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Seven Technology Tips for Younger Elementary

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

In conversations with educators in the lower grades, I often find that there is a sense of frustration or even fear in bringing technology into the classroom. These emotions have nothing to do with a fear or frustration with technology itself. In fact, many of these educators WANT to bring technology into their classroom but are boggled by how to train or prepare 6-9 year olds to create multi-step and engaging projects.

I won't pretend to be an expert, but after 3 ½ years teaching in a lab with Kindergarten through 6th grade students I have some tips.

  • Tip 1: Before introducing a new tool, play around with it enough to figure out where you think your students will struggle the most. This will help you step in at the right moment and predict problems your students may have.
  • Tip 2: Don't try to teach too much at one time. For instance, the first time you use a tool or a website, choose one or two learning goals (i.e. logging in or uploading a photo). If you ensure mastery of the little things by every student before you move on you will save yourself a huge headache.
  • Tip 3: Let students who master the goals quickly help others or allow them to explore the tool/site more deeply.
  • Tip 4: Use your students as a resource. If you have a particularly bright or tech savvy student, train them in a task to teach others. Got a student who is 'done?' Anoint him or her as another teacher who can help students who need help or who can sit at the classroom computer to guide students through the activity or lesson.
  • Tip 5: Start small. If you see a project you really like or hear of one you want to try, think about what skills your students will need to complete it. Want to have your students use Storybird to write a story? Teach them first how to word process with correct spacing, punctuation and capitals with a simply typing activity or sentence writing activity.
  • Tip 6: Have a student who is a non-reader or who has a fear of writing due to their low reading level? Have them dictate what they want to type and write it on a paper for them to type. Or, pair them with a 'fast finisher' who breezes through learning new tools.
  • Tip 7: Assess student progress with technology tools. I know, I know, more work for you. However, a simple checklist for a particular skill (i.e. use the paintbrush and eraser tool effectively) will help you keep track of who may need help completing a project before they begin to really struggle?intervention works with technology, too.

If you feel overwhelmed, that's normal. There is a large learning curve when bringing anything new into your classroom. Don't think that you will achieve rock star tech integrator status within your first year of making the plunge. Don't get discouraged if you feel like your projects aren't complex or deep enough. You'll get there. Also remember that when in doubt, you can usually count on a student to help out. Even a few of my 1st graders can handle walking around helping their classmates save a file! The important thing is that you take that first important step.

Have some suggestions I may have missed? Leave them in the comment area!

Comments (20)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Dodi Monahan's picture
Dodi Monahan
1st Grade

I like the organization of this piece. It gives me a little focus and reminds me to "go slow"; use my resources, especially my talented little ones, and build on what we already know/have learned.

thanks for the article!

K5 Learning's picture
K5 Learning
Online reading & math enrichment for K-5.

Good tips.

This article Children's Websites: Usability Issues in Designing for Kids
by web guru Jakob Nielson provides some substantial research on how children's behavior on web sites differs from adults. I think it gives good insights for anyone teaching kids to use computers and the internet.
e.g. - kids tend to 'mine sweep' the screen clicking on everything, young kids never use the back button, etc.

K5 Learning provides online reading and math enrichment for K-5.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Going slowly is exactly the key! I always want to jump in and try awesome things, but then get frustrated when it doesn't work out. Baby steps :)

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Yes, my little ones are 'click-happy!' I have to deliberately teach them not to just click on anything they see, but to think before they click. I also teach them about ads and how to spot them and avoid them. Thanks for that extra info and resource!

Gordon Dryden's picture

Co-author of The Learning Revolution and UNLIMITED: The new learning revolution and the seven keys to unlock it.

