Teaching About (and With) Technology

Teaching About (and With) Technology

Integrating computers into your lesson plans

By: YouthLearn

August 7, 2001

Editor's Note:

This article is provided as part of a special partnership with YouthLearn, an initiative of the nonprofit Morino Institute to help organizations create learning programs enhanced with technology. See the YouthLearn Web site for more articles and resources.

Working with personal computers and the Internet may be new to you or to other staff in your program. Even if you've used a computer yourself, you may not feel that you know enough to teach kids how to use it (or to use it as a teaching tool). After all, they have so many questions and you may be a new or occasional user yourself. Don't worry. No one expects you to become a technologist, nor should you expect to have all the answers. You're a teacher, and your teaching skills are what are most important.

You'll need some basic knowledge of any hardware devices or software applications you intend to introduce to kids in your school-based, CTC-based, or out-of-school program. Your knowledge doesn't have to be very deep, however. It's okay to learn along with the students. If you're unfamiliar with a piece of software, make sure that you get an introduction to its basic concepts, whether from some of the resources listed throughout this site, from one of your colleagues, or from a trainer brought in by your program.

Although it's not important that you become an expert, it is important that you continue to be a good teacher, coach, and facilitator. Remember and value what you bring to the kids in your program-creativity, love, patience, the ability to find answers, adult logic-and use that. Don't overstep and appear to be more than you are. Discover along with them. If you wait to be better than the kids, you won't give them a chance to become great themselves.

Below are some pointers for using technology effectively in your program:

  • Always integrate technology into your larger learning goals, not the other way around. Teaching how to create a web page or use a drawing program should be part of a project on building language or math skills, not an end in itself. Kids need to understand that technology is just another tool for learning and communication, just like a book or a pencil.
  • In fact, one of the most important things you can teach kids is how to decide when one tool or medium is better than another. For example, a handwritten letter is sometimes much better than email. Always work up to more advanced technologies from simpler ones. For example, suppose you are doing a project in which you want kids to draw a picture on the computer and ultimately add it to a web page. Long before you introduce a drawing application like KidPix, you should have taught the fundamentals of drawing with crayons and paper. If they don't know how to draw in the real world, they won't be any better at it on the computer.
  • Especially when it comes to the Internet, it's hard to guess the level of familiarity your kids may already have with technology. One child's parents may have an Internet connection at home; another may have previously gone to a school with a more advanced computer lab. Early in the term, try a mapping exercise, discussion, or other activity to assess how much your kids already know and how technology has affected them. Just as with writing skills, you'll probably find big differences among the students.
  • When you do find kids who know a little more, are a bit more adventurous, or are more engaged by a technology, use them. For one thing, peer-to-peer teaching between kids often can be much more powerful than teacher instruction. For another, it is guaranteed that you are not going to know everything about every piece of software or hardware. People who have worked with Photoshop eight hours a day, every day, for 15 years still learn things about it and encounter difficulties. If your lack of expertise is what's making you nervous, get over it. The basic tools are enough, and you can learn along with the kids. Remember, more features don't always make an application a better tool, and most people use only a small percentage of the features in a software package. When a child asks, "How did you do that?" see whether any of the others can answer before you explain it.
  • Trust the kids. Model thoroughly, then trust them. If you stress that "the camera is expensive so be very, very careful," you'll make them nervous and insecure, even if you just do it through nonverbal cues. Trust them, while you model proper behavior completely; observe them, as they copy your models, to make sure they really understand. Your general attitude should be one of being careful but confident about the equipment. Treat the camera with the same regard you do a pencil-with intent and respect. You must be consistent in your models at all times. If on the day you introduce the camera, you're careful to wear the strap around your neck, but you wave it around with no strap on most other days, you will just torpedo your own message.
  • Don't sweat the small things. Again, we guarantee it: Things will go wrong. One day, you won't be able to remember exactly how to find an option, network connections will have problems, or something won't work in your file even though it did yesterday-it's just part of the gremlin-infested world of technology. Laugh about it, work around it, keep moving. It's going to happen to the kids, too, so it's important that you model the proper way to deal with challenges. Make some mistakes on purpose in your demonstrations occasionally, just so you can show them that it's not a big deal. Every time you have a problem, you're figuring out something new. It's not a negative; it's a positive.
  • Never explain things too deeply-you want to give the kids plenty of room to explore. Remember, your goal is not to create PowerPoint experts, it's to teach core curriculum skills and help kids understand the many communication, research, and creativity tools they have at their disposal. Good critical thinking is more important than technological excellence.
  • When introducing new technologies, do it in the context of larger projects that extend over many sessions. In this way, you can first introduce the conceptual skills (e.g., drawing on paper before drawing on the computer), then slowly introduce each piece of equipment or software. Students will benefit from a progressive introduction to how to use the tools, and repetition builds support for their understanding.
  • Don't try to teach something major in class if you are fundamentally unfamiliar with the subject. Experiment first or get some help from a colleague. A complex program like Photoshop involves some unique features that have no analogy in the real world, so poke around first. You'll be fine even if you don't know all of its most sophisticated uses.

You'll also find some more specific guidance for particular technologies in the section on multimedia activities and projects and in YouthLearn's technology materials.

See the YouthLearn Web site for more information, including lesson ideas that incorporate technology.


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