Variety is the Key to Teaching 21st-Century Skills

By Alan Gielen

Like most people, I enjoy some variety in life. A large reason I switched from teaching biology to being a technology teacher is because the latter allows me to teach a range of subjects, topics, and grades. My students like variety, too, so I make sure we cover disparate topics and skills within the confines of standards and curricular requirements.

I teach students in grades PK–8 at an all-boys military school. With the little guys, especially those who aren’t readers yet, I use a variety of programs that just teach basic skills. Like, for instance, the PK kids coming in for the last few years don’t have mousing skills. All they’ve ever used is touch screens.

So I’ve been using software from the 1990s, believe it or not, to help my little guys learn those kinds of skills. Some of the stuff from that era, like the classic JumpStart educational software, is still really great. I also use some online products and other tools that help kids begin to learn sequencing and programming logic as early as the PK level.

In terms of curriculum, I get really structured from third grade up. That’s when we introduce our boys to the Google Suite, and they begin working on building presentations, working on spreadsheets, word processing, creating multimedia, and experimenting with desktop publishing. A lot of that work is just helping them learn to integrate those tools into their learning to enhance their classroom experience and abilities. That’s also when we begin working on programming.

Underlying all of this work, however, is keyboarding. We begin teaching our kids to type from the very beginning. I don’t evaluate my PK and kindergarten students on their typing. They just don’t have the manual dexterity for it, so the typing instruction and practice is just about getting them used to the keyboard and familiar with where the keys are.

In first grade we begin with a goal of typing three words a minute and finish the year with a goal of 6. But by the time they’re in grade 6, I expect them to type 40–50 words per minute with accuracy in the 80–90% range.

Our new students are rarely up to speed with regard to my keyboarding expectations, and they use TypeTastic in class, which is great for those kids who need to catch up, since it’s self-paced. It’s great for the other kids, too, because they all get competitive about it and want to outperform one another. It’s always a gift, as a teacher, when students are intrinsically motivated to work on learning goals and you don’t have to look for ways to push them forward.

But when the new students are working to catch up, I expect them to work on it at home as well, and not just when they come to my class. In those cases, I have them practice using different typing drills and techniques from home, just to add a little variety. The last student who did this was typing right alongside his more practiced classmates in less than two months.

We don’t eat the same things every day or wear the same clothes or read the same books. We shouldn’t expect our students to learn the same way day after day. Try introducing a little more variety into the classroom and your students may learn a little faster—and you’ll probably all have a lot more fun.

Alan Gielen is the PK-6 computer science teacher and department head at San Antonio Academy of Texas, a PK-8 independent elementary school for boys.

Why Typing and Mousing Are Essential for a Tech-Rich Education

By Demetra Adams

As the computer science and technology teacher, it’s my responsibility to ensure each of our students is prepared to use the devices that will be available to them throughout their academic careers at Collins-Rhoades Elementary School. Our students have access to desktops, laptops, and iPads. In grades K–5, they use each nearly every day, so there’s a lot to learn from day one.

Unsurprisingly, my kindergarten students need the most help. Many of them have personal devices like iPads or other tablets at home, but they may never have used a keyboard or mouse before. We begin by working on how to use the mouse and perform basic tasks, like taking information printed on a card, such as their username or where their parents work, and type that using the keyboard. In the past, I’ve spent much of the first quarter working on those goals, but I’m looking forward to streamlining that process a bit with TypeTastic, which has mouse skills instruction included in early units right alongside keyboarding.

For keyboarding itself, my goal for these youngest students is simply for them to be ready and able to type words. It doesn’t sound like the most challenging goal, but these students are just learning to read, so being able to recognize the shapes of the letters we’re asking them to type and find them on the keyboard is great progress. Outside of my once-per-week class, they get plenty of computer time, but none dedicated solely to typing instruction.

Another tricky hurdle for some of my youngest students is logging in to different devices or programs. Again, tablets pose less of a challenge, in part because students are generally more used to them, but also because a full-sized keyboard is pretty big for those little hands and they have to push the buttons down to input anything instead of just touching what they want. And, of course, those who are still learning their letters may not know what the letter “a,” for example, means, though they can still recognize its shape. The login process is not complicated, but for a classroom of kindergarteners who’ve never had to do it before coming to school, logging in each day can eat up a significant chunk of a 30-minute period.

For direct keyboarding instruction, we use TypeTastic for about half the term. Since they’re still learning their letters, the focus is mainly on getting them used to the keyboard and having a feeling for where the letters and numbers are, rather than typing at speed. But they love it!

I begin by projecting my own desktop onto the screen with the Smartboard. I want them to be able to see each step, from opening the app, to logging in, to beginning the lesson. Once they’re up and running, they all think of it as a game and love to shout out when they make progress like, “I made it to number two!”

