The Animal Research Report
Much of the project work takes place in the classroom, a non-rectangular area arranged for flexible use of the space. While working on the project time children may be seated at a table, on the rug with a partner, or in one of the comfortable "reading chairs." Three computers of varying ages and capabilities, one connected to the Internet, occupy one corner. Students have access to technology both in the classroom and in the computer lab at the end of the hall. For whole-group computer use Char schedules time in the lab.
Student Technology Skills
Most Fernan students enter first grade with some exposure to computers. Children who attended kindergarten in the Coeur d'Alene School District, about half of the class, have experience with a computer program that supplements the teaching of early reading skills. Many also have exposure to computer games at home and portable electronic games such as Game Boys. Their view of the computer is that it is another toy to play with. Char presents a different view.
"I tell them explicitly, it's a tool to learn and help present what you know. The way you use it is what counts. At first, learning how to use the computer may be the object of the lesson, but after a while, the computer should fade into the background just as a pencil and paper do." Char Soucy
Video: In the Lab
Char describes her planning for young students to build slide shows. Classroom footage shows first graders creating their reports - watch and listen as children use their skills to present information in an electronic form.
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Technology in the Project
When children first encounter the Internet they need time to explore. Char sets the browser to the San Diego Zoo and lets them browse pre-selected sites. She appreciates that they can find more up-to-date information, view videos, and even hear the sounds of animals on the Web. She says, "Eventually I just have to have some time where I can just let them go and see what all is out there."
Char plans time in the computer lab for Internet research. A quick adjustment is made when the lab is dedicated to ISAT (Idaho Standards Achievement Test) for two weeks. Instead students, individually or in small groups, use the networked computer in the classroom to print out two good Web sites. They take notes in their own words from the printouts and later make complete sentences from brief notes. The writing of the flip book takes place in the classroom and of course, children complete them at different rates. Char meets with small groups as they finish their books and shows them how to create and save pictures on the computer. When the lab is available again the class begins work on the slide show template.
Char has done this project using only the classroom computers and using the lab. The advantage she finds in using the lab is that she can teach a skill to all the students at once. She uses the SmartBoard and projector to show students step by step, then tries to help everyone as they work at their own machines.
When using classroom computers the process is similar. It may take a little longer but works just as well. She shows the whole group what they are going to do and then children work individually. Some steps she teaches in small groups, or teaches one group a skill that they then share with the others. She points out that, "When children have to explain how to do things to someone else, it reinforces the task for them. It also reinforces their verbal communication skills to have to explain it to someone else."
Char cites the importance of rich experiences with books, classroom pets, and active learning activities. She also sees value in extending children's experiences with electronic resources. While children may not be able to go to see a lion, within the classroom she is able to bring the lion to them.
When the question comes up of what technology adds, Char suggests several points.
- Students can find better information right away.
- The product - the slide show - is easy for others to view and a good way to preserve the project.
- Children are proud of their work, amazed that they could make a slide show.
- Seeing everyone's slide show reinforces the idea that the computer is a tool.
- Children realize the value of computers as tools to find information and enhance their learning.
[Some children] "have such difficulty with fine motor skills that the writing and the spell check on the computer do wonders for improving their projects. Their final work is significantly improved by the use of technology." Char Soucy
Student's flip book page and electronic slide of the same page
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