than having the projects posted on a wiki. The project organizers want a single student voice to say each word or phrase but I need something that involves all of my students and because I had to create multiple versions of the project so that each one only had a single student voice, I fell behind in getting our assignments up each month. Also, comments aren’t allowed on the wiki and most classes don’t comment on one another’s projects at the source of the project. I am currently looking for some other project to involve my 4th graders in next year because I want one that provides more of a real connection between classes and something that the students can hopefully maintain themselves.
4th Grade also created a Tongue Twister VoiceThread. They enjoyed creating the VoiceThread and taking one another’s challenges. We had hoped that others would listen to and take the challenges presented but sadly that didn’t happen this year. Are you interested in taking the challenges? You still can!
Lessons I Learned
Even though we covered it in 3rd Grade and 2nd Grade, 4th Graders need to be reminded that it’s one space between words & no Enter Key unless it’s a new paragraph. I worry that I’ll bore them if I repeat things from prior years but I have found that they really do need the review. I am working on coming up with new fun ways to do the reviews but I definitely have to do them!
If I can make it a game they’ll definitely be interested. Speaking of review, one way that I have found that definitely engages 4th grade it to make it some kind of game.
Even some 4th Graders are on Facebook. I love social media and I get why the kids want to have accounts but I worry about having them on these types of sites this young. Many of our 4th graders who are one friend our Middle School students or even students who have graduated from our school and are now in High School. I don’t care how “good” kids are the things posted by friends on the wall of a Middle School or High School student are often not appropriate for a 4th grader. I really feel that I need to do some parent education on Social Networks next year.
Just because an online collaborative project sounds good, it’s not necessarily a good fit for everyone. Having worked with the Voices of the World project for two years now I can honestly say I don’t think it’s a good fit for my 4th graders. It’s time to find something that is!
Things I’ll Definitely Repeat Next Year
Internet Safety Lessons & Poster creation
Tongue Twister VoiceThread
What are some technology activities and projects that are successful with your 4th Grade students?
This year both 2nd Grade and 3rd Grade were very small classes so they came to the computer lab together. This presented a few challenges but worked very well for the most part. I think it really helped the 2nd Grade students do their best work to prove they could do what the 3rd Grade students were doing. Both classes really enjoyed using the Jumpstart series for their grade as their what to do when you are done activity during much of the year and everyone was really excited when they got to use next year’s version (Jumpstart 4th Grade for 3rd Graders & Jumpstart 3rd Grade for 2nd Graders) at the end of the year for a few classes. I wouldn’t want to use these programs as what the students always did during computers but they do supplement what the students are learning academically and the students enjoy them.
Keyboarding & Microsoft Word
Starting in 2nd grade, students begin to do some real keyboarding lessons. This year I used some of the levels of Dance Mat Typing with 2nd & 3rd Grades. The students really enjoy this site but many of the students don’t have time to finish a level during the 30 minutes that they are in the lab. I think next year I may do my own directed lessons teaching the keys in alphabetical order that way I have more control over the length of a lesson. I’m still working on how exactly I can present this but I hope to have it figured out by the time September rolls around.
As I look back on the work that 2nd & 3rd Grades did with Microsoft Word, I feel that I need to take a slower approach to Word Processing. Even though they, used Microsoft Word for a variety of writing projects, many of them continue to struggle with where to find things and how to format sentences and paragraphs. We do not have the most current version of Microsoft Office on the computers in the lab and won’t be getting an upgrade any time soon. This means I want my students to understand the basics of any Word Processing (or Spreadsheet or Presentation) software so they can use newer versions at home or use Open Office of Google Docs and still accomplish what they need to do.
2nd & 3rd Grade also participated in the Winter Wonderland Project again this year during December and February. They completed the Holiday Traditions VoiceThreads and the Holiday Card exchange in December which helped them to understand the collaborative nature of the project. They absolutely loved seeing all the cards from the other classes and enjoyed hearing other student’s holiday traditions. In February, they participated in the Winter Olympics poll and got some practice using Excel by doing Candy Heart Graphing.