Aside from typing and mousing instruction, we cover basic concepts related to digital literacy and citizenship, such as how to navigate the internet and keeping your passwords strong and safe.

We have a technology-rich curriculum at our school. Throughout their time with us, these students will go on to learn coding and robotics concepts with resources such as Kodable and They’ll even work on screenless coding with tools like the Dash robot and Play Tray, and engage in lots of other device-free STEM learning in makerspaces with LEGOs, Play-Doh, and magnetic tiles—but using a keyboard and mouse are fundamental tools for success in our school, just as they are in modern life.

Demetra Adams teaches technology and computer science at Collins-Rhodes Elementary School.

4 Tips for Incorporating Keyboarding into Any Classroom

How common are keyboarding classes in American schools?

That’s a difficult question to answer, as there don’t seem to be any surveys or other research looking into the question—and many schools fold typing instruction into other classes such as computer science, digital literacy, or business. And yet, more and more children are expected to know how to type. The Common Core State Standards, for example, require that students in 4th grade be able “to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.” By 6th grade, that requirement increases to three pages in a sitting.

But if your school doesn’t offer a typing class, how can you fit it in and make sure your students are able to type swiftly and accurately? Just as almost any job will require keyboarding skills, typing instruction is a fine complement to a range of subjects, from English language arts (ELA) to STEM. Here are a few tips for incorporating typing instruction and practice into your classes.

Use it as a daily warmup.

If you’re teaching a class like ELA, computer science, or business, in which typing is a clear component, have them begin the class with a few minutes on a typing program like TypeTastic!

For subjects where the connection to typing appears a little more tenuous, try warming them up by asking them to free write—or free type—about the course material. Not only will your students get a little typing practice, but you can get them settled and focused on the material or even encourage a little more engagement with the topic!

For a STEM class, ask them to type their design process, or an example of trial-and-error they engaged in for an ongoing project. Teaching a history class? Ask your students to type out as many questions for a historical figure you’re covering as they can in a 10-minute period of time—or have them describe decisions those figures could have made.

Offer typing games as a reward.

Sure, typing instruction is school work, but when it’s presented as a game, students will see it as a fun activity and a fitting reward for good behavior, finishing work early, consistently arriving to class on time, or any other behavior you’d like to encourage. And as we know, kids learn better when they’re having fun!

Hold weekly contests.

Make a typing instruction program available to your students to use in their free time in and out of class, and then offer rewards at the end of each week. Don’t limit yourself to rewarding only the fastest and most accurate typists. Offer rewards for areas like most improvement, most time spent, or most lessons completed.

Add a station activity.

When you have students break up for station activities, toss a couple computers with typing instruction programs into the rotation. Have clusters of students compete with one another or simply work individually on practice or games

If your school or district doesn’t set aside time for dedicated keyboarding classes, there’s still plenty of opportunity to ensure that your students’ fingers will fly across the keyboard with speed and accuracy!

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.

4 Skills that K–5 Students Need for the Careers of the Future

By Kelsey Irizarry

According to a report from Institute for the Future, 85% of the jobs our current students will have in 2030 don’t exist yet. How are we, as teachers, supposed to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet? I address this question as a K–5 Media Specialist by focusing on four skills that prepare my students not just for middle school, but for their future careers.

Continue reading 4 Skills that K–5 Students Need for the Careers of the Future

TypeTastic School Edition Spring Update Is Packed With 280+ New Activities

The latest TypeTastic School Edition update is now out with a significant change in the study material. Based on your feedback we have made it easier to understand which units you should assign for each grade level. We added more than 280 new activities for middle & high schools and students will now be taken to a specific theme based on the grade level.

Continue reading TypeTastic School Edition Spring Update Is Packed With 280+ New Activities

Why Keyboarding Is One of 4 Skills Every Middle-Schooler Needs

By Rebecca Steck and Jennifer Vespucci

Last year, Saint Patrick’s School received a grant to revamp our computer lab. Before we spent a cent, though, we made certain to connect every purchase with two important goals of our pre-K–8 Catholic school: improving each individual child’s academic and career prospects, and improving our students’ scores on state assessments, which are critical to whether we’re succeeding or failing as a school. To that end, here are four essential skills that we strive to teach all of our students by the time they finish middle school. Continue reading Why Keyboarding Is One of 4 Skills Every Middle-Schooler Needs

For Special Education Students, TypeTastic Leads to Keyboarding Success!

By Jan Smith

As a tech integrator, I teach 320 students in grades K­­–5. In addition to pushing into each home room for Tech class, I see the special-ed population as a separate and supplemental class of nine. This class includes students with autism as well as those in Life Skills in grades 3–5.

Typing can be a challenge with these students. As a function of their disability, some of my special-ed kids have difficulty remembering where the letters are on the keyboard, even from moment to moment. Continue reading For Special Education Students, TypeTastic Leads to Keyboarding Success!