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Back-to-School Technology Activities: Get Kids Excited for School

"Most teachers fear the words 'We did that before,'" Tech Team member Dave Figi tells Education World. "Those four words throw up a barrier to the excitement and adventure we hope our students share as we travel the road to learning in our subject areas. The challenge for teachers is to present something new; something challenging and motivating; something within the framework of the students' own experience; and, perhaps most important, something students can succeed at. Early success is the first step on the road that we hope will end in a positive learning experience for our students."

Whether you're a technology teacher or a classroom teacher interested in integrating technology, you can challenge and motivate your own students as they succeed with these back-to-school activities from the Education World Tech Team. Included: Twenty-one activities to introduce your students to technology success!

LEARNING ABOUT COMPUTERS

"My favorite back-to-school activity for myself is decorating my classroom," Jennifer Wagner told Education World. "I nail old computer parts onto the wall and label each part. They give depth to the room and help the students see the insides of a computer."

"My favorite back-to-school activity for my students," Wagner added, "is Computer Bingo. During the first week of school, we discuss the computer parts -- the mouse, keyboard, monitor, and so on -- and talk about the rules for computer use. Then I give each student a bingo card. You can either create bingo cards with Microsoft Excel -- they fill in the choices from a pre-made list -- or visit Teachnology and create your own. As I hold up pictures of the computer parts, students cover the name with markers. If you really want to get adventurous -- or if you have a little spare time -- you can use clip art to make the bingo markers in the shape of a mouse, CD, etc. Laminate them, and they'll last forever! Computer Bingo helps reinforce the parts of a computer in a fun way."

"I start the year by giving students a survey to find out how much they know about computers and computer safety," Sith Nip told Education World. "Questions include

  • Do you have a computer at home?
  • What kind?
  • How many?
  • Where are the computers located?
  • Do you know how to handle a power cord?

The survey includes multiple choice, true and false, and essay questions. Afterward, we review the questions in order to get a rough estimate of the students' knowledge and to answer questions for those who didn't understand the survey. During the discussion, I go into detail about the computer, computer safety, rules, and procedures. We also talk about how technology shapes our lives."

"By the time my students leave at the end of the first day, I have accumulated a wealth of information about them from the survey and discussion," Nip said. "For homework, I give my students a chart work sheet to complete, on which they list everything in their homes that uses some sort of electronic device (computer chip) and a list of things that do not use an electronic device. The next day, we go over the list and discuss it."

"Students need to know computer terminology," Libby Adams pointed out. "During the first two weeks of school, we play Simon Says, using cards I've made of a computer, monitor, mouse, printer, keyboard and any other parts appropriate to the lab. First, the students are introduced to the computer terms. This is very important because most of the terms are not part of the students' vocabulary. Each student then receives a set of cards. When 'Simon' calls out a computer term, students select that card and hold it next to the matching item on their computers. For instance, students would hold the keyboard card by the keyboard. Playing Simon Says a few times is all that's needed for students to grasp new terms to use in the lab and in their classrooms."

"One activity I do at the beginning of each year is to make sure students can name the parts of the computer," said Stacey Wyatt. "Usually, most students can name the external parts but are confused when it comes to the internal workings. I organize the students into groups of four. Each group gets a large sheet of butcher paper and crayons or markers. They are asked to brainstorm with their group what is inside the computer and how it works. Then they share their work. You'd be amazed at some of the drawings and at the creativity of the students. One group drew a mouse with a wheel inside! Then I open up an old computer and show them the insides. They absolutely love it! It takes away the mystery of how a computer works."

Beth Gregor teaches technology to students in kindergarten through grade four. "With my kindergarteners and first graders," Gregor said, "I use Arthur's Computer Adventure, by Mark Brown, to demonstrate how careful they have to be when they use the computer. I use the interactive storybook, but you also can get the book from the library. I also have a box of broken computer parts. Sometimes I use them to create a bulletin board and sometimes I pass around the parts and let the kids touch them."

"I show my students in grades two through four what the inside of an entire computer looks like," Gregor added. "I take apart the computer and pass around the parts, talking about the hard drive, fan, memory, battery, power source, and so on. Then I put it back together again. The kids are fascinated!"

