Howard schools have enhanced their instruction in technology for elementary students

The Baltimore Sun

When Janayah Trabilsy, 7, learned she would be taking technology classes as part of her third-grade curriculum at Talbott Springs Elementary School, she was excited.

"I thought it was cool," she said.

She was using a computer at home to play games. But as she worked on a project in Ruth Walker's technology class Monday at the Columbia school, she was learning things that were new to her, such as how to save files and how to drag and drop icons.

The class is part of a Howard County school system initiative to enhance computer training. For this school year, 54 elementary-school technology teachers have been hired, so that each student can receive 60 minutes of technology instruction a week, said Carol Fritts, the school system's coordinator of media and education technology.

By the time they leave elementary school, students will be expected to know, among other things, how to draw or create animation with a program called Pixie; how to create PowerPoint presentations; and how to use Google Earth.

In the past, classroom and media teachers provided computer training but never in such an organized way, Fritts said. "We always wanted to have a person in the building," she said.

Each elementary school also was given 30 laptop Macintosh computers, as well as extras such as overhead projectors and digital cameras. The goal, Fritts said, is to integrate technology into the curriculum.

"We're not just teaching these technology skills in isolation," said Fritts.

Over the summer, about 20 elementary teachers and technology assistants got together to hammer out aspects of the curriculum, Walker said.

The official curriculum starts with pre-K students, who are expected to learn, among other things, how to click on a hyperlink to activate it and how to use a mouse or track pad. By fifth grade, students will be expected to know how to create spreadsheets, edit text and conduct online research.

Learning about Internet safety and responsibility are important parts of the curriculum, Walker noted. Students in the classroom can never roam freely on the Internet and cannot use Google to search for information. Instead, they can visit only Web sites that have been approved, generally by clicking on a link that the teacher has established.

They also learn how to do research without copying what they find, and how to sit so they don't strain their wrists or back.

Walker, who was a teacher at Stevens Forest Elementary School when she applied for the technology job, said the goal is to integrate the technology into the curriculum. For example, students could use computers to graph the results of science projects or create a video about a famous person or historical event in place of a written report.

"Our focus really was to look at the content - the social studies, the science and the health," she said. "We're not just teaching the tools. We're teaching the content through the tools."

For example, in the third-grade class that Walker taught Monday, each student created an "auto- biography" - a typical assignment in health class. But this time, instead of writing a couple of paragraphs, the students were dragging and dropping icons into categories such as "things I like."

Wayne Carter, 8, included pictures of muffins, dogs, ice cream and eggs as things he liked, and he filled his "things I don't like" box with icons of witches and monsters. In the "about me" section, Janayah Trabilsy had included pictures of girls running, bicycling and reading.

The technology teachers have flexibility to develop lessons, Walker said. And when they have down time, they are expected to provide technical support for the school's computers.

Because it is early in the school year, Walker said, she is focusing on teaching students basic skills. During a recent third-grade class, she led students through the process of opening a file by demonstrating on her computer screen, which was projected in front of the classroom.

To help the youngsters learn how to use the touch pads on the laptops, Walker referred to the movement of the fingertip as "skating."

"You are going to have to skate over to the picture of the folder - it's called an icon," she said. "Now, click on it twice, really fast." She walked around the room to see how the students had done. "Remember, one finger on the touch pad, one on the mouse," she said.

Samantha Donovan, 8, said she uses a computer at home for activities such as a Barbie horse game, but she did not know much about how it works. Already, in Walker's class, she has learned how to log on and how to save files. "I like to work on the computer," she said.

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