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Rugrat-ical Technology: 5 Truths of Teaching Tech to Elementary Students

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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 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.


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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Christa Dandoy's picture

Your first tip about time and exposure equaling progress is right on! When I first begin teaching my students PowerPoint, I show them basic functions. Then, they start to discover new areas for themselves. They learn things in PowerPoint I didn't even know existed. They become experts as I continue to give them time to work with the program.

This type of learning with the technology often leads to your second tip. I have students who I know are tech savvy in specific areas. When a student is struggling, they know a classmate they can turn to for help. This relieves pressure off me since I cannot be everywhere at once when we are using the technology in the lab. It also gives students a chance to be teachers and bond with their classmates.

I have a question for you about the PBWorks site mentioned in the intial posting. You mentioned that students would have their own e-mail addresses. Is there a specific website you use for this? I am hesitant to let kids have access to e-mail during class. Do you let parents know about the e-mails?

Thanks for the information about the wikis.

Christa Dandoy's picture

[quote]You make several good points- one of my favorite sites for younger students is the illustrations seem to inspire the kids![/quote]

Thank you so much for the link. I looked into this site after seeing your posting and I believe it will be very engaging to my students. It reminds me of a wiki as it allows students to collaborate on their stories. To me this encourages students to develop negotiation skills as they have to decide what to include in their "book." Having the story centered around the art will engage my third graders. It looks like the site is set up so a students can publish, but go back later to add even more as they progress as a writer.

Laura's picture
Special Education Teacher

It's funny that you mention the "Tech Specialist" because that's who I was when I was little. I still remember my 4th grade teacher telling the class "Laura will fix your computer." It made me feel special and that I could contribute where nobody else seemed to be able to. At the end of the school year, I was teaching my teacher, something a kid will never forget. Thank You for these great ideas!

cindyrun's picture
First grade teacher from Clearwater, FL

Thanks for the great tips. I have been able to get around a little bit in the tech world, but the thought of turning it over to my students was a bit intimidating! You have given some great ideas, and a few new places for me to poke around in (never heard of Tumblr!).

melinstaedt's picture
Kindergarten Teacher from ND

I think you are right that some kids 'think' they know what to do so instead of listening to your directions, they start clicking and trying to do it on their own. Usually what happens is the end up clicking on the wrong spot or make an incorrect step. I agree that they sometimes click like crazy :) So thank you for the helpful reminder of picking a student to help others that actually knows what they are doing. Make them show you what to do a couple of times to make sure they didn't have a lucky click or a good guess!

E Bryson's picture

This is such sound advice! Many of the students I work with are very excited to work with technology but have limited experiences with computers. They are afraid of doing something "wrong". I love the idea of making one of my students a "Tech Specialist". Not only will it give that student a chance to share their talent, it will lighten my load for basic sign-in and web navigation issues.
In the past I have definitely felt like my students needed a big project that looked incredibly impressive to the rest of the world. I'm coming around to the idea that simply utilizing technology is the goal. You're right... the big projects come together over time.

Connie's picture
First grade teacher from Minnesota

I am amazed everytime I read an article. There is so much out there that I have not heard of. I have used the idea of a tech specialist in my classroom and it works well. It takes the task off of you and frees you up to help with other learning tasks. I also really liked the idea of collaborating through a wiki or tumblr. I will definitely talk with our PLC facilitator and see if tumblr would be something she would like to look into. It would eliminate e-mailing all the information to members and the only person to see comments is her. Great idea. And I love your Prezi - another thing I had not seen before. Looks like I have a lot of exploring to do.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal


ALL your tech tips are spot on! I use student tech experts as well (and do so in other subject areas.) Those experts work really well when something goes wrong and they need to think on their feet to problem solve the issue. I've used many of them to help me trouble shoot problems I don't know how to solve.

However, I have also had success just picking a student helper on the fly for very specific better defined help needs (for different reasons albeit.) For example, Peter may be the first to figure out how to find the math link we're using (mostly out of luck.) So I might call on Peter (who is not a typical tech savvy kid- mostly because of his lack of focus) to help support someone else with this well defined task. It not only provides me a helper, but boosts Peter's lower self esteem.

I have to say that your comment below your blog may be the most powerful one. It is not only a fantastic way of teaching tech, but teaching anything. You are right- our students MUST see us make mistakes and struggle and as you stated- ultimately we do it better when we learn, play and laugh!

I can't wait to share your blog post with the rest of our district to move technology use forward!

Halima Penny's picture

I enjoyed reading your tips. This will be of assistance with starting the new technology project in the classroom for my students. I will be applying some of the tips provided for my computer technology course that will be integrated in the spring. Also, reading every ones comments are a big help as well. I can't wait to start!

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Gaetan,
I laughed out loud reading your post - some funny bits in there alongside some excellent advice. I completely agree with a lot of what you are saying here - especially the bit about the 'kid who thinks he knows everything'.

I use Student ICT leaders at my school. We actually make a big deal out of it: they have have undertake a training session (Google Ninjas is a good place to start), and then they are presented with a badge and a code of conduct regarding how they will fulfil the role.

It works really well, especially amongst teachers who are less confident.

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