Friday, September 27, 2013

What to teach the elementary kids?

The year was 1987. I was a junior in high school.  The class was Computer Applications. This was back in the Stone Ages, before hard drives were big enough to actually contain programs.  We had a DOS disc and a word processing disc.  (Now, when I say disc, I mean to say one of those old-fashioned 5 1/4" floppies that really were floppy.)  My older brother learn programming on cards; now he must feel REALLY old!

I don't remember much about that class. I had to teach myself how to type since my high school, in all their wisdom, had me in Typing I (with actual typewriters) for the second semester.  I remember doing word processing and databases and a bit of programming.  I also remember enjoying it a lot. Back then, there weren't a lot of applications that could be done in a school setting. I wonder if my teachers could have envisioned the technological world we live in now.

Fast forward to 2013, and I'm one teaching the computer teacher.  There are times when I wonder what is the most important thing to be teaching the students.  If high school computer applications in 1987 were word processing, databases, and basic programming, what would they be in 2013?

My predecessors spent a lot of time working through the Microsoft Office Suite in elementary school. I agree there is value in being able to use Word and PowerPoint, but how necessary is it for an 11-year old to know Excel? And, if I am teaching these things, how detailed do we get?  Do explore the intricacies of every drop-down menu, or do I allow students to learn the features as interest arises?  With so many other options I don't want to get bogged down in something that is less than exciting and miss other applications.

Right now, I construct my elementary computer courses around a number of themes and weave around them throughout the year.
  • Digital citizenship
  • Teacher support (integrating with classroom content)
  • Typing
  • Writing (word processing)
  • Math facts and skills
  • Critical thinking 
  • Design (aka Paint)
  • Presentation software (Educreations, PowerPoint, etc.)
  • I also want to delve into coding with my elementary kids, but I haven't taken that step yet.
I have also discovered a number of younger students struggle with computer basics.  What does "click" mean? How do I save things? Why is the screen broken; I can't move stuff around with my finger?

When my students have free time, I don't want them playing mindless games.  There has to be educational value to them.  I normally let them do something like Sumdog, Gamestar Mechanic, ABCya, or draw on Paint. What do you do with your free time?

This is where I need your help. Elementary teachers, what do you wish your computer teacher would do with your kids? Computer teachers, what great ideas have you come across? Parents, what has your kid come home doing that is just awesome?

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