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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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