Goals: 4 - 8
My overall goal for grades 4 through 8 continues to be making their use of these tools transparent to the tasks they are trying to accomplish.
Furthermore, I want students to be able to not just know how to use a technology tool, but also to know when to use a particular tool.
In Fourth Grade, we spend a lot of time learning to use the third main type of program found in office suites - spreadsheets. It's important to recognize that spreadsheets are superb for organizing information that appears in columns and rows, whether that information is numerical or not, so I try to get them to use spreadsheets in broader ways right from the start.
Our first spreadsheet assignment is building a tube maze using the border elements available in Microsoft Excel. This helps them learn how to quickly maneuver around cells, highlight odd-shaped areas within the cells, as well as differentiate between background formatting and data.
Our next assignment is a collaborative effort to gather data about individual traits of classmates in order to see how putting data in tabular form can help us quickly draw conclusions about the most common and least common traits. We also look into various ways information can be summarized visually. One advanced skill that we continually work on from this point forward is the ability to summarize effectively, and this assignment helps students work on that skill from a technology-based perspective.
After that, we'll create a table of information about California missions, again using a variety of formats to display the information. Over the years, I've tried something new each year to bring life to this information, such as collecting the GPS coordinates of each mission using Google Earth, or planning a trip that would hit all the missions as efficiently as possible while still dealing with all the standard issues found in trip planning.
Spreadsheets are handy tools for organizing all sorts of information, and in the past, we've created personal gift lists and other check lists, collected county population data for California, listed the planets and their masses, distances from the sun, length of year, etc., built recipe cards for holiday menu items, and so on, all with the intent of developing facility with spreadsheets and helping students learn one of the basic requirement of any tool - knowing when to use it.
From spreadsheets, we delve more deeply into the realm of page layout using Excel to map out a page, and then transferring that layout onto a PowerPoint slide. We will compare the use of both tools in placing information and graphics onto a page/slide to compare and contrast the strengths and limitations of both programs. Following this very basic, almost primitive, orientation to page layout, we will spend some time with a program designed specifically to handle page layouts: Microsoft Publisher. Our intent is to design a simple two-sided program/menu with four faces. It's only a survey of the possibilities of a publishing program, but it will be useful in later years.
Students write, organize information, collaborate, and analyze a variety of information that is centered on the theme of Website Accuracy. In my Cool Links section, you can see a group of five websites under the title "Interesting" Websites which all exemplify inaccurate information that can be found on the web. We look at these and learn about ways that information can mislead us on the web, and how to develop proper skepticism about what may encounter out there. As important as this topic is in preparing the Internet Generation for their futures, it's still a lot of fun as we discover, for example, that "Christopher Columbus was born in 1951 in Sydney, Australia," according to one website on my list.
Finally, a big project I've started incorporating into 4th grade in recent years involves the steps needed in making a movie. We spend a lot of time storyboarding a simple scenario, again using the tools they've already used in both 3rd and 4th grade: PowerPoint and Excel. When the preparation work is ready, the students use their storyboards to film the short sequence they've been developing. Along the way, they acquire some of the standard terminology and techniques used in the film indiustry, even though our software is well below industry standards.
Fourth Graders hit all the standards listed above in each of these activities, especially the higher-numbered ones. They are growing in their abilities to fully use the technology tools at hand, and to appreciate their affect on their lives as well as others'. Simultaneously, as their class coursework grows more complex, their need to organize themselves and the information they're encountering is also growing.
In Sixth Grade, we begin the year focusing on Digital Citizenship. By this age, students are beginning to develop a sense of their place in a larger social environment, and the Internet and all it brings into one's home can be seen as both a highly inviting and highly treacherous world to play in.
Furthermore, students are much more aware of the plethora of sites that offer content that they can use quickly for their own school projects, so we focus on intellectual property and just who owns what on the Internet to help them see the ramifications of plagiarism, copyright, and so on, and how they can be responsible digital citizens going forward.
One of the fun activities at the beginning of the year is the Personal Logo project. Students use a photo of themselves taken from behind that shows the back of their head and any ornamentation they've chosen to add to it. This photo is then added to a background that has meaning to the student, and other visual clues are put into the picture as well. Students end up creating a personal logo that doesn't actually reveal their true identity, yet anyone who knows the student well has no trouble figuring out who the student is in the picture, while someone who doesn't know them can't figure it out. This becomes part of the discussion of protecting themselves online, too.
With continued focus on typing skills, we will spend some weeks learning to format a variety of documents that are often needed both in school and the outside world, as well as work on ways to improve typing efficiency. In addition, the process of proofreading and editing on-screen documents is an on-going activity.
As a way to broaden the potential audience of what they're writing, students begin learning web coding (HTML) and developing basic web pages. They will be required to develop working sites in 7th-8th Grades and this is the introductory time needed to get there.
As in 5th grade, a chance to utilize troubleshooting skills is an important goal I'm hoping to see realized in the near future with 6th graders. The thought process alone of working out what's causing something to not work is a very important life skill, and when connected to something as exotic and intriguing as the inside of a computer, it can also be a lot of fun.
