Elementary Tech Integration Progress

This year, we are trying a new model for integrating technology instruction into fourth and fifth grades. Our weekly schedule offers two 40 minute periods per class for technology instruction, and classes have access to the adjacent 4/5 computer lab throughout the rest of the day. As a result, students use technology at various times of the day as well as during technology periods.

This year, we have made an effort to more fully integrate the dedicated technology periods with the homeroom academic program. We had a goal: to make as many technology class activities as possible relate to specific homeroom activities. Technology activities could relate in one of three ways:

Parallel with homeroom work
Students complete work for an active homeroom project during technology periods. For example, this week students are conducting research and documenting sources for a project on native plants. During homeroom periods, students have collected and studied native plant specimens found in the woods.

Fifth grade students are working on a Fractured Fairytales project, in which they invent altered versions of classic fairytales. During technology periods, students are writing and formatting text and graphics in Microsoft Word, with the ultimate goal of creating a digital book of their piece.

In Science class, students complete experiments to determine how much water different paper towels can absorb and prepare to report their results back to the towel manufacturers. During the Technology periods, students record their data in Microsoft Excel and prepare graphs to include in their letters.

Extension of homeroom work
At other times, we design a technology component to a project that begins after the homeroom component is complete. While not as tightly integrated with homeroom work, a well-designed extension project may still pursue an authentic learning objective. We must take care that the electronic final product is not superfluous, considering the work already completed during homeroom.

Early in the year, fifth grade students visited three farms as part of their Pitchfork To Plate yearlong theme. After students returned from the visit, they created line art diagrams in Microsoft Word that explained one process they observed on the farms.

Standalone Technology Activities
This is the loosest form of coordination with the homeroom. One might even argue that these activities only support technology-specific curricular goals. I believe that the technology goals of the curriculum should still support aims of the homeroom. If they do not, then we have insufficient coordination across students’ learning experiences.

Consider typing practice. While using a typing application is a pure technology activity, the skill of typing is important to gain, so that it does not become an obstacle to writing at a reasonable speed. By fifth grade, students complete a majority of their writing on a computer, so the technology activity is directly aligned with a meaningful homeroom objective. It’s been important to keep students focused reaching speed and accuracy benchmarks, since the classroom tie-in (the authentic learning purpose) is less obvious than with other technology class activities.

We have so far this year succeeded in always teaching applications in the context of a homeroom activity, avoiding the temptation to teach them only within the context of technology class.

Joint Planning
We have also experimented with models for coordinating lesson planning between homeroom and technology teachers. At the start of the year, I met with the homeroom teachers to agree on broad curricular goals but taught all of the technology periods myself, in order to establish a strong relationship with the students and get to know the curriculum well. In November, homeroom teachers began to take on some of the teaching responsibilities, in order to ensure strong integration with the homeroom program and help carry the teaching load.

We pursued different approaches to sharing periods in the two grades. In fourth grade, homeroom teachers teach Monday technology periods, and I teach Wednesdays. In fifth grade, homeroom teachers are currently teaching the first half of Fractured Fairytales, and I will take the class back over later this month to work on the layout and publication components of the project.

So far, alternating periods has led to tighter integration and planning, since I am essentially co-teaching the class with the homeroom teachers. Alternating 2-3 week chunks has required less coordination, which leads to looser integration but requires less planning time. We will see later this year which approach was ultimately best overall.

Next Year
It is just about time to give some thought to next year. Will I teach at least half the technology periods, as I have this year? Will we change the technology schedule so that we have fewer dedicated technology periods and integrate more of the technology instruction into the regular work of the homeroom? In our middle and high schools, we have no dedicated technology periods. Technology is wholly integrated with regularly classroom instruction, imperfectly but authentically. Should we move in the same direction in our elementary program, and how quickly?

How do you integrate technology knowledge and skills instruction in your elementary programs?

5 comments

  1. Vinnie Vrotny says:

    Richard,

    Your model is very similar to the one we use. We also have a single fourth and fifth grade. Instead of a shared lab, we have two laptop carts which can be used by the grades. Each grade has the priority over one of them, and it provides access to a half class set of computers.

    Our Lower School technology coordinator meets with half of a grade once every six day rotation for 50 minutes. He is also our librarian, so the instruction is both technology literacy and library/research skills. Works out pretty well.

    He has a 40 minute planning period every six days with the 4th and 5th grade team. The meetings are to coordinate the instruction and divide the responsibilities for the teaching.

    We follow the same model of instruction, with one exception. We do have some skills building projects which work similarly to your stand alone tech projects, but are a preview and practice of skills that are needed for a later project. The biggest project that we do this for is our culminating iMovie project we do in the 5th Grade. During their tech time in February, they work on filming, interviewing, and editing skills for the project which runs in the homeroom from mid-April to May. It has been helpful to have this time to get the students ready ahead of time.

  2. Sheri Harris says:

    Richard,

    I too am a believer in technology supporting the classroom teacher. As Computer Lab Teacher, I meet with each grade level team (4 classes/grade) monthly to coordinate and plan, joined by our Library Specialist who also has her own curriculum. I teach K-5, with the 3-5 graders coming into the Lab weekly for 45 minutes as well as an additional 30 minute typing session. 1 & 2 come in for 30 minutes a week with the 2nd grade adding typing in February. The Kindergarten classes come in every other week, alternating library. If an activity is heavily curriculum based, the teachers will stay during Computer Lab. In addition, we have a Mobile Laptop Lab which enjoys heavy usage, mostly by the 4th and 5th grades. The librarian and I will also team teach on occasion with units such as research. The only problem I encounter is that it’s hard to find time to introduce something new. For example, I’d love to figure out a way to use Skype but haven’t been able to fit it in yet.

  3. Richard says:

    Thanks, Vinnie and Sheri. Your ideas will help inform our future discussions. You remind me that a lot of schools schedule planning time — not a common feature of our schedules here.

    I am most interested in the quality of the interaction between the tech specialist and homeroom teachers. What can we do to facilitate really meaningful curriculum and lesson planning and collaboration?

  4. Marilyn Schaumburg says:

    Planning time! There’s the challenge I face. I am the tech resource teacher for grades 5 – 8 at Burke’s in San Francisco. The biggest challenge I have is finding time to plan with ALL the teachers at a grade level, so our lessons work together. We’ve come a long way over the last 10 years, with lots of great technology integration in each subject area. But the challenge now is working as grade level teams, and planning together. If I ruled the world…

  5. Craig Seasholes says:

    I know of no better Mantra:
    Collaboration collaboration collaboration
    Integration integration integration.

    Good to see your ideas in action, and how you put them into words.