Appropriate Use of Technology in a Third Grade Classroom

Four years into my experience as a third grade teacher, and frankly, I don’t have the answers. But here are some thoughts.

Technology is defined by one online dictionary as:

  1. the study of or a collection of techniques. (uncountable) , and
  2. a particular technological concept. (countable) Well, who is not for teaching a collection of techniques in school? And the second dictionary definition is one of those wonderful circular arguments that tells you technology is “a particular technological conceptâ€. Got it? Good. It seems the definitions of technology, much like the use of technology in classrooms, is not always clear.

I teach third grade in an urban city with a high proportion of language learners. In addition, ours is a full-inclusion model where students with physical, mental and learning disabilities are mainstreamed into the regular classrooms. In this very mixed bag of gender, ethnic background, language and skill levels, it is without hesitation that I can say these students will have need of being familiar with the concepts and demands of today’s technological age. These students will need to operate a computer for calculations, Emails, creation of documents and multimedia presentations. They will be using computers and related technology from their waking to their sleeping, and even through their sleeping hours.

I find that in third grade I can effectively match technology integration with the curricular standards. To do this, though, requires an established procedure and attention devoted to learning some basic approaches toward appropriate technology. Third grade is a big year for handwriting (going from print to Palmer method cursive), for composing multiple paragraph stories and expository writing, for continuing the revision process in writing, and for learning multiplication and division. There are ways that getting friendly with technology now will help these children continue to learn in coming years.

Difficulty in printing and handwriting is often an issue for third graders who, unlike their peers, have just not “got it†yet. By bringing in word processing as a possible tool to aid these students, the teacher is freeing up ideas that often are blocked by the physical or mental difficulty encountered with pencil and paper. I do not believe that this is an effective all-time substitute for most children with poor printing, but the ability to produce a nice looking paper with one’s own words and meaning (the techies now tell us that is content) can be a postive boost to children’s self-esteem before they condemn themselves to not liking writing or telling stories because they can’t keep their pencils on the line. In my class all kids spend time practicing typing skills using Mavis Beacon. We also have spent focused lessons using Microsoft Word to compose, edit and revise draft documents. These programs seem to work well for me, but they are by no means the only option. I feel that in learning these programs effectively: 1) they will be able to type at a rate a little closer to the pace of their ideas, and 2) having exposure to one word-processing program will allow them greater facility in toubleshooting and finding helpful features in another program. Beyond the handwriting aspect, familiarity in these will greatly aid in advancing the state’s writing standards.

Other multimedia presentation programs allow kids ways of expressing themselves that are not as strictly bound by the paper and pencil. Broderbund’s Kidpix is a wonderful program for students to create not just colorful art, but art that moves, whirls and honks at you. It allows kids a creative freedom to play director, and initially to have shapes and squiggles and rocketships move around just because they can. This program allows the excitement of possibility to glimmer in kids’ imaginations, and sorry, it does work best with the sound on. If you really can’t take it, buy your kids some headphones to plug in to the computer. Hyperstudio, by Sunburst, is another program that seems developmentally fitted for a group of eight- to nine-year-olds. This is Powerpoint for kids, with an easy to follow setup to display pictures, art and information in a series of flashcards or slides. This is a great tool to use as follow up assessments in just about any curricular area. Kids can compose a Hyperstudio ‘stack’ depicting the village life of Ohlone indians or the life stages of a monarch butterfly. Again, intuitive animation and sound features add an extra buzz of excitement using this program. Looking at the results of their work, you will be proud of what your kids learned and how you tricked them into showing you what they learned in a way that was fun for them.

Programs like Microsoft Excel can mirror math and logical problem solving. Teaching children to write equations and function cells reinforces the ideas of multiplication, division, subtraction and addition and forces them to see what numbers are being crunched in what way. In my class Excel allows me to make templates for spatial organizers and for creating my own worksheets.

Thus I do not fear integrating technology into the classroom, and I am daily learning new ways it can give me more time to be a better teacher. What I do fear though is the mad rush and push for integrating technology that does not take the time to consider kids’ social needs. Learning to communicate and solve problems with others is a life goal first taken up in kindergarten. As any teacher can tell you, it is still a goal in every year of education. Kids today spend an awesome amount of time in front of screens instead of talking, listening, turn-taking, reading or even playing outside. In response to this, I give ‘homework’ on the weekend, viz. if it is sunny, play outside. If it is yucky out, read a book or play a game with a brother, sister, uncle, or friend.

I do not want the integration of technology in my classroom to be a substitute for social interaction. I have come up with a few ways to make using technology an exercise in social cooperation. I will often pair students heterogenuosly to use computers together. In this way they are working constantly with new people, getting used to the give and take. Other times, the tech angle may be built up even without using the computer. My students can create a “Village Life of the Ohlones†not as a Hyperstudio stack but drawn out on paper, with accordion popping glued on animation and sound effects provided not by a midi digitally recorded sound file, but by whooping and blowing out of their own two lips. This may look like a drawn and acted story that has nothing to do with technology, but if I as the teacher can help them to draw a connection between the two, then I am achieving two goals: 1., the curricular and creative goals are being achieved even without the use of computers, and 2., the students are gaining an understanding of multiple media presentations made possible on computers. The next time those children have cause to use Hyperstudio, or Powerpoint, they will have an experiential connection with the technology.

Email:Johnny Hansell