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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Rugrat-ical Technology: Five Truths of Teaching Tech to Elementary Students

I often get a look of confusion when I tell my students to, "Go mess up, will ya'." Their eyes widen and they turn to a neighbor for a lifejacket because I just threw them in the deep end of technology. Come on, it's only a computer. Using tech in the classroom requires trust. Are they going to mess up? Sure. Are they going to add another call to your list, a dreaded call to the technology department? Maybe. Are they thinking? Absolutely. Are they applying what they know about technology to create something original or to solve a problem? Yes, brothers and sisters, yes. This is what we want from our kids. We want these rugrats to think. You just have to let the reigns out a little bit and let them mess up. Let them crash their bike, get up, and try it again.

Here are a few tips and technology suggestions from my experiences with third graders.

Truth #1: Time + Exposure = Progress

May I be blunt here? If you're not putting time into technology, your kids will not be technologically proficient. Anything worth doing is always hard and it always takes time. Using tech with rugrats takes a considerable amount of time. Try to grab it whenever you can. Whether your school uses a mobile lab or a traditional classroom, sign up for extra time when they're not being used. Consistent and extended exposure to technology is key. Initial time to learn how to use programs and platforms builds a strong foundation on which kids will learn to learn. Why not block off a whole afternoon for your kids to explore programs. No assignment, go explore. Try stuff. Get into trouble and get out of it.

Truth #2: Hire your own tech specialists

The moment the computers are unleashed you always have one kid (maybe more) who is sitting there licking his chops. He's been waiting for this moment, the moment where he will shine and want to tell you every little thing he can do on the computer. This is the guy or the girl you stamp with the title Tech Specialist. Add it to your job chart; give them a nametag. Make them the go-to person when students need help.

Truth #3: Beware of the Posers

Related to the previous tip, it's important to pick a helper who can really help. Here are the Three Levels of TECH I've discovered.

1. The kids who know everything.

2. The kids who think they know everything. These are usually the gamers. Watch out, they are trigger-happy. They like pushing buttons fast and often. They will give you a headache.

3. The kids who want to learn and are usually waiting patiently for directions.

Clearly, everyone will be a lot happier if you pick your classroom's go-to helper from the first group.

Truth #4: Set Achievable Goals

"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." Let me revise Joseph Chilton Pearce: "To live a technological life, we must lose our idea of what technology means." Technology doesn't mean grand things. Well, it could, but most of the time it doesn't.

I think teachers believe that if they are using the laptop computers their kids need to create something magical. Not true. I am always skeptical when I see perfectly spelled and aligned poems in the hallway made on a computer by a bunch of first graders. You just know that the kids didn't do much of that work. Of course you have to help, but when you are working with rugrats the product is nowhere near as important as the process. It might take my third graders a full computer lab session, maybe more, just to log on to the Wiki. My old brain might say, "We did nothing today." The rewired brain says, "We learned to log on to a Wiki today."

It's the little everyday things that instill a sense of technological confidence in your students. (And you.) Big projects are cool. They will come. But it's the little things that make them possible.

Truth #5: There Are Some Great (Free) Tools Out There

Here are a few that I fancy:

Get Wiki With It

I know, I know. You're tired of hearing about Wikis, Blogs and Podcasts. I hear ya' sister. But I do tell the truth when I say that a Wiki is the easiest darn thing a teacher can use to teach kids how to navigate an online community. If you can use Microsoft Word, you can use a Wiki. It's a two-for-one deal here. You can teach your kids to use an online community network where they can privately share information almost immediately and they're learning to word process. I use PB Works. It's free and you can make student accounts without email addresses. At the end of your class registration make sure you print your passwords right away. You only get pre-made, cut on the dotted line, password slips for each student if you print them out at the end of the registration. If you don't, you will receive an email with your class passwords in a list. No nifty password slips, though. No fun.

Check out how easy it is to comment!

My favorite PB Works tech spec is that there is a comment box on every page you create. This is great for the little guys. You can begin by teaching your students to use the comment box and then they can gradually move up to more advanced skills like actually editing the Wiki. No worries, you can create as many Wikis as you want with your account so if you mess one up, just make another one.

I'll Tumble For Ya'

Tumblr: Simple!

Okay, this is my newest technological addiction--Tumblr.com. Yes, I spelled it correctly. This platform is so easy to use. I mean, really easy. If you are easing into technology with your rugrats and you only want them to look and click, but not post, this is the site for you. The good thing about Tumblr is that it is limited to what it can do so you're not bogged down with millions of options and buttons. Tumblr is a free website that you can update instantly with pictures, blogs, links, and videos with the touch of a button. After you've signed up for free and created your basic site, just go to the Goodies section. Drag the Bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar and boom, you are able to post directly to any of your Tumblr sites instantly. Kids love it when you update the site while they are working on it. I use Tumblr for my classroom and for a professional learning community with teachers in my school. This would also be great as an online message board for parents.

Prezi

This is crazy cool and worth mentioning. It's a little too hard for the little guys to create, but really awesome for them to watch. A classmate of mine introduced me to Prezi as a Powerpoint on steroids. I was immediately intrigued because I personally think Powerpoint is kind of weak when compared to Keynote. To be perfectly honest, I have no memory of what he presented because my mind was busy being blow by the brilliantly fluid and unique visual experience. This is what I created for this blog to introduce you to Prezi and to show you how awkward and clumsy a first-time-try can be. Give me time and it'll be rad.

