My Top Four Tips for Computing With Kids
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
Using computers in the classroom is an important part of a twenty-first century education, and in my school, every teacher is expected to teach computer literacy as part of the regular curriculum. The days of a computer lab and a dedicated technology teacher are gone — now we are all technology teachers. Managing an entire class of students all using computers at once can be a harrowing experience, though. Here are some of my tips to empower your students to solve technical glitches themselves for calm, productive technology lessons.
Before and After
When I first started using computers with my students, my lessons felt like a circus. Cries rang out from every corner of the room: frantic shouts of “Help, my computer is frozen!”; puzzled demands of “I forgot where to find the program!”; and tearful pleas of “I lost all of my work — help me!” I ran from student to student, feverishly trying to solve technical problems. I never had a moment to confer with students or discuss content.
Over time I realized that, as with any facet of teaching, management and routines must be practiced before I could shift the focus to learning content. We practice all of our computer routines with simple technology tasks at the beginning of the year, so that by the time my students are working on more challenging projects on the computers, they have strategies to independently and calmly deal with technical problems. My classroom-tested strategies listed below focus on procedures and management, not teaching content. Once you have your management strategies in place, the rest will be smooth sailing.
Tip 1 — Hands on the Head
My students are each at a computer working on PowerPoint presentations. I want to get my students’ attention to share a tip about adding transitions to their slides. I call for their attention, and all of my students look up. As I begin talking to my students, many look back at their computers. Some begin trying out what I am discussing; others return to what they were doing. Let’s be honest, when we adults are interrupted while working on the computer, chances are we can’t keep our fingers off the keyboard, either. However, with my students only half-listening, I often have to repeat directions.
From our very first computer lesson, I teach my students that when I am giving directions, both hands must remain on their heads. I model this by keeping my hands interlaced and resting on top of my head while I am talking to the class.
I get the students’ attention with a quick movement chant:
“Rocket ship!” (arms straight up, palms together); “Satellite!” (hands interlaced, arms in a circle above the head); “Launch pad!” (interlaced hands rest on head). After I finish giving directions, I call “Blast off!” and my students know that they can take their hands from their heads and continue working on their computers.
With their hands resting on their heads, chances are that your students will be paying attention to what you have to say and not to their computer screens. Make sure to practice the hands-on-the-head routine many times, either with or without the chant. Now, when my students hear “Rocket ship!” their hands immediately fly off their keyboards and into the air, and their attention is on me right away.
Tip 2 — Dedicated Tech Squad
There is only one of you, and there are dozens of students, each with their own computer problems. Chances are, at any given moment several students will need help with some technical issue. Often, these issues are fairly minor, but the student is “stuck” and won’t be able to move forward until the issue is addressed.
Every year, I’ve found that I have several students who have more computer experience than the rest of the class. Often they spend a lot (too much?) time on a computer at home, or they may just be technically inclined and of a calm disposition. Once I’ve spotted these students (or they’ve identified themselves), they become my tech support team. Unlike other classroom jobs that rotate on a weekly basis, my tech squad is fairly consistent throughout the year. Other students become used to asking these select students for help with their computer problems, big or small.
My policy is that a student must ask two tech squad experts for help before they ask me. If the second tech squad expert is stumped, the expert can come ask me for help. My tech squad experts, many of whom are more introverted students, feel very important during computer lessons, and the rest of my students learn about problem solving and trial and error from their peers. (The tech squad students aren’t necessarily more knowledgeable — often they are just more comfortable “messing around” on the computer until they find a solution.)
My tech squad is also in charge of turning off our computers at the end of each day, carefully storing shared laptops in our laptop storage cart, keeping our class iPods charged, etc. When I anticipate a certain technical challenge or problem, I will meet with my tech squad before a computer lesson and teach a necessary computer process just to this small group. For example, when I wanted to have my students take a screenshot of their designs on an art Web site, I first taught the process to my tech squad. The tech squad then worked with the rest of the students individually to execute the directions.
A tech squad expert helps another student with a problem.
Tip 3 — Speed-Round Modeling
Whenever I teach a technology lesson, I model all of the steps on my SMART Board. (Those of you without an interactive whiteboard, use any computer connected to a projector; the interactive features really aren’t necessary.) However, by the time I methodically go through each step and explain how to do the main activity, many of my students have forgotten the first steps. When I send my students off to begin their work, I hear a chorus of questions about how to begin.
After I model a computer activity, but before I send my students off to work independently on their computers, I always do a round of “Lighting Speed Race” modeling. To keep my students engaged, I hand a stopwatch to a student and ask them to time me. After my class cheers, “On your mark, get set, go!” I silently race through every step, from turning on my computer and logging in to accessing the program and beginning my work. After I get to the final “destination” on the computer, the timer shouts, “Stop,” and the students give me my time.
This speed round allows my students to watch all of the steps in quick succession, reminding them of exactly what to do right before I send them off. This does away with almost all of the getting-starting questions.
Tip 4 — Screen-Captured Reference Charts and Technology Word Wall
“My thingamabob isn’t fitting into my computer!” a student complains. Another student asks for the fourth time, “Wait, how do I make an uppercase letter again?” It’s difficult to quickly problem solve technology questions when we aren’t all speaking the same language. If a student explains, “My flash drive won’t fit into the USB port,” I can quickly give a suggestion. ("Turn your flash drive over and try again.") "Thingamabobs" just don’t cut it!
We are expected to have literacy and math word walls, but how about a technology word wall? I’ve found that by having a prominently placed technology word wall and technology charts in my classroom, my students adopt correct technical language almost immediately. For students who need a second or third reminder about computer procedures, anchor charts provide a visual reference, empowering them to answer their own questions.
I’ve found screenshots particularly useful for creating reference charts. I print out the screenshots and label them with a chart or sentence strips. This provides a visual scaffold to help students remember the appropriate steps for more complex processes. (See the photos below.)
An anchor chart and screenshot directions help my students save onto their flash drives independently.
Some Extra Quickie Tips
- Storing students’ flash drives in one place can result in a tangled mess. I stuck 3M hooks on the wall, one for each table in my classroom. The students used letter beads to create name “necklaces” for their flash drives, and they store them on the hooks for their tables. This way, flash drives are organized and easily accessible.
- Do you have a big tech project that you’re worried about doing with your class? Why don’t you take them to a local Apple store for a free field trip? The computer gurus at the store will help your students create podcasts, digital movies, or whatever else you need help with. Check out information on Apple's field trip program. My students felt very successful working together to create podcasts during our trip to an Apple store.
Do you have tips or suggestions for managing computer use in your classroom? Please share your ideas and let me know if any of my tips work for you!