Tag Archive for elementary

Ubiquitous Technology in Elementary

Schools are considering how much to integrate technology instruction into homeroom technology programs. Fully integrated (a.k.a. “ubiquitous”) technology is the norm in public schools, which usually do not have specialist technology instructors or separate periods for technology instruction. Homeroom teachers teach computer skills and use what technology tools are available to further homeroom projects. Independent schools commonly have specialist technology teachers who teach students in dedicated class periods.

If a school has the option, should it hold separate technology classes in elementary grades or fully integrate technology within the homeroom program? We have experimented with a hybrid approach for the past two years: technology classes meet in two 40-minute dedicated periods per week, but I teach one and homeroom teachers lead the other. This encourages us to design technology lessons that directly support homeroom projects and necessitates that we plan instructional units together. It sends the message to students that technology use is not a specialized domain but rather a ubiquitous tool that we use when needed.

In the spirit of ubiquity, should we integrate technology wholly into the homeroom program and eliminate distinct technology periods? Recently, elementary technology educators met at Head-Royce School in Oakland, and Olga from Woodland School made the following observation (paraphrased). There exist two sets of technology skills, informational skills (take notes, organize, know what resources you need, streamline, understand how to approach various learning methods) and computational learning (open complex software and learn how to use it, such as Photoshop, Scratch, HTML, etc.). There is no time in a ubiquitous learning model for learning specialized software skills such as Photoshop. With a complex application, students need time for exploration. Computational skills cannot be taught in a ubiquitous class setting like informational skills can. Arguable, the greatest emphasis on computational skills should occur in the middle school years.

This clarifies our choice. If we believe that students can master computational skills in fourth and fifth grades (and why can’t they?), then it makes sense to continue with the hybrid approach. We could continue to split time between applying informational and computational skills to homeroom projects, and the technology specialist and homeroom teachers could continue to collaborate closely to ensure that technology projects remain authentic to homeroom work. At the same time, we don’t have to hire a dedicated technology teacher for such a small course load. Collaboration also serves as professional development for homeroom teachers — their technology skills will likely improve through regular meetings with the technology specialist and teaching technology skills to their students.

Focus On Assessment

Students created an eight-page newsletter entirely on their own, learning new tech skills as needed, and working exclusively during homeroom periods.

Last year, I co-taught fourth and fifth grade technology classes with the homeroom teachers. The first time through, I focused primarily on designing effective learning environments for elementary students. The best activities provided open-ended project opportunities for the kids, taught some basic skills, and tied tightly to homeroom activities.

This year, I plan to emphasize assessment design in my planning. Wiggins and McTighe remind me that assessment design ought to precede lesson design. Identify the learning goals and objectives and then construct assessments to determine student mastery. Paul Black suggests that I vary assessments in form and provide students with feedback useful for further improvement. Bill Fitzgerald makes a push for portfolio-based assessment.

I will certainly tap into the common forms of assessment used at Catlin Gabel. I only teach one 40 minute period per week (the homeroom teachers cover the other 40 minute period). The teachers have designed effective assessments and put a lot of energy into building students’ familiarity with them. Rubric-based assessment is common, which fits the project-based tech curriculum nicely. It also suggests that I could have the kids self-assess, which would build their self-knowledge, provide them with formative feedback, and assess their skill and content mastery.

Students also build summative portfolios in homeroom, which they finalize and share at the end of the year. I could tap into that, but since nearly all tech activities are already grounded in a homeroom project, students may already build portfolio artifacts around them. It seems counterproductive to insist on a technology portfolio piece, when we go to great effort to teach technology as a tool that helps the students get homeroom work done.

Also worth remembering: I have 88 students and a full-time job back in the IT office! I am unlikely to find hours to pore over long assessments. However, if students post assessment products to our course website or their network folder, that will help me review these items quickly and write feedback and notes for future reports.

What assessment techniques do you use with elementary-age students? How do you record them in a way that is useful for future reference?

Teach Fifth Graders Facebook? Yes!

This week, fifth grade students have been working on a Facebook page for the One Ounce project, an effort to convince people to each reduce waste by one ounce per day. The objectives of this activity are to measure the dissemination of the One Ounce message to students and teachers and to gain a formal introduction to the Facebook platform. The Facebook “fan page” feature allows us to measure fans and interactions in a fairly direct way, allowing the kids to gain another measure of the success of their efforts. I also hope to demonstrate the effect of word-of-mouth sharing through social networks.

We have learned from our work with middle school students that engaging in constructive uses of Facebook is a vital component of education about social network sites. Students will not have their own Facebook accounts for this project. Facebook has an age limit of 13 years to register an account. Teachers will post all of the content, and students will view the content, the number of fans, and any likes and comments that individuals post.

So far, students have learned that Facebook accepts four forms of content by default: text, images, links, and videos. At first, most students wanted to publish videos, but more recently they have shifted to designing engagement strategies. We hope to encourage people to participate in the site and report on their own efforts to reduce waste.

