Thursday, July 18, 2013

Keyboarding? Ain't Nobody Got Time for That!

Remember back when we taught keyboarding? Yeah, I didn't think so. As with any skill, practice makes perfect.  It has been my observation as an instructional technology coach that for most teachers, keyboarding is one of the things that gets "back-burnered"- indefinitely.

My daughter, a high school student, is lightning fast at typing regardless of whether she is on a mobile device or on a traditional keyboard ( and pretty darn accurate as well). She does not however, use proper technique.

Does it matter?

Here is an interesting post by 14 year old Aubrey:
"I’ve been using the computer since I was three, and taught myself how to type.Children are capable of teaching themselves, like I had. Basically, I instant chat a lot and need a typing skill in order to reply to messages quickly.I can type 98 words per minute on average, and that is NOT a lie.However, my 8th grade Technology teacher is trying to force me to learn Traditional typing. Traditional typing is by NO means the “correct way” of typing. It’s just the most simple way to teach somebody.  
She threatened to give me a zero everyday in Technology class until I learned to type traditional. I refuse. For all we know, Traditional typing could be the real reason behind carpal tunnel. My way of typing may even be a solution; but you can’t tell some teachers that." 

When keyboards become obsolete, we can turn them into
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There are a LOT of opinions out there.
 "But if you believe that the world really isn't perfected in design yet, you might wonder why anyone is still committed to a bizarre text-input system designed to slow 'typists' on first generation manual typewriters, so that mechanical keys would not jam. More than that, you might say, "is this really the best way to record text?" Or, if you're a crazy post-modernist like myself, you might even ask, "should we ever really try to determine a best way to record text? Because, you know, we're dealing with humans here, and human capabilities and preferences tend to vary widely."
Ira Sokol
"Does it matter how we type? Yes. Touch typing allows us to write without thinking about how we are writing, freeing us to focus on what we are writing, on our ideas. Touch typing is an example of cognitive automaticity, the ability to do things without conscious attention or awareness. Automaticity takes a burden off our working memory, allowing us more space for higher-order thinking. " Anne Trubek

I have been reading blog posts and talking to others in both education and the business world. After reviewing the opinions on this topic the past few months I have to say I'm still a bit of a post sitter on this one. I can see the argument for both sides. Here are the big take-aways for me:
  • Our students need to be able to keyboard efficiently in order to keep up in situations where they have to take notes and to complete tasks in a timely manner. The Middle School teachers are very frustrated with how slow our students are when completing tasks on their computers (we have 1:1 in our Middle School)
  • If they are devoting a large portion of their brain power on the mechanics of keyboarding, there is less  power to devote to critical thinking
  • If they are fast and accurate using their own technique, power to'em 
People will argue that proper keyboarding technique is the best for speed and accuracy. Ok, maybe- but maybe Aubrey and my daughter  have a point. Why should they have to use "proper keyboarding technique" if their method works best for them?

The other issue is of course, time. As with any skill you have to practice...a lot. Should we spend valuable instructional time on a skill such as this? For students in my school the answer will be no. We will be establishing WPM goals for each grade level and students will have to practice as a part of their weekly homework. Technique will be taught once a week in tech lab but in order to improve they will have to practice at home. This works for us because all of our students have home access to keyboarding practice resources. This is not a solution for underprivileged students and I'm not even going attempt addressing that in this post.

We do not have a Technology Applications course in our Middle School so the big push will be in 3rd-5th. For now, I have set a goal for all students entering 6th grade to be keyboarding a minimum of 40 WPM with a 85% accuracy. I'm not going to lie, I just pulled those numbers out of my hat. I may have to adjust once I see how they are doing this year. Although we will provide instruction on proper technique, by the time our current 3rd graders enter 6th grade, they may have developed their own style that works for them...

and I'm okay with that. 

I'll keep you posted :)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Eliminate or Re-invent? The Future of the Computer Lab

The traditional elementary computer lab design has been around for years. So much has changed in educational technology and I just have to wonder, "is it time to put this model to rest?"

I'm not sure if we are ready for the drastic move of eliminating the computer lab.  The existing set up of 24 computers enables us to have designated time and space for teaching keyboarding, software basics and hardware/navigation fundamentals. My issue with it is that when I walk into the computer lab, I just don't see a 21st century learning space. There is nothing in here that says we value collaboration, inquiry or and problem solving. I'm wondering if we really get a return on our investment for this space as it is. Is there another way for us to meet our needs for keyboarding and instruction on basic technology concepts?

I am going to experiment with the structure of this space. We had budgeted to replace computers in our lab this coming year. The only installed programs our elementary students use are Kidspiration and Microsoft Office. I don't think those 2 programs warrant the investment of a full blown desktop computer. Instead of purchasing 24 new desktop computers we are going to purchase a set of Chrome Books. Students can learn the basics of word processing, spreadsheets and presentations with Google Docs. Kidspiration is coming out with an app this summer that we can install on all of our classroom iPads. ( we have 1:1 in 3-5 and 2 shared carts in Jr. K-2) We use as our technology curriculum and this works just fine on the Chrome Books. The Chrome Books will give us added flexibility. We can reconfigure the room space as needed and will not be tethered by power and network cables. Teachers could also check out the Chrome Books to use in their classrooms during times when the technology lab is not scheduled.

Another change I am going to try –– dispensing with students in rows along the perimeter. Instead, I am using some half circle tables that were destined for storage. I can seat 4-5 students along the curved edge of the table with the flat side to the wall. I think this will facilitate discussion and collaboration activities. Since I will be saving by getting Chrome Books instead of desktop computers, I am going to get 6 iMacs; 1 for each group that will be positioned on the wall side of the table and facing the group. These will be used for group projects using tools in the iLife Suite or other collaborations. I would like to add small whiteboards to each station as well for brainstorming or concept mapping.

Ultimately, my goal is to create a more flexible learning space; one that meets our need for direct instruction of specific technology skills but also allows for movement, collaboration, communication, and project work. As with all new models, I'm sure we will have to do some tweaking along the way. If this proves to be a successful design, I would eventually want furniture that is easily configured for different purposes such as Steelcase's Verb line.  I will blog about how it is going throughout the year.

Another possibility for the future is to completely eliminate the computer lab and have technology specific objectives taught in the classroom. This would require a huge buy in from teachers who are used to dropping students off for 30 minutes of technology lab each week. I think I will hold off on tackling that one for later.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas!

Death of the K-5 Computer Lab
The Death of the Computer Lab
Turning Elementary Computer Labs into STEM Labs