I note most American teachers generally refer to computers when discussing learning through technology. But go into most first-grade classes in New Zealand elementary schools and you'll find first-day students start by using a video camera to interview their clsssmates and find out what they want to do and avhieve at school. Next they learn to edit what they have shot, generally using the built-in iMovie software on Apple Macs (our primary schools are big on Macs); otherwise Microsoft Movie maker. Soon they'll be taking their video cameras outdoors to "use the world as their classroom". And by the end of the first week, they'll start to add computer animations. We find this emphasis on video links in neatly with Howard Gardner's concept of multiple intelligences--as even young students already know their own strengths. Thus it is easy to bring musical, drama, writing and other talents into multi-talented teams--just as they will do in real life. The last time I hosted eight visiting Professors of Education from China on a New Zealand tour, at their first elementary school they were greeted by an eight-year-old Korean student who had lbeen in New Zealand only a year. All the Professors talked English, but not as good as he did. He greeted them, in both English and Maori (our indigenous language), and invited them into the school coffee room where he showed them his own multimedia presentation on the history of New Zealand (Aotearoa), again both in Maori and English. Then he took them into his "digital classroom" where one of his classmates had just finished making, on his Mac, a digital game based around Peter Jackson's Lord of The Rings (made in New Zealand, of course). So slowness or speed is not an issue here. Mind you New Zealand in 1940 was (to the best of my knowledge) the world's first country to adopt John Dewey's Learn-by-doing principle as the basis of our primary-school system. Years later, with the afent of the Mac, it thus became dead easy to add the new digital technologies to that same approach. We still smile a little at the continual use of "instruction" as the core of the US system. That term has not been used here since 1939:-). By the way, I am referring to public schools

James Petersen's picture
James Petersen
Assistant Principal, Hawaii Dept. of Education

I enjoyed this post but when I got to the line that read "pair them with a 'fast finisher' who breezes through learning new tools." I had to pause. Over the years I've had the pleasure of working with many of those "fast finishers" both has a teacher and as a school administrator. One thing that stands out from these interactions is the frustration that these students have after years of being placed in groups with the hope that their "smart" will somehow rub off on other students. They get really tired of putting their enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity on hold while the teacher has them work with someone who doesn't get it. I'm not universally condemning peer instruction, I'm just saying that teachers need to be sensitive to the educational needs of all students.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

That is exactly why I never force a student to help. If they are not interested in helping then I provide them with a challenge (i.e. "try to figure out how to...") or show them a new aspect of the program to explore (see #3).

Thanks for the feedback!

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

I think we agree on all fronts (the word 'instruction' never shows up once in my post!) I would consider a 'tool' anything that can be used to create, whether it be computer, digital camera, iPod or other device. Letting students follow their interests and create meaningful work is very powerful. Thanks for sharing examples of such authentic experiences!

James Mac Shane's picture

This article is pointing the need to aid children's ability to deal with the span of information that is available for them today that is historically unprecedented. Instead of looking for your best guess as to what they need to know start with them in a search of the positives and negative aspects of what they are as individuals already involved in. Aiding them to be conscious of the positive and negatives of what they have already experienced is a more natural way to develop a mutually productive interaction of respect for who they are now.

A personal dramatic example of this happened to me last week at a medical testing waiting room. There was a 3 to 4 year old girl that was working on her I-pod while her mother was filling out forms and reading her book. The girl spent 10 to 15 minutes of focused attention on her I-pod program or programs. At one point she change her focus to the children's toy area in the waiting room for a short time and went back to texting. Scientifically this event is about the belief that young children of this age only have short attention spans. The reality is about how their environment provides natural intellectual development activities of choice.

Marsha Ratzel's picture
Marsha Ratzel
Middle school math and science teacher from Leawood, Kansas

Starting small is definitely the way you have to go if you want students to be successful. It helps you because you are focused on helping them acquire a few things....and it helps them because there's not too much to remember. It's a win-win.

I think you might add in a circle of reflection time. In the circle, they can talk/share what they did that worked. Other students can get ideas from listening to the ones that found ways to accomplished the given task.

While #5 was my favorite, I've also used students as "consultants". You'd have to rename it for younger students...but kids have been thrilled when I called on them to give a "consultation" to so-and-so. Once I found out what each student could do, then they became the go-to for anyone needing help. I was able to establish kids as experts, relieve some of my pressure to be the sole source of help, and create a classroom environment of collaboration. check out how we did this as we were making math tutorials using the SmartBoard software.
Thanks for these excellent tips. I will definitely use these when I teach my next grad school class....because I always have the primary teachers needing tips more specific to their age group.

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