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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Use New Technology to Reinforce Instruction

What's Important to Teach?
Carl Sannito

As the computer lab teacher, I am confronted with the fact that there is an enormous amount of material that I would like to expose my students to. I can approach my lessons from a number of different points of view.

For instance, should I take the position that the weekly computer classes should revolve around teaching students about computers? I'm thinking of lots of lessons involving hardware, networking and the operating system? I envision this to entail some "under the hood" type of stuff in Windows. If I used this approach, I would show students how to connect to network drives, what some of the different file formats are, how to search for a file on the hard drive or even how to change wallpaper patterns and screensavers. For older students I could even introduce them to other operating systems. Touch on Linux or even Macs. I might spend time showing them how to install a hard drive or how to hook up new speakers or a mouse.

All of those things are important, but not all are necessary. And, not all are appropriate for different age levels.

A second approach might be for me to teach based on whatever software I can get my hands on. This one is kind of difficult because if I was lucky enough to have a decent budget, I could purchase some wonderful programs for my students. However, if I don't have the funds, then this teaching option is not particularly viable.

Let's not forget that simply because one has access to a nice sized budget, that not the end of the journey. No, these days it takes a great deal of time and energy to investigate the available children's software. There's a lot to see; some of it is amazing and some is not so amazing. I have spent lots of money on programs that looked great on paper, but when I finally had them in my hands to play, well. And after you have found the perfect software, you still have to install it and work the bugs out of it. No small feat. Sometimes they work on your computers, but that's certainly not a given. Finally, and most importantly, the real test is how well the children interact with the software. Do they like it? Will they learn anything from it? If the program isn't engaging, who cares? The students won't bother with it. And if they don't learn anything, then this is all for naught.

That approach can be exciting, but costly and very challenging to do properly.

A third approach which I have been asked to undertake is to use the vast resources of the Internet as a technology curriculum. Easier said than done, to say the least. First of all, simply sifting through the Internet to find something appropriate for the different grade levels and reading levels takes lots of time. Organizing all the sites I come across is also a task unto itself. You have to make sure that the sites you choose to share with students are going to be there for a while (sites come and go as quickly as the wind). You need to explore the whole site to make sure it's appropriate for children.

Also, you can't just give the students the web site and say, "Enjoy." You need to have a purpose or a reason for them to be there. Maybe they are doing research or maybe a web quest, but you have to give them direction.

Of course, all of this assumes that you have a reliable connection to the Internet for the students. I have found a way to Bookmark the web sites I want to review and/or use, so I am ready when I need them.

I guess you could say that I'm left with teaching hardware, software, and Internet related activities. I've found that they're all important and I need to make sure that I spend time doing a little bit of everything. I want my students to be able to know the different keys on the keyboard and know where to plug in the speakers. I also want them to be able to use some educational software, click around in it, and not be afraid to explore it. I want them to be sharp enough to word process and be comfortable opening and saving files. I even want them to be able to go to the Internet with confidence and explore web sites, think about what they see, and determine if it makes sense. I want them to be able to do a search and to use e-mail.

That's asking a lot. But I have a plan because I thought about it in advance. I don't know if any of this is covered in any standard, but I don't need a standard to tell me what to teach.

I'm a professional.

I'm intelligent.

I'm a teacher.

'Nuff said.

If you have questions or comments, you can e-mail Carl at carlsannito@yahoo.com.


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