September 28, 2012

EdTech: Breaking it Down by Grade Level

The thing about technology is there's too much to know. About the time you learn a new skill, the developers change it (Geh! Why do they do that?!)

I think sometimes teachers are daunted by the vastness and speed of change, and not knowing where to start or what's important, they hardly start at all. It's reasonable, I guess, but it's unfortunate.

Is this you, teacher friend? Take courage!

This penchant for change isn't so far from what we're used to in education. Take reading for instance.  Here's a stunning statistic:
"In December 2010 a joint Harvard/Google study found the [English] language to contain 1,022,000 words and to expand at the rate of 8,500 words per year.[90] The findings came from a computer analysis of 5,195,769 digitised books. Others have estimated a rate of growth of 25,000 words each year."

25,000 words per year is a ridiculous number of new words, and a neato factoid to quote at your next dinner party!

But if you're trying to teach a struggling 2nd grader to read (as I am), you don't care a hoot about those new words. You focus on what's important and give them tools to decipher the difference between things like where and were, because they're going to see those words 100 times every day. (Where's the "h"? It's in where! :) That's the one I use.)

We never let the unforgiving ambiguity of our language keep us from teaching kids to read. We simply work to find the best ways to break it down for each student.

Technology is the same. There are foundational tools that our students need and we can (must) begin providing those tools in Kindergarten just like everything else. The beauty of this subject area is it doesn't stand alone..ever. The technology basics we introduce always support and enhance the Math, Reading, Writing AND Critical Thinking we're already passionately teaching. It does, however, need to be broken down into scope and sequence chunks, just like the other subjects. So how do we do that?

A couple years back I got to work with a team of brilliant tech-saavy teachers as we untangled the fluff from the foundations and came up with a skeleton curriculum framework for our district.

I love that sentence because it says, "a couple years back". Usually in technology that is code for "antique" but in this case it's code for "solid foundations." The big picture scope and sequence here is a solid place for Elementary teachers to start and measure their efforts against. We can't do everything, but we should at least be doing these things at these grade levels.

Here is the basic overview. In coming weeks, I'll share the details we identified at each grade level, and I'd love to hear from you if you have anything to add!

Here's the Sequence:

Kindergarten: Introduce Technology. 

At this stage we begin evening the field for our kiddos. Not all students have used a mouse or swiped an iPad screen. In Kindergarten we teach them the vocabulary like "cursor", "click & drag", "keyboard", "login", "password" and how to do those things. As with reading, it's so critical to let them believe technology is fun, so at this stage, we get them playing games that inadvertently teach them skills.

First Grade: Teacher Guided Use.

Students begin to understand keyboard basics such as space, return, delete, letters and numbers, across multiple platforms (laptop, iOS screen, etc). They also begin to learn about basic web link navigation and continue getting to play games that serve other learning objectives.

Second Grade: Exploring Operations and Applications

This is where students begin to recognize and open individual applications such as graphic organizers and become familiar with menus. They begin to type full sentences, use shift keys and punctuation and see how their pictures on screen can help them express their thoughts.

Third Grade: Navigating Operations and Applications

This is where we can expect students to become more independent with navigating their system, finding applications when directed and using the menus to save, print, open, etc. They can become familiar with filing organization, work with pictures, graphic organizers, even basic spreadsheets. This is also where keyboarding skills like using Home Row should begin. (Yes, middle school and high school are WAY too late to begin home row-ing! Most third graders have the hand size and coordination to begin solid keyboarding habits, and it should start here.)

Fourth Grade: Writing with Technology

In our district we hit writing hard in the fourth grade and the technology should go right along with this. Kids are given opportunities to practice writing on screen and turn out complete word processed paragraphs and documents. They also have opportunities to use collaboration tools such as network folders or Google docs to share ideas with one another or experts around the world.

Fifth Grade: Presenting with Technology

The writing skills learned in fourth grade are built upon in the fifth grade when students begin turning their writing into presentations that require them to work with photos, video, audio, etc. Students begin to learn solid web search skills and how to identify valid information. They are also introduced to the concept of web audiences, creating work that will be presented to real audiences beyond the classroom.

Sixth Grade: Multimedia Learning with Critical Thinking

Presentation skills continue to be developed, adding the use of charts and graphs. Critical thinking skills are deepened with the addition and evaluation of more web content.

Seventh Grade: Digital Citizenship and Collaboration

Collaboration opportunities increase in the form of skype, educational social networks, and wikis and students are taught how to present and protect themselves in a digital environment. They begin to identify appropriate levels of formality in their own communication and also to evaluate the validity of other people's expertise in the web environment.

Eighth Grade: Technology and Self Learning 

By this stage students are given opportunities to identify web tools that will serve their own learning. They have enough experience on devices to do basic troubleshooting and should begin using critical thinking skills to solve their own technology issues as well as find tools that will aid in their projects and learning. Guiding creative independence while requiring safe internet practices should be the instructor's role at this point.

heh. Yeah, it's an album cover, but he looks inspired, doesn't he!
Oh my!
When I get to that part about eighth graders having the critical thinking skills to find and identify THEIR tools and sources for communicating THEIR ideas, I get happy and inspired all over again about "educational technology".  We can unlock the doors to a great big world for our kiddos and they can make it so beautiful if we teach them to try.
This is awe-inspiring stuff we're doing here at Home-Row, my teacher friends! Don't ever let any scungey keyboard or slow boot-up convince you it's not. Your kids are about to be amazing...

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