As I’ve shifted from teaching students to working with adults I’ve encountered something I don’t hear much with children. People who say, “I am not a technology person…” or “Technology hates me”.
This has me pondering the habits of mind our youngest students need to develop in order to grow into pre-teens, teens, and adults that technology does like? How do teachers help students begin to see themselves as “technology people”? Furthermore, how do we encourage them to develop the agency needed to be successful adopters of any type of innovation they encounter throughout their lives?
I’m on IT…
I asked my good friend and teacher, Renea Jaeger, @reneajaeger to help me compile a list of some of our best classroom tips for empowering young elementary school students toward technology know-how. Ironically, Renea quickly pointed out that in many ways the difference between middle school students and second graders is not always as great as it would seem. Here are some of the best tools we employ to help teach students that they can take an active roll in fixing IT themselves.
Does Yours Look Like Mine?
One of the first things you will see working with young students using technology is that they love confirmation. For example, when we show students a new tool they want to know step by step if they have done things correctly. Instead of dealing with a cacophony of inquiries “Is this right?” or “Look Teacher!” teach them to reflect on what outcome they are expecting and to see if they’ve accomplished that goal. If that fails, then show them how to check their device’s screen against yours and see if they look the essentially the same. This is easily accomplished if you have an interactive whiteboard or presentation monitor. If you don’t, share it like you would a shared reading book. What’s important, is that they don’t have to ask you if it looks right.
Tap and Wait
Patience may be a virtue but it can also be a skill that takes practice and the right frame of mind. Young students have grown up on technology. They figure out that pushing buttons is a good strategy for figuring out how things work because it gives them immediate feedback.
However, in a classroom where 25+ first graders are working toward a goal all at the same time the tap and go strategy needs little structure. The “Tap and wait” command is a great reminder to see what happens before you click again. Not all technology is created equal. That Android tablet that they have at school might not be as quick to respond as the iPad Air they have at home. Too many rapid fire taps and clicks can cause unintended problems and errors.
Try IT Again
This is where the “tap and wait” strategy meets trial and error. It seems obvious, if something doesn’t work the first time, try it again and wait to see what happens. However, we find some students have a fear of technology or inexperience with how it works. For example, they try to turn on a device and it doesn’t work the first time. Now what?
Many students will wait for direction from the teacher or allow their neighbor to fix it. Maybe they didn’t hold a button down long enough, tap the right spot, or the internet just glitched? We teach them that if something doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up, don’t shout out “Mine didn’t work”, or zombie walk over to the teacher. Instead, try it again and wait to see what happens. Encourage students toward perseverance, if at first you don’t succeed try, try again.
Plug IT in
I’m always surprised by how many computer problems are solved by simply plugging the device into the wall. Similarly, many issues just require cables to be checked, pulled out, rearranged, and/or put back in. Put this on your list of skills to teach students and have them check for these simple fixes first.
The most simple and effective fix is the easiest fix. Turn the computer off and turn it back on. I swear this fixes 95%* of problems. Shutting down routinely can save students from encountering issues at an inconvenient time. Teach students to do this before they seek further help from others.
*No real research was conducted by me on this topic.
Ask 3 Before Me…
So a student has checked their device against mine, tapped and waited, tried again twice, checked their plugs, powered on and off, yet still thinks things aren’t right. Now do they zombie walk over to you, put their tablet in front of your face, and say “Teacher fix my computer!”? No, of course not.
Not if you train them to quietly ask 3 people near them for help first. This works for reading, writing, math, and science…why not technology? When Renea and I have computers that aren’t doing what we want them to, we don’t immediately call our district tech support to come and fix them. We assume there is a simple solution and go find a friend to ask for help. (Incidentally, one of our best friends is YouTube.)
Hands in Your Pockets
This is a fantastic rule for everyone. Sometimes, when Renea and I work with adults instead of giving lengthy verbal directions, sending job aides, or showing how to Google search, it would be so much easier to just reach over and fix the issues. But we know that this is not teaching self-sustaining skills. So, we put our hands in our pockets, take a deep breath, and do what’s right for our learners.
Why not teach kids this rule too? If your neighbor is struggling, offer help, but don’t reach over an fix it for them right away. Tell how, refer friends to support, and have patience.
This rule will help you build capacity within your room, encourage IT!
There will be times when you need mini-tech specialists in your classroom. Find those students who “technology likes” and at the appropriate time, put them to work. Renea and I find that there are always students in every classroom who just know things. Encourage your students to share what they know. Teach the ones who learn fast, let them teach the others.
“Hey class, Kimberly needs help adding the printer to her computer. Who can help her?” Or how about this, “Hey Timothy (who I know has a knack for technology), can I show you and Kimberly how to add a printer to her computer?”
Our district has routine updating and maintenance that needs to be performed on devices. Recently, I was in a second grade room and taught five students how to perform this update. You can see them in the image I used for this blog. When I came in two weeks later to assist with a few more updates, they all remembered exactly what to do with little support from me. Technology already likes them.
Sticky Note Your Problems
In our district we have a protocol for when computers break down. We call or email the district Help Desk and initiate a repair ticket. Some schools have an onsite technician who takes care of tickets, but overall that is a luxury most teachers do not enjoy. If a device breaks, teach your students how to help you document problems. Give them a sticky note, have them write down the device information (usually just copied), error messages, or a quick description of what is wrong. If your students are too young to accomplish this, keep your cell phone handy, take a quick picture of the device information, and video tape their description for your own reference later when you have time. It really works.
Model Graceful Failure and Fail Forward
The way you respond to technology failures models for your students how to boldly move forward when that happens. It can take courage to try something that you haven’t done before in front of your class. When the math lesson doesn’t go as planned we don’t say “I’m not a math person”and push our math concepts into a closet.
Everyone, beginner to expert, using technology has experienced a glitch, crash, malfunction, or fail. Think about how you respond in these situations:
- Are you calm?
- Do you attempt to fix it and think aloud your problem solving strategies?
- Do you have a plan to seek help from a colleague?
- Do you laugh it off, launch Plan B, and say let’s try it again tomorrow?
- Do you complain and say “Technology hates me…”