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InTechEd's picture

I've been using the Inspired Classroom model (putting the technology in the middle of cooperative learning groups of students) for the past 4 years and I love it! Please feel free to visit my resource website at http://sites.google.com/site/inteched to learn more about it.

Good luck!

Alissa's picture

I have loved technology since I was a child. I remember my mother constantly fearing every click of the mouth, thinking any slight move could cause a system failure. I knew I could click around, check things out, try something, and I wouldn't harm the computer one bit. This is how I learned everything I know about computers, and I try to encourage my students to experiment as well, even if it is opposite of what they're used to!

Victoria Sauerheber's picture

There are so many types of technology and so many different ways to use it that it can be overwhelming, but when used correctly technology is one of our most useful teaching tools. The more I learn about the different things my students can do to learn on the computer, the more I feel it is my duty to explore different sites for them to use. Likewise, as I discover more about the capabilities of the Smartboard in my classroom, I am appalled at myself for letting it sit unused for so long! Both these resources, and so many others, have absolutely unlimited learning opportunities! What is more, kids love using them! My students are always so excited when they get to go to the computer station or when we do the morning message on the Smartboard instead of regular paper. Many students have knowledge about technology that we all benfit from. When students are taught how to use technology and that it is okay to explore, make mistakes, and try new things, technology can be used--ligitimately--in every area, every day! Students need to be guided and directed or technology time can simply turn into play time--or worse, down time--but when used correctly, a student can learn SO much and have fun at the same time!

Victoria Sauerheber's picture

There are so many types of technology, and there are so many ways to use it that sometimes it can seem overwhelming. However, when used correctly, technology is one our most useful teaching tools. The more I learn about the ways there are for children to work and learn on the computer, the more I feel it is my duty to explore sites for them to use. Likewise, as I learn about the capabilities of the Smartboard in my classroom, I am appalled that I let it sit unused for so long. Of course, these things are not automatically good teaching tools. Students need to be directed how to use technology and should be guided toward learning activities. Otherwise technology time can turn into play time, or worse, down time. When technology options are properly introduced, demonstrated and practiced, they can have absolutely limitless learning opportunities. On top of this, children love using technology! My students love going to the computer station. Some have knowledge about it that I do not have, and the whole class can benefit from what they know and share. Plus, they are working, learning, and making new discoveries every day. True, technology can be used just to play, but when students know how to use it and are taught that exploring, making mistakes, and trying new things are okay, it can be used in ever area--legitimately--every day! It is a great way for students to have fun and learn.

Diana Graber's picture

It's funny that you would use a Joseph Chilton Pearce quote as a pitch for technology for young students. In a Journal of Family Life interview he said "...if you introduce the computer before the child's thought processes are worked out, then you have disaster in the making. This is because, as Piaget pointed out, the first twelve years of life are spent putting into place the structures of knowledge that enable young people to grasp abstract, metaphoric, symbolic types of information. The capacity for abstract thinking developed as a result of the natural concrete processes that have been going on for millions of years. The danger here is that the computer, which operates by the same artificial, cathode-ray-tube technology as the television, will interrupt that development".

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator

Did I quote him on purpose because of his feelings about the computer and rugrats? or not? However, yes the quote might feel out of place because of his background, but a quote is a quote, right? I like the message he sends in the quote, which I morphed a bit. That's all. Thanks for the response.

[quote]It's funny that you would use a Joseph Chilton Pearce quote as a pitch for technology for young students. In a Journal of Family Life interview he said "...if you introduce the computer before the child's thought processes are worked out, then you have disaster in the making. This is because, as Piaget pointed out, the first twelve years of life are spent putting into place the structures of knowledge that enable young people to grasp abstract, metaphoric, symbolic types of information. The capacity for abstract thinking developed as a result of the natural concrete processes that have been going on for millions of years. The danger here is that the computer, which operates by the same artificial, cathode-ray-tube technology as the television, will interrupt that development".[/quote]

Julie's picture

I am excited to see what my class and my own kids can do with the storybird!
Julie

Michal's picture
Michal
Teacher/Tech Integration Specialist - Rural Kansas

I learned early on that I can NOT be the one with all the knowledge. Once I chose to become the teacher who supplied the equipment, the ideas, & the support, and allowed students the freedom to get to the end result in their own way my students blossomed. (ex.When converting video wouldn't work one way, I allowed students to figure out how to get it converted another)End result: my students blossomed, and would often come in before/after school to "teach" me something new they had discovered. I have had several students go on to major in various technology bound careers in college. It is ok to let students be smarter than you, it is ok for them to teach you. I believe they respect you more for trusting them to learn than by holding them back until you can learn it yourself.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator

"It is ok to let students be smarter than you, it is ok for them to teach you. I believe they respect you more for trusting them to learn than by holding them back until you can learn it yourself."

What a great set of questions with which many of us struggle. It's difficult to say, "I don't know," in front of a class of kids when you are supposed to know. But are you? When we all learn, play, and laugh together we all "do it" better. Don't you think?

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