Recently I’ve been contemplating what I teach, why I teach it and how I teach it. As a technology teacher I know my job is to teach, well, technology. But these days there’s no such thing as teaching technology in isolation. Correction. There should be no such thing as teaching technology in isolation.  As such, I try to find ways to incorporate the core academic standards into my lessons while also teaching students how to use technology to achieve learning goals, process information and collaborate.

I’ve been struggling with whether maybe I should be focusing more on teaching technology more specifically. After all, my students lack knowledge and skills in basic technology tools like word processing and finding, saving and manipulating files.  They learn most of these skills through the projects we do, but is that really my job? Should I be doing less long-term integrated projects and more short term projects that teach specific tech skills?

Another thought: why is it important that my students learn these skills?  I always tell them that when they are looking for a job they will need the skills that I am teaching them.  But how many of my students will actually enter such kinds of jobs? Or, by the time my students are employable (for some that is 3-4 years from now) will even the most menial jobs require a basic knowledge of computers and using technology for productivity, problem solving and collaboration? 

How should we be teaching technology skills to our students? Should the plan be different for students with limited access or limited skills?

21 Thoughts on “How Do We Best Teach Technology?”

  • I struggle with this, too. I think you are absolutely correct that technology is best taught with the content standards. And I do think keyboarding needs to be introduced and revisited. I don't know that an entire class needs to be devoted to it, but I see kids struggling with hunting and pecking that I wish they would have an intensive few days of keyboarding followed by the practice that would come along with your activities.

  • As a technology teacher I too wonder just what I should be teaching. I know what our guidelines say but students think they know everything about technology. They really are not interested in the skills. The younger students seem to be trying to use the keyboard correctly but devoting an entire class to nothing but keyboarding will result in the students becoming uninterested after fifteen minutes. I have posted keyboarding sites on my Portaportal which some choose to take advantage of but the ones that really need the practice don't. I find myself going with assigning activities that have the students using programs like Office and hoping that the little spark will light in connecting the skill with the application. I do know that eventually things connect because when they reach high school some have thanked me for what they learned. This is what makes teaching so great.

  • Josh,

    I hate the idea of teaching keyboarding, but I agree that my students struggle with it. I have 6th graders who can't even type 10 WPM! I hope that through practice they will be faster typers, and I do give them structured practice time and give them timed typing tests.

    Glad to know I'm not alone!

  • I know that "teaching technology" in isolation is not regarded as appropriate … but from my perspective if students are asking how to do basic skill type things (like changing fonts or how to open an app) then the lack of skills is standing in the way of whatever subject we are trying to teach. I've heard the "not in isolation" mantra forever as a media specialist but I am still left with the opinion that students need basic skills, need to learn them completely, and only then can they really use them within the context of core or other curriculum. It's like driver's training. Just because students have ridden in a car all their life doesn't mean they can drive. Maybe we need to start thinking about "driver's ed" for technology throughout all grades for appropriate skills. Couple that with extensive and useful training for ALL teachers so they naturally incorporate learned skills into their instruction and lessons. Plus there has to be curriculum developed for all areas that assumes, promotes, and facilitates the use of technology. Then provide adequate access in hardware, network, and applications to make it possible for students and staff to use technology to support that curriculum. It has to be a coordinated, school-wide (district-wide), effort and no one gets a pass out. In the short term though, yeah, I teach skills and do the best I can to make them extremely relevant. If that's all one can do then it's definitely much better than nothing.

  • I have had the argument about formal keyboarding several times..should we or shouldn't we. At a recent PLP Elluminate session i asked if we should still have formal computer classes or is that so 20th century? Many people replied, no, there shouldn't not be a separate lab to teach computer skills , it should all be integrated in the classrooms. However, most K-5 teachers emphatically believe the students need basic instruction.

