Teaching Early Elementary Tech with Games and Creativity

By Helen Xiong

In a 1:1 computing district, it’s important to make sure students begin developing solid computing skills, from the nuts and bolts of typing to the more abstract concepts of digital safety, from the time they start their educational careers. One of my favorite ways to keep my students engaged and motivated is by incorporating games and creativity into the classroom whenever and wherever I can.

When my kindergartners come to me, they’ve already had years of practice on different kinds of mobile devices but they also haven’t been introduced to the core of online safety or other concepts of digital literacy. To get them up to speed, I focus on digital citizenship in that first year. I often read them stories, show them videos, and play various hands-on games to get them up to speed.

Stories and videos are great, but they don’t really offer a lot of room for practice or engagement, so we’ll also do some role-playing. Kids love to pretend and letting them act out a response to something scary happening online gives them an opportunity to develop safe habits in a consequence-free environment.

With my 1st– through 3rd– grade students, I also have various LEGO challenges for them to complete in different facets. I often give them simple instructions, like “build your favorite fruit,” but before they begin building it, they go into their Google Classroom and watch a video or do some research that is related to their challenge to help explain and extend what the challenge is. After they put it together, they return to their Google Classroom, explain their project with how they built it, and then upload a picture of it.

In first grade, we decided to expand the curriculum a bit and added keyboarding instruction with our digital citizenship.

Typing practice can be a little dry, so when I went looking for a new software solution for my young students, it was important to me that it include games to help motivate them to practice. TypeTastic really hit the mark there. I require all my students to complete the first unit of TypeTastic before they can participate in the LEGO challenges, but I’ve found that once they are able to work with the LEGOs, they’re eager to finish those projects so that they can get back to TypeTastic to play more games.

One of my favorite TypeTastic games is one of the earliest lessons and focuses on the skill of using and manipulating the mouse because it is a fine motor skill to move and click in a rightful space on the tabletop. Our students in 4K-4th are 1:1 using iPad devices and don’t have consistent access to any kind of laptop or other device with a mouse until 5th grade, so they often don’t have any experience or practice with that type of navigation. Maybe it sounds a little silly to an adult to say that someone doesn’t know how to use a mouse, but that’s tough for little ones!

In the game, they’re tasked with moving a letter from one part of the screen to another without running into any bugs that crawl across the screen. Some of them got pretty frustrated with it at first, but after three or four times, they became pros at avoiding those creepy crawlers—and using a mouse!

Helen Xiong is the edtech coordinator at Genoa City Schools in Wisconsin.

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