In Fifth Grade, we begin by considering the real magnitudes of numbers. Dealing with computers, one often hears massive numbers tossed around, and it's important for students to have a grasp of what these numbers mean. Furthermore, having an understanding of how binary numbering works adds to their awareness of computer operations and programming. So, we spend some time going over the binary system and the hexadecimal system of numbering.
Hexadecimal numbers are utilized most often to shorten lengthy binary numbers into manageable ones, and a specific use of them is in computer color designations. I've found over the years that NOT spending time with hexadecimal numbers as early as I can leads to some serious difficulties in later years when, for example, nuances of colors for website creation need to be addressed. Furthermore, I often find that students really have not cemented their understanding of place value from their math classes, and this whole discussion helps them do that.
We spend a little time with camera resolutions, again using the massive numbers that are commonplace when discussing image capturing these days, which then leads into a discussion of some standard picture layout and composition rules that students should become familiar with, such as the Rule of Three.
We go back to a program that should feel like an old friend now, Paint.net, and start working with layers. This is one of the great computer tools when it comes to image transformations. The so-called "Photoshopped" image is based on images overlaid on each other in layers and then re-shaped to make them look as if all the layers happened at once or to alter their appearance from what was taken originally. Knowledge of how to use these skills translates very well to higher-end programs like Photoshop, even though the actual program elements may not match. Once students learn how to manipulate images, though, the fun truly begins!
Much of what we do in Fifth Grade helps develop a sense of workflow in using technology tools, and I'm also trying to get their aesthetic sense to sharpen as well. The projects we do, such as the Color Palette and the image transformations, are more detailed and precise than their previous projects, filled with repetitions of activities to build familiarity and mechanical facility, and I lay out the parameters and then start the clock. Students who master these tools and procedures quickest are often able to use them more easily to express their creative sides, but I don't neglect those who need more time to assimilate it all. Just accomplishing the tasks means that they've mastered some very useful and specific skills, but for those who master them early, I expect an added level of accomplishment on top of the minimum expectation.
Beyond the visual tools, Fifth Graders need to begin developing their communications skills at a higher level. The fundamental mechanism for this, and for the foreseeable future, is the alphanumeric keyboard. Many students have developed their own (bad) habits by now of interacting with a keyboard layout (including the infamous one-finger typing and thumb typing styles encouraged by portable wireless devices), but schools and businesses are still requiring a more sophisticated (read efficient) way for students to convey their thoughts. Thus, a need still exists for students to familiarize themselves with the skill known as Touch Typing.
I will state categorically that the need to learn Touch Typing has changed in that it is no longer as important as it once was. When I was younger, we didn't have word processors that allowed quick repairs of writing errors, which meant that such errors required re-typing entire pages. Nowadays, word processors allow us to fix only what needs fixing and then re-print the entire document in just a few keystrokes or mouse clicks.
What is still important is learning the discipline of knowing the keyboard and where the fingers must go to enter words into a computer. The actual mechanics of typing are being transformed with screen devices that allow swiping, auto-prediction, and even voice recognition. My smartphone does a pretty fair job even translating my handwriting into text. Nevertheless, we are still keyboard-based for most devices, and until somebody finally breaks the dominance of the QWERTY keyboard, we will continue to learn its layout in school.
In future years, I'm considering giving fifth graders a chance to see what is happening on the inside of the computer, as well as give them a much deeper understanding of proper maintenance and troubleshooting problems. These skills will require some hands-on practices that I'm always trying to find in the lab, and I hope we can begin doing this very soon.
Seventh Grade is the year we start to cement the acquired tech skills the students already have, as well as expand them in new directions. Building on the sixth grade understanding of being a Digital Citizen, we will explore at some point the way online advertising has such an extraordinary impact on the lives of everyone who interacts with the Internet. We will learn to identify some of the techniques advertisers use to get us to change our minds to their way of thinking.
Equally important, we will start off looking at the innovations that technology has produced not only recently but in previous generations, so a historical sense of where of all this great technology has come from, and the way inventors and innovators have thought about the things they've tried to introduce to the world will give students a deeper appreciation of technologies they use every day. As a result, we will be able to describe new technologies with a view to the past as well as the future.
Our web creations in 7th Grade will be more focused on universal topics that are of interest to each student, and their websites will be enhanced with their own multimedia creations that bring value to others in a variety of ways.
Exploring many of the online tools that are out there will be a major portion of this year's activities, particularly those associated with Google Apps for Education.
In Eighth Grade, several culminating student-driven projects integrate all the modern ways to use technology in problem solving and communicating ideas to a wider audience. In previous years, 8th graders have worked on videos showing students how to properly leave the building in the event of an emergency, and a stop-motion version of the Stations of the Cross. Last year's first problem centered around making a system of room identification and hall mapping that visitors could easily understand to help them find various places around the campus. It was an open-ended problem allowing students to generate a variety of solutions to present for consideration, and which would have provided a legacy for the next class, had they been able to finish it. With open-ended projects of this nature, students will determine if they need to learn a variety of new applications, or deeper techniques in existing applications they've already mastered, in order to fully and specifically describe, model, and present their solutions to a wider audience.
Old Lab Works Pages