    One of the most interesting comments I received was from a rather respected (shall remain nameless) tech leader who said " no, we don't need formal keyboarding lessons, we don't teach kids how to hold a pencil, do we?" Well, actually WE DO!
    I believe that formal basic tech skills including keyboarding, basic word processing, storage and retrieval of information should be taught in the lower grades.
    In my lab, students begin keyboarding lessons in second grade using the Type to Learn 4 program. That program is supplemented with independent keyboarding lessons and multiple word processing projects. I "integrate" for the beginners by simply having them copy and format a poem or short story. I know the goal should be for technology to be a tool, but don't the students needs to learn what and how a tool operates before they begin building? Once they are a bit more proficient, I integrate with a few more programs, but keyboarding is a part of every class.

  • Okay-you may not want to hear this, but after having been a classroom teacher and a computer tech teacher, and now a district tech integrator-I think it is important for you to do both! Skills are important, because you may be the only one who can teach those kids how to do something really cool, as well as providing time for the basic skill sets necessary to move forward. But, it is also important to show kids, through content integration, how to transfer those skills to real life, such as homework, classroom projects and beyond the school walls.

    I was never one to devote an entire class period or tons of time to keyboarding, but enough time to get them started and then encourage them to practice on their own, at home, etc. I gave up trying to teach homerow to 6th graders, because most of them had already figured out their own two-handed method. Skills in isolation do not often transfer outside the context of the classroom-so definitely keep trying to find ways to make meaningful learning experiences!

  • I also have provided keyboarding practice sites on my PortaPortal page & give students a few periods every once in a while to practice typing. They do lose interest or get frustrated, and few ever even attempt Home Row position. Our guidelines tell us to teach Graphic Organizers for 4-6 weeks, Databases for 4-6 weeks, etc…which cannot be done without some kind of long-term project (in my opinion).

    It's always nice to hear that you've made a difference. That is definitely why we do what we do!

  • Kim,

    I remember teaching Kindergarteners how to hold a pencil! I love Type 2 Learn, but when I moved my server to our temp location it messed up all of the settings & I haven't had time to set it up again!

    It seems like keyboarding may be the only tech skill that we teach in isolation from time to time. Perhaps that's because it's a skill that is needed across the board for all types of projects and computer uses.

  • Cathy,

    It does seem daunting to teach both! Unfortunately, I think it's not realistic for a classroom teacher to have time to teach specific skills like keyboarding or how to use iMovie or format a Word document.

    I have also given up on enforcing home row. The most I can do is explain that there's a reason for those little bumps on the F and J keys and model how fast I can type without looking when I use Home Row. Some kids try, but it's a losing battle to unteach what's already been self-taught!

    I hope that my lessons are meaningful and address technology skill building at the same time. It seems to be the only way I can assure that my students leave me ready for the expectations of Middle and High School!

  • Great questions. I'd like to weigh in as Mom and not a teacher (I stumbled into becoming an ardent supporter of equitable information technology for all a roundabout way- advocating for school libraries). My 'Mom Posse' recently asked kids and parents themselves about the keyboarding after we polled a group of private university Journalism Majors what skills they lacked in their K-12 formation— the common denominator? The desire to be more adept at keyboarding. The yearning was palpable whether coming from a 5th grader or a university freshman, as usual it's impossible to pull one over on the kids– they know it's limiting them in concrete ways. Lately I've been hearing more and more parents wonder about whether or not it's possible to reverse a 'random pecking habit' or we've ingrained a poor skill.

    Anyone know of any research?

    Can anyone recommend best practice keyboarding programs for elementary students? The 'Home Row' variety? We're going to experiment!

    Thanks Lisa
    @walibraryimom
    lisa@fundourfuturewashington.org

  • Excellent post, you stated…

    "Should I be doing less long-term integrated projects and more short term projects that teach specific tech skills?"

    Yes, both, and neither.

    First, I think that there is a common misconception that because students have access to a variety of technologies and enjoy using them that they actually understand and possess the skills necessary to use them both in the real world and in preparation for the 'real world; school. Just because you use something, enjoy using that something, and have access to that something, doesn't mean your using that something effectively.