Technology integration at MCDS

Barbara Cohen graciously shared examples of elementary and middle school student work using technology applications.

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?

Elders Are …

Second grade teacher Herb shared the following video with guests at grandparents and special friends day. First and second grade students completed an activity in which they drew, wrote, and spoke their thoughts about the elders in their lives.

I’m impressed with the ease that these students demonstrate in front of the microphone. Recording audio may in fact be less distracting than video. You get to observe student work while listening to an oral expression — two forms of work at the same time. It’s also fascinating to see the huge range of student responses to the prompt “elders are …”

I’m sure that Herb put many hours into the creation of this video. One day, I’ll find out how many.

We are pleased to share this video on our website, especially for the grandparents and special friends who were not able to attend.

Fourth and Fifth Grades

It’s been a month since I last posted here? Wow. Two new responsibilities have kept me busy: managing our new web site configuration and teaching fourth and fifth grade technology classes. I see these lovely kids twice a week for forty minutes each. It feels exciting and appropriate to get back into the classroom after too many years in the office. Luckily, I still have all of my other responsibilities to keep me busy! ;^)

Fourth grade students take technology classes for the first time this year. They started typing practice in third grade but otherwise have had only occasional computer contact in their classrooms. We started with class expectations, explained the Smart Board, and then set up usernames and passwords to access network resources. Fifth graders got started similarly but then left for a week to visit three farms as part of their “Pitchfork to Plate” curriculum.

My main goal this year is to have technology periods build on activities taking place in the rest of the kids’ curriculum. The first two projects are already underway. Fourth grade students start keeping a reading log, and I’ve build an online database for them to use. They will use their newly acquired network accounts to access the database and post their first book of the year. This will allow for a simple lesson in structured data, fields, records, and reports. As the year goes on, they will see patterns in their own reading: what titles, authors, genres, and difficulty levels of books they have read. Once we have a fair bit of data, the reports will become more complex, and we will take a look at reading patterns across the entire class. I am excited to start the year with databases, which most adults conflate with spreadsheets!

Fifth grade students will build paper-based diagrams of how substances move through the farms they have studied. Whether studying milk, meat, or corn, the students will sketch a plan, search for clipart, and each create one or two frames for their diagrams. We are using as an example National Geographic digrams (though we won’t quite approximate the quality of their illustrations). We successfully resisted the temptation to use presentation software, which would only allow us to view one step in the process at a time. It’s important to us to be able to view the whole process at once, and we have the billboard space to spare! I suppose we could also create some extra-wide web pages with horizontal scrollbars, a favorite trick from the old days.

On a technical note, I searched for an hour to find a good source of free, vector, farm clipart, only to find the best source under my nose: Microsoft Office Clip Gallery! Too bad their clipart objects only download properly in Safari, and Firefox is our default browser!

Another tech point: I am using Apple Remote Desktop in the lab to make batch changes to the 22 computers in there. It’s allright, but I miss the capabilities of Workgroup Manager (but don’t really want to do the back-end Windows-Mac integration work there, either).

I’d like to expand my professional learning network to include more elementary tech educators. Drop me a line if you’re in that group!

Teacher meetings

I have attended a couple of really valuable start of year meetings with teachers in the last two days. The first was to plan the fourth and fifth grade technology curriculum for the year with those homeroom teachers. I am teaching fourth and fifth grade technology for the first time and really looking forward to it! Our plan is to align technology activities throughout the year with classroom activities taking place with the students’ other teachers, whether in homeroom, arts, languages, or P.E. So far, we have identified the units with which a technology activity seems to fit best — in productivity application use, publishing, research, or other technology theme. We will also give some time to technology as its own subject of study, for example to improve the students’ keyboard skills or develop sequential and logical reasoning skills (a.k.a. programming) using Scratch. Classes begin in two weeks’ time!

Today’s meeting was with three upper school arts teachers who are really keen to further develop the program’s website presence. Given the role of the arts in encouraging students to present or perform their work in a public space, it’s a natural fit for the teachers to explain the design of the school’s arts program and publish loads of student work online. They will be using our site’s new photo gallery and embedded media features to make this happen. We also devoted some time to the possibility of student portfolio publication and blogging, so that students could publish their work directly to the website. When upper school faculty meetings begin, the upper school teachers will give some consideration to this question: what is the pedagogical value of students publishing (or performing) their work to a general, public audience?

Discussing teaching, learning, and technology with teachers. This is some of our IT department’s most important work.

Elementary School Tech

Six of us recently presented a technology evening for parents in our elementary school. Our team included our computer skills teacher, fifth grade teacher, librarian, counselor, desktop/laptop manager, and me. We covered a range of topics: tech use in the classroom, teaching research skills, library web tools, “walled garden” intranet tools, tips for Internet use at home, and an explanation of our no-filtering policy. Click on each screeen shot below to link to the full presentation.

fifth grade
Examples from fifth grade

library skills
Library skills

Intranet “walled garden” sites across the curriculum

Home Internet use

Research skills, introducing kids to email