"My favorite computer introduction activity is one I do with my kindergarten students," said Sandra Bauer. "I begin by reading them Surf Sammy's New Computer, by Christina Burkart. This is a fun story about an alligator named Sammy who gets a new computer for his birthday. The computer comes to life and explains its parts and how Sammy should take care of it. After reading the book, I take the students to the computer lab. They sit with their hands in their laps as we go over the computer parts. Then I point to each part, and they repeat the names. This is a pleasant way to start the school year; the students enjoy the book, and they also become comfortable with me."

"Sometime during the first week or two of school," Katy Wonnacott told Education World, "my sixth-grade students learn to change font colors in Microsoft Word by writing collaborative stories. Each student begins writing about the best thing he or she did during the summer. I set the timer for three minutes and, when the bell rings, everyone moves to the computer on the left. After 15 minutes --and four moves -- we stop. Volunteers read the goofiest stories, and students get a chance to tell what they really did during the summer."

LEARNING WITH COMPUTERS

"During the first few days of school, many teachers ask students to generate ideas for classroom rules or for things they'd like to learn during the year," Mike Johnson pointed out. "This can be a great introduction to brainstorming. Our school uses Inspiration Software, a program made specifically for organizing ideas. In just 15 minutes, students can use the software to generate a poster-sized graphic organizer of student ideas. The poster can be displayed on the wall to remind students of the rules; additions can be made with a marker if there's a need for new rules."

One of Tara Higgins's favorite back-to-school tech activities involves a sixth-grade resume-writing project. "As our sixth graders begin their last year at Village School," Higgins said, "they are also preparing their applications for secondary schools. Because most of our students go on to private schools, the students must fill out applications, gather recommendations, and attend interviews. The first activity of the year in the Technology Channel for sixth grade, therefore, is creating a resume. Using Microsoft Word, they create a resume that lists the schools they have attended, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, hobbies, and interests. They format the resume, using bullets and indents, and we discuss which fonts are most appropriate and legible. This activity is a perfect opportunity for an introduction to graphic design. The finished resumes are printed on specialty paper, and the students take them to their interviews. Our administrator also appreciates the activity; she uses the resumes to refresh her memory as she writes recommendations for the students. The activity, including time for careful proofreading and editing, takes about 60 to 90 minutes to complete."

LEARNING WITH THE INTERNET

"The year is new. Everyone is fresh. It's very important that teachers do not lose this opportunity," Dave Figi told Education World. "Setting the tone for the year also is important. Getting right to work instills the attitude that your course is important and that every minute in your subject area is valuable -- not to be squandered. A back-to-school activity I've had success with is having students produce something that helps me get to know them individually."

"One example is a project I do in my HTML and Programming for the Web course," Figi said. "Whether a student has had extensive experience or no experience in Web design, his or her creativity can be tapped to produce a project that will set the tone for the course. In this activity, high school students produce a four-page Web site consisting of

  • a main page. The jump off or menu for the following three topics is your "grabber" -- the page that will grab viewers' attention. On Day 1, I cover the fundamentals of a simple Web page. Students follow my lead as they begin the first steps in producing a Web site. Manipulating text, formatting, and importing graphics gives them an idea of the creative potential of a Web site. On following days, students learn to link from the main page to the next three major areas covered in their project. I spend ten to 15 minutes at the beginning of each class period demonstrating the skills they will need. Then students take over and begin developing their projects. The stress is on creativity. The questions "Is this right?" or "Is this what you want?" are answered with "What do you think?" and "What do you want to communicate?"
  • a biography page. The students write about their various life experiences, including their involvement in activities in and out of school, their travels, past accomplishments, and future goals. We also cover graphics and additional topics in text formatting.
  • a links page. Students list at least ten links to topics that they are interested in, such as news, weather, sports, entertainment, movies, music, and/or television series.
  • an interest page. This page highlights a hobby or something else of special interest to the student."

"Students are able to quickly produce a topic because it involves them," Figi noted. "A premium is placed on creativity. In this age of state testing and standards, the students really enjoy the freedom that comes with creating an original document. District goals in writing and communication are addressed. Best of all, the first experience of the year can be a successful one. That success leaves all involved with a meaningful, positive experience and sets the tone for the remainder of the course."