The Monster Project was a big hit again this year. Based on my experience with the project from last year, I did involve the classroom teachers this year. They students drew their monsters during computer class in KidPix and then I printed them out and they wrote their descriptions during their writing time in class. They then came back into the lab and typed their descriptions which were then added to the Monster Project Wiki. For some reason this year, things just seemed to be rushed and there wasn’t time to have the students record their reflections; instead, I just compiled all of the written reflections into a single file and shared them in a book format.
I love this project in that the students do get that they are working on something with another class far away. It was disappointing that no one seemed to post reflections this year and again I would love to have had a Skype session with our partner class but that didn’t happen either. Oh well, there’s always next year!
Lessons I Learned:
2nd Graders hands are really small and it takes them a lot longer to type things than I think it will!
Students don’t instinctively know the toolbars in applications. I really need to take the time to explain toolbars more and point out the similarities.
Last year, I wrote three different reflective posts about the year (Time Zone Experiences, Monster Project & Scattered Thoughts). I’m still working on posting final projects and as I am working on this I want to capture my thoughts about the year for each grade level starting with my youngest students.
Kindergarten students are so much fun in the computer lab. They love everything about computers and are always enthusiastic and ready to try anything I want them to do. However, Kindergarten can often be my most challenging class too. They come in at so many different levels – some of them have not ever touched a computer and others you can tell probably spend way too much time on a computer. Most of them can’t read and they often all need my help at the same time but even with all that they accomplish a lot in computers. By the end of the year:
They are all very good at finding all of the letter keys on the keyboard. Have you ever noticed that the I on the keyboard looks like a lower-case L? This can be very confusing to Kindergarten students.
They know what the Save icon in Microsoft Office looks like and use it all the time
They’re great at using the backspace key to correct mistakes
They’re getting better at double-clicking or have become experts at single-click enter to get into a program from the desktop
This year my Kindergarten students participated in two online collaborative projects: Winter Wonderland project and KinderKids Draw project. I loved seeing their understanding that other classes from different places were doing the same things as they were when they listened to comments on their introductory VoiceThread for the KinderKids Draw project and when we received Christmas cards from other classes participating in the Winter Wonderland project. I enjoyed both of the projects as did the students but I wish the KinderKids Draw project had been more directed or interactive somehow. I love the concept of this project but I think it needs something so that it doesn’t end up just an introduction and nothing else which is what it ended up being for me this year. I’d love to see interaction on the Teacher Planning page with some kind of discussion about an activity to be done and then a way to vote on an activity each month or each quarter.
Lessons I Learned
Repetition is a good thing. I often worried that they’d be bored going to Starfall again or or doing all 26 letters in the alphabet on their Adventures in Keyboarding activity, etc. but they weren’t. They loved doing the same things and discovered new things whenever they did.
Include movement whenever possible during whole class instruction. One of the favorites this year was a lesson about the Winter Olympics. The introduction to this was an activity where they pretended to be each different type of athlete and they just loved this. So, my goal for next year with Kindergarten is more movement!
10 minutes is the limit for whole class instruction. There were times I planned what I thought was a really fun way to introduce the next project that Kindergarten would be doing. It was fun but after about 10 minutes a hand would go up and I’d hear “Can we go to the computers now?”. They want to be on the computers and I need to remember to limit anything not hands on to 10 minutes if I want them and me to be happy.
Kindergarteners love microphones! As students get older they tend to get more reticent about recording their voices at times but boy did my Kindergarten students love to get their hands on a microphone.
Educational Software including Jumpstart Kindergarten, Bailey’s Book House, Millie’s Math House, Sammy’s Science House and Trudy’s Time & Place House
Do you teach Kindergarten students in a computer lab? Are you a Kindergarten teacher who is integrating technology into the classroom? What are some of the activities and projects that are successful with your students?