    Second, there is actually a third thing you should be focusing on that exists between skills and integration which I call empowerment (however I am not sure that is a great term for it). What I mean to say is; if a student gains a skill in your classroom he should be able to use that skill himself inside and outside of your classroom and inside and outside his other classes. The skill should empower his learning and his life. He/She should be able to know when and how to use the skill and when not to. That is a critical thing that I think is missing in this either skill or integration debate.

    Finally, remember that ultimately technology literacy is the ability to use tools to solve problems. If the students can use tools to solve problems then they are developing their technology literacy, if they are just getting the skills, but don't know when and how to use those skills, then they aren't literate with technology. If their integrated projects are enhancing their content knowledge, they may still not be literate with technology.

  • Joe,

    What you hit on: "If their integrated projects are enhancing their content knowledge, they may still not be literate with technology." Is exactly my concern. I want my students, as you say, to be empowered and learn how to use technology for problem solving (as aligned with the NETS standards), but I don't want them to leave me without understanding how to use the technology itself.

    Perhaps the issue is my lab is the ONLY place my students get to use technology for authentic reasons (not test prep), or sometimes use it at all, and they only come to me once a week for 45 minutes. Time is definitely a factor.

    Thanks for your thoughtful response!

  • For everyone in a K-8 environment in Philadelphia, which most of you are, there is a detailed curriculum that is aligned with the ISTE Standards. I think it's pretty clear what and when you should be teaching what. I know that keyboarding is a skill we'd love to skip, but anytime you watch someone peck away slowly with 2 fingers is a testament to why it's important. There are a lot of skills we need to touch on, and the curriculum covers them all.

  • Cindi,

    Yes, but it's not WHAT we should be teaching, but HOW. I know I'm supposed to teach Graphic Organizers for 4 weeks, but HOW do I do this effectively while also engaging my students and giving them authentic and, as Joe said, empowering assignments?

    I also, honestly, cannot cover the whole curriculum seeing kids once a week for 45 minutes unless I teach the skills for 2-3 weeks or teach the skills in isolation (i.e. "copy this data into a spreadsheet so you know how to put data into a spreadsheet"). We have constant interruptions like benchmark testing, PSSAs, holidays, etc… Also, my students never use technology in their classrooms for anything except First in Math or Starfall. I feel I am doing them damage by not showing them how they can use technology for real-life applications.

    Oh, and believe me, I never skip keyboarding! We do a little of it every few weeks with a test once a report period. Thanks for the comment!

  • I only see my students once a week. Recently, as a class filler, I gave them a site that would calculate how fast they typed. They loved it. Even though they picked and poked, many of them type faster than I do with great accuracy. After reviewing their scores, I no longer worry about that.

  • Strange as this may sound, what I focus on often in my class is the Menu bar. In every application there are similar menu options. Learning and becoming familiar with these options and how they work, will allow a student to use any program in my class or at home. To me, this is the basic fundamental of teaching technology. Teaching them the basics of an application and show them how to learn independently and to use their critical thinking skills, will allow them to be successful, challenged and proud.

  • I agree. Technology cannot be taught alone. It cannot be one class a week. It needs to be used often and their needs to be more communication and collaboration between technology teachers and core subject teachers. We will be more effective if we do this. Some technology teachers see students for 45 minutes once or twice a week. If technology classes are an extension of other classes, the students will be more engaged. They will not have to transfer knowledge from a week ago, rather, they will transfer knowledge from last period or yesterday.

    I use about three to four fingers total to type. I have been typing this way since middle school. I taught computer science classes at Temple. Knowing the home row is not that important. I have never felt hindered by my inability to type using all fingers.

  • Luke,

    Thanks for sharing your typing experiences! It seems that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' might apply here. If students are still successful typers, then we shouldn't worry I guess about their hand position.

    As a technology teacher who, as you described, teaches 45 minute periods a day, I struggle every week with having to revisit skills learned the week before just so the students can complete assignments. Some STILL don't remember how to save a file because they only do it once a week (and sometimes less)!

    Thanks for putting things in perspective.

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