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Making Tech Use (Early) Elementary

Early elementary school students can gain as much—if not more—from good classroom technology use as middle and high school students. It's just, like everything else in the lower grades, you have to start a little slower.

That was the theme professed by Maria Knee, of New Hampshire, Kathy Cassidy, of Saskatchewan, and Amanda Marrinan, of Australia, elementary teachers and Internet collaborators who lectured on how to integrate technology into a primary school classroom at the 2010 ISTE ed-tech conference in Denver Monday.

With a little bit of patience and ingenuity, they said, first graders could transform from keyboarding novices to old hands at blog software, flip video cameras, Web conferencing, and Twitter. And with lower elementary teachers' freedom to develop project-based learning that spans several subjects, as many teachers have done with Skype, the learning potential can be enormous.

Here are a couple of tips you might want to take away from the session:

1. Start Slow. Knee's kindergartners spend much of the first six weeks of school practicing the same basic skills: blogging and commenting, pointing and clicking, and learning manners for Skype chats. But by January, she said, their skills evolve substantially, and by the end of the year they are working largely independently.

2. Appoint 'experts.' Each child learns the technology at their own pace, and teaching each new process (such as how to copy and paste) 20 times over can be exhausting. So, Cassidy says, as each child reaches a new threshold and learns a new function, appoint him or her as an expert to teach other students when they reach the same challenge.

3. Involve parents. Parents may worry about their children doing online-based projects, and teachers may worry about controlling multiple students on multiple computers. So, as Marrinan did with her students, invite a few parents to be chaperons or associate instructors during the beginning of the year when students are first learning the software. That way parents see what students are doing and drop their reservations, while teachers don't pull their hair out trying to monitor 10 different keyboards. (Of course, classroom management software can help teachers out in this respect, too.)

4. Make friends. Part of the thrill of working with technology is getting feedback from blogs, videos, and online conferences, and expanding the classroom beyond its walls. Plus, if you're teaching primary elementary school students, you're going to have good days and bad days, no matter how well you've integrated your classroom, and you'll need the shoulder to lean on. Even if that shoulder is half a world away.

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