Computer Clubs For Fun and Learning

When I started teaching computers, I realized that there just wasn't enough time in a day to do everything that I wanted to do. And there was definitely not enough time to do some of the fun stuff that my students wanted to do.

So, I watched myself fall into the after-school zone. It's a different world, after-school. It's much harder to get kids to focus. I always warn my students and parents at the beginning of the year "I am not a babysitter. If you come to computer club, be prepared to work, not play"

As the sponsor of a computer club, I am constantly looking for things for kids to do that don't involve playing games online. But as a computer teacher, I also want to make sure that the students are learning, not just wasting my time and their time.

So, I look for projects for the students to get involved with that have a fun component, or that involve parents and the community.

Two programs out there that fit perfectly into my plans are Global Schoolhouse's CyberFair and Our Town. While both can be used in the classroom setting, I prefer using them with my computer club. There are a couple reasons for this, which also are great reasons to use them in a classroom. The way the projects are set up, they are easily used by students at different levels. I can put my students that are great at technology to work on one aspect of the project, while my students who are a bit less savvy can do other things. And with computer club, I don't always get kids that are MY students. I get a lot of kids that are just interested in computers, and, as such, don't know how to do the same things that 'my' kids know how to accomplish.

The other reason I prefer using these projects in my club is that they are both extremely community-oriented and so they work best with a large amount of parental/community involvement. While you can get very involved parents in class helping, those whose students are committed to a club are more likely to be willing to go that extra mile. Such as driving the students to a local lake to clean up, or driving them two hours to get one nice snapshot of a wooded area that used to be a fort.

I would like to say that there is also a third reason, which is: you don't have to match everything to state/national standards. But if you are a teacher, you probably will do it standards, anyway. I know I do.

Now, lets talk about the programs.

International Schools CyberFair, now in its eighth year, is an award-winning program used by schools around the world. Students conduct research about their local communities and then publish their findings on the World Wide Web. Recognition is given to schools for the best entries in each of eight categories: Local Leaders, Businesses, Community organizations, Historical Landmarks, Environment, Music, Art, and Local Specialties.

My computer club has had two 'winning' entries in this contest. Our Gold winner was in the Historic Landmarks category and was about Fort Mose. Their project on Fort Mose told the story of the first 'free' African American settlement in the Americas. Contrary to popular belief, the first blacks did not come as slaves to the Americas. They came together with the Spanish Conquistadors and Adelantados aboard ships to St. Augustine. They came as navigators, wheelwrights, craftsman and sailors. Some were indentured servants. They lived comfortably with the Spanish colonists.

Fort Mose was located close to St. Augustine, Florida, which is only two hours from my students hometown, yet not a single student had heard of Fort Mose before the project. Nothing is really left of this once thriving community, but the history of the area is something that the students felt should be in the textbooks. The students Fort Mose site was featured in the Florida Parks e-Newsletter during Black History month this year. It was quite an honor!

Our other project, S.O.C.K.S., was entered in the Environmental Awareness category but received only an honorable mention. Still it was an ongoing, viable project. Looking for ways to help protect the local watershed, the members of the Millennium Middle School Computer club came up with S.O.C.K.S. The name S.O.C.K.S., which stands for Student Oriented Conservation project for K-12 Students, came from the fact that the students were collecting 100% cotton socks to be used in plantings along the lakes and rivers of the watershed. From this tiny seed, an entire project was born.

The objective of the S.O.C.K.S. project was to develop an awareness of water as a finite resource. The students have created interest in the areas of water conservation, water management and water quality control by creating web pages, videos, flyers and staging a county-wide contest for k-12 students.

The other program I use is Our Town, run by the Computer Learning Foundation. While they don't keep their web page up-to-date, I have found that their contest has been ongoing. But even if you don't plan on doing the contest, I recommend following the directions for Our Town.

The blurb for Our Town says: "Imagine having access to historical and current information on towns throughout North America with just the click of a button. Imagine the thrill of publishing information on your town for all to see. Just think how exciting learning about local geography, culture, history, natural resources, industry, and economics would be if you were part of creating a resource on towns throughout North America. That's what Our Town is all about."

The goal is to have a student-made resource on towns throughout North America that will be accessible through the Foundation's Web site. As part of their classroom and extracurricular activities, students research information about their community, develop Web pages, and create a Web site for their town. Students work with others outside their school local businesses, community organizations, government offices to develop or encourage them to develop Web pages for their town's Web site.

We completed "Our Home Town: Sanford, Florida" two years ago in computer club, and the students are shocked to find that it is used more than the "official'" pages about local area interests. I recently received a letter from a local attraction thanking us, and stating how many calls they get just from our site.

My students also plan the Millennium Middle School web site for our school and of course they work on the official Computer Club site. And, on off days (very rare), I let them play games. *sigh*

I have to say, that I enjoy computer club. It's rarely much work as I don't have to follow any set curriculum, and I can jump around in a project as much as I please. The kids are usually pretty interested, and the parents are GREAT!

So take my advice: go out there and create a computer club!

Email: Rosemary Shaw