Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Lesson Ideas

Computers are an interesting conundrum: we either love the technology but don't emphasize the learning or we emphasize the learning but minimize the technology. December is a great month to teach about tradition, religion and cultures because there are 4 major holidays in this one month: Christmas (Christian), Hanukkah (Jewish), Eid-al-Adha & Al-Hijira (Muslim), and Kwanzaa (African-American).

This year my students worked on Christmas cards and making a Christmas list with pictures to help their parents :). After participating in an online discussion it occurred to me that we could have done a web search on different celebrations in December, created a calendar for the next year, in a more tolerant district found music from different traditions, and learned about the traditions of the 4 major holidays. These are simple ways to infuse technology with learning.

Continuing in this vein, we can make up for this oversight by creating a 2009 calendar using the myriad holidays featured in Family Crafts at

Another thought I just had is the battle between teaching to standards vs. creating educated and involved world citizens, so of course the ultimate is to tie these ideas to your standards so both goals are met!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stages of Cognitive Development in using computers

We have observed evidence of Piaget's stages of cognitive development and decided to split the curriculum into grade levels K-1, 2, and 3-5 in observance of Stage 2 Preoperational and Stage 3 Concrete Operational.

K-1 students come into the computer lab and immediately begin clicking all icons without regard for the day's lesson plan. Even when given direct instruction they tend to want to do their own discovery and I as the teacher have to physically open the software or web page I want them to work on to keep them on task. The 1st graders are then able to stay on task but the Kindergartners still have difficulty staying on task. Part of the problem is they work from 8am to 5pm without much of a break, and they are not yet trained on the expectation of following directions.

Second graders have introductory computer skills but their academic level is still developing. For example there are issues with vocabulary, grammar, math skills, etc., so they require a slightly different curriculum that is more tech-oriented than the K-1's and geared toward their grade level and skill building.

With third through fifth graders I am able to provide the task which they are able to follow (able, not necessarily willing :) and so have had not as many technical problems. I have run into students whose reading skills need improvement before they will be fully independent on the computer; fortunately there are many websites and computer aided software to assist with this task. Once I'm comfortable that some students are improving the life skills then we can address the tech skills.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sites for Halloween graphics

Next week we will use graphics and create decorations for our Halloween Open House and to take home. Here are some sites with great graphics.
Something interesting to note: there are so many options linked to social networking! Now that web design is so easy it has finally become ubiquitous!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Halloween themed lessons

This week we will review how to navigate a web browser, specifically utilizing built-in search capabilities. Unfortunately the most common search engines are blocked so we will go directly to, which provides a great opportunity to review where the address box is in a web browser to type a web address you know. We will also use to search for images, a function also blocked in the major search engines by our district. There are great Halloween graphics to copy and paste into a word processor. From there we can review what was learned in our first week: how to change text attributes to make it more interesting. Next week we will definitely be able to create Halloween posters to take home.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Internet search going well

The lessons seem to be going well. Last week we learned about search by using the browsers' built-in search bars, and searched using keywords. Then we completed Eduplace's guide on using the web for Grades 3-5 and Grades 6-8.

This week we reviewed how to identify what browser we use at school, other browsers, and search engines geared toward young students (Yahoo! Kids, Google for Kids, KidsClick!). We also learned about online ads, what they look like, and how to make sure we click on the actual search results and content on a web page, especially important when reviewing search results so that students are not fed misinformation, and even more important when searching for free time games so students can click on an actual game instead of wasting time on an advertisement :)

The only hiccup came when I had a class type in the website address instead of clicking a link: lesson destroyed. Even though I had covered where a website address is located, the young students had not carried that knowledge over and I had made it too easy to just click through lessons. I did ask them how they get to websites if they don't know the addresses: the response in unison: we just search for it! LOL! I guess I taught the lesson on search a little too well! So now I have to make sure they understand how to get to a website when it's provided and they'll be on the way to being true digital citizens.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Computer Programming K-2

There is a challenge in teaching computing to K-2 students because of attention span, vocabulary and abstraction. Of course Piaget defined stages of development so how to combat these? Activities with lots of noise, primary colors, and a clearly defined character/protagonist help. Also defining a task very specifically: I assigned a set of sites students could go to and rather than explore they looked at each other's screens and asked "Teacher" to find it for them. So my solution is to give them 3-5 activities and allow educational games after completion!

