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Seven Technology Tips for Younger Elementary

Mary Beth Hertz

HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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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!

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sewilkie's picture
learner, test-driver, teacher, learning facilitator, teacher coach

Tip 1:
Working through an assignment or activity after it's been designed but before it's been offered to students might offer an opportunity to identify potential "speed bumps", or to map out a possible time line for that activity, but I believe there is tremendous value in providing students the room they need to explore, manipulate and work (even struggle) through some of the challenges that come with new tools & experiences.

I wonder what our students stand to gain if we refrain from stepping in when they encounter those "speed bumps"...?

Tip 2:
Teaching to mastery, or building an understanding over time & experience?
What about capitalizing on Tips 3 & 4 - students as peer coaches & resources - to further enrich & cultivate the learning community of the classroom? Might this also allow for learners with different strengths & interests to emerge?

Waiting for every child to master every tool or what cost?

Tips 3&4:
Using students as peer coaches, or to facilitate a lesson/activity...What a great way to build capacity among students, to give them a voice and empower them as navigators of their own learning journey. What better way to enable them as learners AND teachers!

Tip 5:
Start small - yes, yes, yes!
I didn't fully realize the value of this until I had lost enough hair to the "big projects" I somehow seemed so drawn to. I have also learned that iterations are a gift, especially if it seems there's more to be mined from the experience, or process.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Great points. For Tip #1, the reality is that most teachers teach content, not tools, and are pressed for time. Playing around with a tool allows you to know how long it might take a student to create a product with the tool, or to at least be prepared for things like how to hand in the finished product, what kind of file type it will create or what kinds of info are needed to make an account. I let my students explore a tool and give them only the bare minimum, as I, too, prefer to let them do the exploring. As for time, sometimes teachers don't have 3 days to let a student explore a tool. Guided practice helps with this. If you know where your students might stumble, you can cut down on the amount of time it takes them to overcome an obstacle.

As for waiting for every child to master a skill, I am referring to things as simple as logging in or adding photos or downloading photos. In my experience, if I push on before my students have mastered a simple skill like that then I waste a huge amount of time having to go back and reteach that skill over and over. Now, does that mean that I am the one that has to teach it to them? No, sometimes I notice a student struggling or who has not yet mastered a skill and send a classmate over to teach them. It's worth the time taken in the beginning, just like any classroom routine or procedure.

Thanks so much for your responses. I always appreciate feedback!

5th grade teacher's picture

At my school, I have four old student computers and an ACTIVboard. I am very excited to have my ACTIVboard and am well trained in using this tool. However, I do feel that I have not implemented the use of this technology into many of my lessons. I know that using technology makes the content engaging and fun for kids, so why not try to implement it. Thankfully, these tips are realistic and manageable. I plan to start acting on these tips; in hopes of ending the school year with a technology explosion in my room! Maybe by the time next year starts, I will feel more comfortable fitting technology into my lessons. Hopefully, I will be able to start the school year off implementing these seven tips, which will ultimately improve student learning.

Gordon Dryden's picture

In New Zealand, the first public elementary school to introduce fully digital classrooms (one Apple Mac for each child) started,from day one in first grade, to show every six-year-old the three or four simple steps (close-up, medium close-up, wider shot) to shoot a video interview with another student--on what they're most looking forward to in school. They they'll start to take simple shots outside school, featuring a student in a favorite activity. And within a day or two these six-year-olds (not sixth-graders) are using Apple iMovie software to edit what they have shot. As Mary Beth suggests, each simple step includes equally simple demonstration tips. (I almost said "instructions" but "instruction" is a word only seldom heard in our primary schools.) Many other schools start with students learning the simple steps to take digital photos, as I did when a beginner journalist when I asked our newspaper's chief photographer the three key points. His reply: 1. Use a semi-automatic camera, with the flash off. 2. Never take a shot more than 4ft away from your subject (with a semi-automatic camera and no flash, it will click for a shot only if there is sufficient natural light). 3. Frame your photograph to "visually telegraph" the idea you're trying to capture. And it worked.

Marissa's picture

Mary Beth I found your tips for younger elementary students helpful. With today's world using so much technology, it becomes helpful in teaching children at a younger age to use the technology they might have access to. We cannot expect every child to be thrown into a computer lab and automatically know how to turn it on or locate a simple program. The more we encourage these young students to use technology the less problems they may face as they get older. With students I work with, I see these junior high students working on powerpoint or word as part of their lesson. However, not every student knows where to find simple task like saving their work or changing the color of the font. I think the reason they don't know is because they have not been fully exposed and taugh how to use the technology.

Betsye Sargent's picture
Betsye Sargent
Founder, head, and PK-3 teacher at he Phoenix School in Salem, MA

As a teacher of many years I have been fascinated and challenged by the integration of technology into the curriculum, so I especially connected with your advise not to give up. Yes it will be frustrated in the beginning, but at my school, Thanks to the students and tech friends on the web, we have managed some exciting projects and the students' knowledge has grown by leaps and bounds. We call the ones who know the most our 'expert advisors.'. Not only do they help make things possible, but also gain valuable leadership training in the process. One key to their success has been to learn not to 'show' the student how to do it, but talk him/ her through doing it him/ herself. Who is it who said to truly learn something, you need to teach it to someone else?

Jessica's picture
Second grade teacher from Clearwater, FL

I found your tips very helpful and I am definitely going to use them in my own classroom. I just completed my 5th year teaching second grade and it is pretty amazing how good second graders are with technology. My school has a lot of technology, including SMART Boards, Student Response Systems (Senteos), microphones, morning news in which students perform, etc. My students prefer taking tests using Senteos rather than the traditional paper and pencil test. It is important to introduce technology at a young age, because young minds are sponges for learning. It will also allow the teachers in the upper grades to use the technology and add more of it into their classrooms. After reading the advice, I am going to have my students practice typing and take it even further and type their stories in writing as their published piece. I remember learning the keyboard in the 7th grade. Wouldn't it be amazing if second graders learned the keyboard and began using it to publish their own writings? I am going to start small by taking my students to the computer lab and have them become familiar with the keyboard, spacing, punctuation, and capital letters. It is true that we need to prepare our children for a high-tech future.

Kayla's picture
Title 1 Math Tutor from Vermont

Hello Mary Beth,
I found your article very helpful. I am a title 1 Math Tutor from Vermont. The school district I am working in has access to many resources. The Smart board is used in classrooms on an every day basis and students are beggining to learn different aspects of using them in our K-3 setting. I think this is very valuable. The tips you give in this article really help me put into perspective realistic expectations of teaching students to use technology in the classroom. At the elementary level it seems important to teach new things slowly and allow students to get used to what they are doing. I think it is important as you say to "play around" with the technology you are going to teach. I find that even at the lower elementary level some students are very technologically aware and may know more about the tool that is being used than I do! Still, it is important for the teacher to know the different features of what he/she is trying to teach.

Thank you so much for your practical advice!

melinstaedt's picture
Kindergarten Teacher from ND

Thank you for the great advice of taking baby steps in integrating technology in the younger grades. It can be extremely overwhelming introducing new technology to young children. I think you are right that it is ok to take it one step at a time so that teachers don't over teach. When kids are given too much information at once, they shut down and don't take in new information.
Tip # 4 is a good reminder to teachers that students can help, even the young ones. Several students have been exposed to different technology in their homes, so it might surprise their teachers how much children may already know about basic computer use. All kids love to be helpers and be able to show off what they are good at.

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