USN Lower School Technology!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

First Week of December, 2009

For the brief month of classes in December (yay Winter Break and family and rest time!) we plan to stay busy:
For the brief month of classes in December (yay Winter Break and family and rest time!) we plan to stay busy. The Short Story:
  • Everyone's discussing parts of a computer via a little webpage I created years ago and tweaked for relevance just last week, the "Label a Computer" game
  • Kinderkids will look at holidays through the lens of Boowa and Kwala
  • 1st and 2nd graders will explore holiday traditions via the Webliographer
  • 3rd graders are finishing up PowerPoints "All About Me" and begin to look at Microsoft Word for creating and editing typed documents and they are also completing a crossword puzzle featuring computer terminology at
  • 4th graders continue in Quest Atlantis (on their own, and for free choice) and also begin work with Scratch, a computer programming tool from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT
The Long Story:

Kindergarteners by and large don't know the difference between a computer tower and a monitor, nor should we expect them to. However, that shouldn't keep adults from using the correct terminology when talking about computers. Certainly by the end of Lower School, rising 5
th graders should have a passing familiarity with terms like "URL" and "RAM." That's why I created a crossword puzzle loaded with computer terminology at, and that's why I put a couple of hours into tweaking an old project of mine, "Label a Computer," so that it is now up to date for the lab computers and the hardware our kids K-4 see every week. The resulting webpage jumbles up the labels upon screen refresh, like this:

Then learners can drag the labels to the proper places to demonstrate understanding, like this:

A rudimentary exercise, to be sure, but after we have navigated the page at the Interwrite (Smart) Board together, it gives learners one more experience with the terminology in an intentional, and mildy fun, way.

The crossword puzzle is not for everyone, just for more accomplished readers and writers, which describes most of our 3rd and 4th graders. In our brief morning session, I share the puzzle with 3rd graders, then send them to see how far they can get in the time we have left. I warn them that puzzles with only a few words completed may result in a message from the program like "A Bit Disappointing" (I have a feeling it's a UK-designed site) and let them know the puzzle is there on the internet for them anytime they want a challenge. 2nd graders get the tour of the "Label a Computer" site and are introduced to the crossword only for the sake of conversation (they love the broken-open floppy disk that I share with them) then sent to Label A Computer and raise their hands when complete so I can assess. Kindergarteners and 1st graders get the projector talk and then go do Boowa and Kwala or Sebran.

4th graders get the talk at the projector and I've pleased to have not deemed it necessary for them to perform either the Label exercise or the crossword, though I do intend for them to visit the latter in the Springtime. This week we began working with Scratch, a fabulous computer programming interface from the Lifelong Kindergarten folks at MIT. From work with PowerPoint and Word and Drawing for Children, many of the skills learned with the earlier programs transfer over to Scratch, with the addition of algorithmic thinking. What's that, you ask? It's logical. Algorithmic thinking focuses on the steps to accomplish anything, rather than the facts involved with a task. "If this, then that" is one good example, and this kind of thinking is absolutely essential to computer programming. In the course of working with the Scratch "sprites" to create short animations or rudimentary video games, students begin to think in these terms. The FREE program also downloads to home computers, and I encourage parents to allow their children to install Scratch on their home machines. With the download also come scores of example projects, each of which can be opened, picked apart, and even revised to see how changing different values in the animations or commands in the sequence make the Scratch "project" behave differently. Visit "Why Learn Scratch" for alignments with 21st Century Learning Skills.

My job in this process is really to demo some basic things Scratch can do, to point students to the help files, and to step out of the way. This is a heavily Socratic time of year for me, in that when I hear the question, "How do I...?" my most usual response is "How do you think you should...?" And it works. Stay tuned for some really imaginative and skillful projects posted right here!

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