This project, according to Figi, also can be used in any course that involves an HTML editor, simple text, Note Pad, an Internet browser, Realbasic, Visual Basic, or PowerPoint.

USING DIGITAL CAMERAS

"On the first day of school, I use a digital camera to photograph each child," said Sally Stevens. "The images are imported to a word-processing program, labeled "My First Day of School in ____ Grade," and dated. Because digital images are instantly available for printing, each child is able to take home a cherished remembrance of the first day of school. I then save the student images on my computer for use in future activities."

Stevens also provided some additional activities using a digital camera, including

  • Prepare a "Welcome to Our Classroom" bulletin board, using photos of students and classroom activities.
  • Have students create an "All About Me" report as a print or multimedia slide show to show at parent open house.
  • Create a seating chart for substitutes.
  • Attach photos to students' print or electronic portfolios.
  • Publish a back-to-school newsletter, using classroom photos of the teacher; school personnel, such as principal, nurse, custodians; centers; activities; and students.

"These activities can be adapted to all grade levels," Stevens noted.

Katy Wonnacott also uses digital photography in her classroom."I take digital pictures of all our fourth grade students and help the students import them into Kid Pix," Wonnacott told Education World. "Each student then writes a list of six adjectives to describe himself or herself. Then students decorate their pages. You also could have students write (complimentary!) descriptive words about one another."

"This year," Wonnacott added, "I also will be creating student trading cards with two other classes. The cards will include a digital photo and lists of hobbies, pets, talents, and so on. Our seventh-grade students will use digital photography to create a PowerPoint presentations for parent open house. The topic will be a tour of our school."

NOT NECESSARILY TECH

Two teachers submitted lessons for activities that are not specifically technology-related but can be used successfully in either a regular classroom or a technology lab.

"One of the things I like to do the first or second day of school is to give the kids a First-Day Quiz that helps show them the importance of reading directions," Marcella Ruland said. "I teach ninth-grade social studies. Students often are having to adjust to some major changes moving to high school. Many are trying to act as though they know everything. This activity reminds them that we all need to be aware of directions, no matter how old we are."

One of Mary Kreul's favorite back-to-school activities for elementary students is What's in My Bag? "Students are given a small lunch size paper bag to take home," Kreul told Education World, "and asked to fill it with six items that will help their classmates and teacher learn more about them. The small size of the bag makes this a very interesting challenge!"

"Items students might put in their bags," Kreul added, "include a photo of the family, a favorite candy bar, a prized sports trading card, a small Lego creation, a photo of a pet, medals or ribbons won in sports competitions or Scouts, a favorite CD or DVD, a vacation souvenir, a craft made at camp, or any other small item that tells something about them."

Who Are They?

The Education World Tech Team includes more than 50 dedicated and knowledgeable educational-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. The following Tech Team members contributed to this article:
  • Libby Adams, computer resource teacher (retired) at Troost School, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Sandra Bauer, computer instructor, White House Christian Academy, White House, Tennessee
  • Dave Figi, computer teacher, Janesville Parker High School, Janesville, Wisconsin
  • Beth Gregor, technology teacher and elementary technology coordinator, Pleasantdale Elementary School, La Grange, Illinois
  • Tara Higgins, director of academic technology, Village School, Pacific Palisades, California
  • Mike Johnson, district technology resource teacher, Fayette County Public Schools, Lexington, Kentucky
  • Mary Kreul, teacher, Richards Elementary School, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
  • Sith Nip, computer instructor, Alexander Fleming Middle School, Lomita, California
  • Stu Pruslin, training director, Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA), Austin, Texas
  • Marcella Ruland, social studies teacher, Glenelg High School, Glenelg Maryland
  • Sally Stevens, computer support specialist, Linden Public Schools, Linden, New Jersey
  • Jennifer Wagner, computer coordinator, Crossroads Christian School, Corona, California
  • Katy Wonnacott, teacher and unofficial technology coordinator, Signal Hill School, Belleville, Illinois
  • Stacey J. Wyatt, educational technologist, Pierce Primary School, Fort Knox, Kentucky

 

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © Education World

 

 

Updated 07/23/2012
 

 

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