We’ve been travelling the world in computer class. Google Earth is a program that lets you go anywhere on the planet, and the kids have been exploring the globe. They can just spin and zoom anywhere, search for a favorite location, find guided tours of amazing sites, or “feel lucky” and get dropped in a random spot. We’ve gone lots of places in our school topic units this year (ancient Greece and Rome; following immigration and where our families come from) and Google Earth is a great way to bring faraway places to life.
Older Kids got a chance to make their own web sites using Google Sites. After learning what HTML is, and hand-coding their first “hello world” web page, they got to choose something that interested them for their subject, like animals, pets or games. Then they learned to add text, pictures, pages, menus, links, even videos. Google Sites makes it a lot easier than writing all that HTML code themselves!
What, exactly, is inside of a computer? What are all those board, fans and wires? And how to they make those powerful but tiny computer “brains”? Younger and Middle Kids got to explore inside the box.
We learned about the basic hardware pieces: case, power supply, motherboard and bus, disk, memory and processor. Then we got some hands-on time with them! Seeing how computer chips are made is fascinating, and we got to see some of the parts of that process as well. It’s incredible just how small everything is.
The purpose behind the internet, as we know, is to give us a supply of cute cat and puppy videos. Well, maybe not, but video content is a big part of how people use their computers. One type of video that’s extremely helpful is the tutorial. From how to change a tire to grow a plant to fix your laptop, helpful people on the web can show you how.
To practice their video editing skills, the Older Kids had to make a tutorial video, using the online editor WeVideo.com. They filmed the steps on their Chromebooks, then put them together, sometimes with music or title cards, to explain how to fold a paper airplane, draw a character, or play a game.
The results were creative as well as informative! Check out just one example:
I always ask kids, “What do people use computers for?” Playing games, sending messages, doing work (and, more recently, Zooming with friends and family). But probably one of the most important uses these days is searching for information. As we know, just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true! How do we go about searching and finding reliable information?
Younger Kids get started by using their developing keyboard skills to type words into a search engine (we use a kid-safe one called Kiddle.co). Then the get to find information on topics like animals. They also searched for information on countries in Europe, the current topic unit.
Middle and Older Kids learn how to refine a search to turn up the specific info they are looking for. They also learn to check clues for the source of the information. Can they determine who wrote it, and when? Check the URL–is it a known or trustworthy site? Is the information corroborated elsewhere?
The internet is a great place to find information, but it takes skill and critical thought to make sure you get information you want, and information you can trust.
Every year in December, we participate in the Hour of Code. We learn basic programming concepts like instruction sequence, loops, and conditionals. Learning to code is the next step in computing, beyond just being a user… being a creator! The fun activities at Code.org, CodeSpark.com and elsewhere introduce the concepts in a fun, engaging way. We can only hope it sparks some kids to be future programmers!
Older Kids have worked in Google Docs, Google Drawings, and Pixlr.com. They’ve learned interface conventions–where to look for certain things, in menu and tool bars, what various icons and symbols mean. Now they are working on presentations in Google Slides, and a lot of it looks very familiar!
Middle Kids have been exploring more in Pixlr, learning how to add text, shapes and more. We found you could even use it to make a campaign poster (you know, for the next Rivendell mascot election).
Younger Kids learned about browser tabs, the arrow keys and the space bar. The more ways you have to get around on the computer, the better. Games that use arrow keys and space bar are very common, and there are a number of them on one of their favorite sites, Wild Kratts.
What’s one of the biggest every-day uses of digital technology? Taking pictures! And once you have pictures, you can crop, edit, clean up and mash them up.
Older and Middle Kids are using a site called pixlr.com to take pictures of animals and combine them to create never-before-seen creatures. They combine, stretch, erase, blur, smudge, cut and paste.
In Younger Kids, they get to choose from a selection of art sites to paint with flames or fluid, make Jackson Pollock splatters, and other groovy computer art. Try some of these sites yourself!
Here’s what we’ve been up to the first few weeks in technology class:
- Practicing touch typing. Using a keyboard is still an important skill. As I always tell the kids, the faster you can type, the faster you can get your schoolwork done! Older and Middle Kids have accounts at Typing.com to keep track of their progress. We use some games for Younger Kids, like Type Rocket and Cup Stack.
- Older Kids learn about internet safety. Good online citizen ship, keeping your data safe and creating good passwords are all important. They learned through a game called Interland.
- Navigating the Chromebook interface using the mouse, touchpad and keyboard. Middle and Younger Kids found games for this at ABCya.com (note that you can only use free on desktop/laptop systems, not mobile).
- Middle and Older Kids learn how to create and format Google Docs, and use their Google Drive for storage.
Everyone is enjoying their Chromebooks and getting to be more proficient and using them!
We’re back, up, and running! This year we’ll still be learning all the cool stuff about computers, the internet, coding and more, but our actual classes will look a little different.
We will not use the computer lab as much, with its Windows desktop machines. Now every student has their own Chromebook, eliminating the need to share equipment, and we will be doing most of the work in their classrooms. This means the kids will all have a familiar device of their own to use should they need to learn from home.
Students will be learning to use the mouse as well as the touchpad interface. We’ll be learning to create Google docs, presentations and spreadsheets, how to search effectively, internet safety and citizenship, computer art, photo and video editing, coding and more!
Technology has become an even more important part of our lives lately, and we’re excited to learn all about it.