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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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One-to-One Technology Integration in the Upper Elementary Classroom

Mark Pullen

Third grade teacher in East Grand Rapids, Michigan

As a third grade teacher who has been fortunate enough to work in a 1:1 classroom for the past three years, I believe that the upper elementary grades are the ideal time to integrate 1:1 technology into the classroom. Because students at that age level often spend extended parts of the school day with one homeroom teacher, integrating technology smoothly across multiple subjects is easier than it would be if students had different teachers for each individual class period.

Despite this advantage, there have been some bumps along the road as I've worked to integrate my class set of netbooks into the daily life of my classroom. Hoping that other upper elementary teachers can learn from both my successes and mistakes, here are four tips to teachers beginning to integrate 1:1 devices in the upper elementary classroom.

1) Teach Safe, Effective Technology Use

The goal in any 1:1 classroom should be for the technology to simply become a tool that the students use when needed to accomplish a specific goal. When you begin your 1:1 journey, however, you'll need to spend some time specifically teaching students how to use the technology safely and effectively. Things you'll want to discuss include:

A) How to Use Search Engines Effectively

  • Using keywords instead of entire sentences
  • Using quotation marks to find exact quotes
  • Using the minus sign to remove results with a certain word
  • Searching for new items only (or items within a certain timeframe)

B) Staying Safe While Online

  • Not posting your personal information in public online spaces
  • Avoiding clicking on ads
  • Tips for recognizing when a website looks like it should not be trusted

C) Keyboard Shortcuts

It's worth teaching these and other shortcuts, and worth keeping them posted somewhere in your room.

  • Cutting and pasting
  • Finding a word on a page
  • Undoing your previous action

2) Understand Your District's Filtering Restrictions

Your school district almost certainly has some sort of filtering software, and that software may be designed to filter things differently for your students than it does for you. I can't count the number of times that I've planned to use a website with my students, checked it out carefully ahead of time, but then found that all or part of the site was blocked when the students tried to access it. (For a while my own classroom homepage was blocked to the students because it was a Wordpress blog, and Wordpress blogs were by default filtered out for my district's elementary students.) Often these filters can be changed to permit a specific website if you contact your district tech coordinator ahead of time, so make you sure you log in beforehand as a student to test out all websites you plan to use with your class.

3) Create a Classroom Homepage

As you begin your 1:1 journey, you'll want to create an easily edited classroom homepage. I suggest creating a Google Site or starting a Wordpress blog (despite my previous filtering issues) to serve this purpose, since both are very easy to update and change as needed. Your classroom website will be a great spot to post links to the sites that you want your students to use -- both at home and at school -- and it can also serve to display student work. Wordpress blogs can embed a wide variety of media content into posts (such as photos, documents, videos and various forms of presentations), making them an ideal place to show off your students' best pieces.

If you really want to make things go smoothly, consider purchasing your own easy-to-remember domain name (something like missallen.info or room103rocks.com), then forward that domain name to your classroom homepage. Then, instead of needing to bookmark a lengthy URL on school and home computers (since Google Sites have URLs longer than most kids can memorize), your students will be able to remember your classroom website with no trouble at all.

4) Teach Students to Use Technology to Teach Themselves

A wonderful benefit to having 1:1 computers for your students is that they can become much more independent in their learning. As they are reading, when they encounter a word with an unclear meaning, your students can simply search for that word's definition on Google rather than needing to rely on a teacher or classmate to provide a definition for them. During writing times, the computer can help students to figure out the spelling of a tricky word, and a thesaurus tool can be used to help students vary their word choice. But many elementary students will not begin to use the computer to become independent learners without some initial modeling, so you'll want to show them how to do these sorts of things by demonstrating them in practice during read-aloud or shared writing times. I always tell my students that my goal is to make my presence unnecessary -- to enable them to have the skills (and desire!) needed to learn independently.

As you and your students continue to work with 1:1 technology, you'll almost certainly see other benefits that aren't described above, such as being able to differentiate student work more easily, allowing students to have more choice within the classroom, and helping students to find meaningful audiences for their writing. As you begin your 1:1 journey, however, the four areas listed above are all crucial in getting things started safely and effectively.

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