For those teachers who have had the experience of teaching in a computer lab when a technical issue derails a well-planned lesson, I know you will sympathize with my plight. Today was the first class for TechnoEnvironment. I was prepared to teach this lesson.
Planning is the Secret to Success?
My goal was to provide a “big picture” view of the technology project (5 minutes), outline the expectations for fact collection by creating a research sheet with headings in Microsoft Word (10 minutes), review some basic technology skills related to Internet research (10 minutes), and then provide half the period (20 minutes) for students to select an environmental issue and begin research. This timeline was realistic as the majority of Grade 8 students had been attending TechnoKids computer classes since Kindergarten and they possessed a strong technical background. I had taken steps to make sure instruction would go smoothly. I had:
- printed a copy of the teacher guide and made notes on the sections I wanted to emphasize
- printed a sample of a completed postcard, poster, and pamphlet to provide students with an understanding of what they would create during this technology project
- printed several pages from the student workbook that listed a range of environmental issues as well as a research checklist
- copied the Environment Internet Favorites folder to a shared location so that students could peruse the bookmarks to gain ideas
- printed the Environmental Fact Sheets just in case students wanted to review them to get a basic understanding of an issue
- tested my computer login, the overhead projector, and access to the online encylopedia to make sure everything was working properly
- written a list on the whiteboard so that students could see the tasks they would complete during the class
YES, I was prepared!
Introduction to TechnoEnvironment
I was so thrilled to be able to share TechnoEnvironment with students. When the students came into the class I took a moment to introduce myself and outline the purpose of the TechnoEnvironment technology project. I explained the importance of becoming an environmental steward and students role in protecting the sustainability of the Earth. I did not want to rush students into selecting an environmental topic too quickly. The issue they selected had to be personally meaningful to them so that they could commit to the task over the course of several months. Instead, I informed them that we would set up a research sheet, practice some Internet research skills, and then they could take their time to select an environmental topic.
I used the overhead projector to demonstrate how to create the research sheet and students followed each step on their own computer. For each research heading, I explained the type of information that needed to be collected. I gave examples related to environmental issues to help them gain an understanding of the expectations.
This group of students had experience with Internet research obtained from completing numerous TechnoKids technology projects. However I thought it was a good idea to review some basic skills. I explained to students that we were going to find a fact, copy it from a web page, paste it under the correct research heading, and then copy the URL of the web page under the Source heading for future reference. Once I had confirmed that they had the technology skills necessary, the students were to use the remainder of class time to select an environmental topic of interest and then begin to collect facts. During this time, I planned to circulate the room to discuss with them their topic of choice and offer guidance.
The Unexpected Happens
The timing of the lesson was perfect! Based on their previous experience I knew it would only take about 10 minutes to review the technology skills required and then students could get started on topic selection. The school subscribes to an online encyclopedia and I had verified in advance that it had quality articles on numerous environmental issues. I had tested the site prior to class and I knew it was working.
I had students login to the site. This is where the problem began. Computers started to freeze. We could not all login. Perhaps there were too many users? Maybe I should have staggered the login process to five students at a time? After a substantial delay, students were FINALLY all logged in. However, the troubles did not end.
I had students locate an environmental fact, select the text, and copy it from the article. Using the overhead projector, I demonstrated how to toggle to the research sheet in Microsoft Word, position the cursor, and paste the fact. When the students went to complete this task, computers throughout the room froze. More than half had white screens. Was there too much network traffic? Was the online encyclopedia site experiencing issues? I had no idea, but I knew that clearly things were not going smoothly.
I had wanted to use the online encyclopedia because the articles were trustworthy and they explained facts in a way that students could understand. Moreover, Internet research can be very time consuming and students often waste time finding quality information. I believed the encyclopedia would save time. I was wrong.
The plan to use the online encyclopedia was quickly abandoned. I needed to help the students with frozen computers. The students sitting at working computers were told to view their handout of environmental topics or the bookmarks in the TechnoEnvironment Internet Favorites folder to select an issue. If they already knew what they wanted to research, they could get started right away collecting facts. With those students on-task, I was then able to provide assistance to the remaining students.
It took some time but eventually everyone’s computers recovered. By then there was only 10 minutes left of class. By the end of the period, the majority of students had selected a topic and a few collected some facts. I am definitely going to need to add an additional research class to the schedule now that I am reluctant to use the online encyclopedia as an information source. Good thing I left some space within the proposed schedule.
During the next class I want to chat with each student and record their topic selection. I then intend to assist students in locating quality websites on their environmental issue so they can spend their time wisely. Unfortunately, the next scheduled class is two weeks from now. This creates an issue because it is difficult to create excitement about a technology project when so much time elapses in between. I am hopeful that the research sheet and checklist will help students maintain their focus and the fact that they chose their own topic will keep them motivated.
Planning to Teach an Environmental Technology Project
- Frozen Computers Foil Internet Research
- 12 Tips for Internet Research
- Five Issues Associated with Assigning Computer Homework
- Guided Discovery and Computer Education
- Establish an Authentic Audience for Technology Projects
- Direct Instruction and Computer Education
- The Struggle to Have Students be Their Personal Best
- Flexibility is the Key to Success in the Computer Lab
- Where is the Content? Razzle Dazzle and Computers
- Celebrate Success!