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Advice to the computer-lorn

As Blue Skunk readers know, I sometimes get "advice to the computer/library-lorn e-mails. Being a guy,  I am always happy to provide a response. But you all can do better! So here is the letter:

Hello Mr. Johnson,

My name is Nancy ... and I am a 42 year old, 1st year teacher.....that says a lot right there doesn't it!?!

1 week before school I was given the 4-5-6th grade computer classes to teach.  I know very basic about computer and I know nothing on how to teach computer.  An example of how I feel about teaching computer......Let's say you sang in the choir during high school and I will even give you college choir.  Then one week before school started you were asked to teach music class ~ This is how I feel about teaching computer class.  I am an accomplished musician so I could easily go in and teach music and do a wonderful job  I have used a computer and I am familiar with Microsoft Office but that is my extent.

My there a book, a program, a curriculum available to the average computer person that would help them become an excellent computer TEACHER?

Thank you for your time and prayers (if you would be so kind)!  I can hardly wait to hear from you!!!



Here is my response:

Hi Nancy,

First, please call me Doug.

I suspect that I will give you an answer you may not want to hear. Although I am sure they exist, I can’t recommend any specific textbook series or professional development book on computer skills. Teaching tech skills alone, without immediate application, is counter productive, IMHO. But that doesn’t help you.

This would be my plan:
  • Find another district with a set of technology skills already written and use it as a starting point for the things you want your students to know and be able to do by the end of the term. You are always welcome to use our district’s.
  • Next I would work with my classroom teachers to determine the units of study they will working on during the term. Develop projects related to those units that support. complement or extend the curricular objectives. Examples can be found here.
  • With students, develop quality criteria for each project – a checklist or rubric.
  • Thread Internet safety discussions throughout the class.
  • Finally, make it your goal to learn along with the students. If you don’t know a program or know it well, then let the kids figure it out and teach it to you.

This may make an interesting question to post to my blog readers. They, I’m sure, will have more and better ideas than I’ve presented to you.

All the best,


And here is your chance to help Nancy out. Please leave any resources or advice she might be able to use.

I can use all the prayers and blessings I can get. Thanks!

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Reader Comments (6)

Dear Nancy, I was in a similar position a couple of years ago and the opportunity turned out beautifully. I was a high school librarian and the Computer teacher (across the hall) was fired mid year. I stepped in with what I was already passionate and knowledgeable about and integrated technology tools that I used with confidence.

For example, It was an all girls school and I created the project, "A book every girl should read." I required students to select a book of their choosing to read or reread, and to develop an argument that would convince (hopefully) other students to read. Their final project was a PowerPoint presentation and they needed to incorporate the following:

Slides that give author, title, publisher, date, etc.
Research skills--searching reliable databases for book reviews; an article that demonstrates a similar situation, event, or theme (great opp for info literacy instruction)
Create a slide with original cover art (students could edit an existing image, but a completely original was preferred)
Offer 3 bullet points that state why everyone should read the book
Provide a brief summary of the book
Elective slides for possible extra credit--other formats of the book, images created to represent themes, statistics regarding issues in the book
Students were encouraged to keep the slide info brief and to use their presentation and presentation skills to convince classmates and me to read the book

I had a great time with students, taught research skills, promoted reading, used technology with PowerPoint and the original art creation tools, provided opportunities that reach varying learning styles. The results were wonderful and althought I'm no longer at the school, the new computer teacher is still using that assignment.

Good luck!

October 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLB

I have some lesson plans posted at feel free to use any of them.

I teach technology to K - 5 students. Don't focus on the technology - focus on the curriculum. Ask the grade level teachers what concepts the children have a problem with - then come up with activities that allow the students to use technology to explore and master the concepts.

My students have a hard time understanding geological time and tree rings. This year the 4th graders are making a video podcast.

They will define vocabulary (using Princeton Review Vocabulary Podcast as a reference)

They will define the questions they have about geological time and tree rings and find the answers use books, webpages, videos, blogs, podcasts to research)

They will create talking points based on their questions and research

They will video each other explaining the concepts using visual aids and props

We will edit the video together.

We use flip cameras. Not the highest quality video but works ok and is easy for the students to use.

October 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

Thanks so much, Linda and Kimberly.

I sent a follow-up email to Nancy encouraging her to look at the comments to this blog post. I hope she follows up.

All the best,


October 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thank you all so much for the information. I will definately use some of your ideas. It helps put a different perspective to my thought process as I instruct in the computer lab! I so thank you for your ideas and input! Thank you Doug for having this blog ~ a very wonderful sight! THank you for the lesson plans Kimberly!

Blessings to all,

October 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNancy


Thank you for your suggestions! I am definately a lover of books and reading. Your ideas would work perfectly with my thought processes. I can visualize my students making a PP on a book they read! Thank you for the ideas!


October 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

Hi Nancy,

Glad the responses were helpful. Keep an eye on the post. Sometimes comments come days or weeks after the original.

All the best,


October 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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