Although I have every confidence that even the youngest students can grasp a more complicated programming language there has to be something for them to learn in the future! So here are some simple programming options to start the youngest set.

Teaching Search with Search Engines

Managing different student levels

We all face this issue in the classroom: students have different interests, different knowledge levels, different intelligences. What I've been facing is students for whom a computer is only a source of entertainment, mainly online games. I've noticed with some of the younger students that there are some physical coordination issues.

Again, it's not uncommon for an instructor to have to carve out one-on-one time to address specific student needs which at the upper grades is not a problem once the majority of the class is engaged in the assignment. Again, with those darned K-1 there's a shorter attention span!

Next Technology: the Internet

We've been working on typing, which needs continual practice, so I think we'll do about 15 minutes of typing as a warm-up then go into internet/world wide web/html/online search over the next month. When I'm able to get the graffiti images to a color printer we'll briefly go back to text manipulation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Microsoft Word?

The plan to introduce Microsoft Word worked great...until I got the Kindergartners! I wasn't sure if they knew their ABC's and most could not spell their names, so I regrouped and found websites for them to practice their ABC's and beginning reading skills. They're so cute: I asked them to name letters on the whiteboard and they broke out into the alphabet song!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Typing lessons

I personally learned to correctly type because I had too many free periods in high school so I loaded up on as many "flex" classes as they would allow. I was pretty quick on two fingers but hit the stratosphere once I could use all ten fingers! We had a discussion today on preparing technologically-savvy students, and most of our group had learned to type, but with the emphasis on testing and reading/'riting/'rithmetic most vocational courses have been abandoned. If you ever have time with your students or want a light lesson day, consider letting them learn a bit of keyboarding: it will always pay off in their futures. To this end I have compiled a few sites that I consider to be great for K-8:

  1. Dance Mat Typing from the BBC (use Internet Explorer!)
    very easy typing tutorial
    static but detailed tutorial
  2. Typing games to make it more fun to practice keyboarding
    Animated tutorial with short sentences to practice typing
    Bubbles help you find letters on the keyboard
    Tetris-like game - you type the dropping letters to win
  3. Typing Test to find your typing speed (wpm or words per minute) after you know the keyboard with all 10 fingers

There are other resources that get the job done more efficiently for 9-12:

Monday, September 1, 2008

Beginning a computer science curriculum: Microsoft Word

I thought about the most basic software application I would want to introduce students to: Microsoft Word. At the most basic, a K-12 student would at some point need to type a paper. I am infamous for stating that when I can teach a student to use the center align button instead of using spaces to approximate the center point of a title, then I've given them a lifelong tool. So I started off really easy: students typed their name and as we formatted the text students were introduced to different fonts, italic, bold, font size, underlining, other formatting effects, and most importantly, changing colors of text.

Design of this course: web based content

This course will feature mostly web resources to minimize the amount of software needed to be installed. There are so many resources available that the real challenge is choosing the most captivating, efficient and age appropriate options. There are ads to be considered, which necessitated teaching students how to distinguish between the content and ads. Of course we will need to install software to teach programming.

Lesson Plans for Computer Science

I believe that students learn best while having fun and being entertained so in my lessons there's always something fun built in, something more fun promised after more tedious tasks. But I feel that if a student is not having fun then something is really wrong or you need to find a way to tie your lesson in for that student.

More often than not educators will not need to "reinvent the wheel": people have done a lot of work putting together resources to teach computing, so whenever possible use them (giving credit where credit is due, of course!) Generally it's good practice to modify lessons to meet your needs also.

Resource | Grade Levels | Topics Covered | Notes

(apologies: it's easier to maintain a list than a table in Blogger! suggestion for a new feature)

Discovery Education-TechnologyK-12
Computer Science UnpluggedK-12
BBC Schools IT

Research supporting K-12 computer science curricula

I joined the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) because it's nice to have a professional organization for your profession. Subject teachers have meetings and professional development opportunities, but some school districts have not devised such for technology teachers. One of the first documents I found on their website was a document on a model CS curriculum. By the way, CSTA is actively recruiting new members and new chapter: Join Now! It's free!

Here is more research