Advice for Developing your Elementary Computer Lab Curriculum
The elementary computer lab curriculum is an evolving process based on available technology, the level of use within the school and the grade level involved. Many students will start their kindergarten year with some ideas about computers based on their access at home. The school curriculum will help them form a different attitude toward computers and hopefully come to see them as a useful tool they will have throughout their lives.
Kindergarten — The Ground Floor
This is the time to establish a foundational understanding of computers. Until now, these students have probably considered computers as a source of entertainment. The curriculum will present the computer as a tool to help them get something done. At this level, though, it won’t be so much about “creating” anything. It is about the pieces, how they all work together and how to use all of the pieces to do something useful.
This grade level will spend time accessing things on the computer that will retain the students’ interests and help them gain the skills to work with all of the components. A sample curriculum for the Kindergarten class includes these tools and lessons:
- Disk drive
- Demonstrate how to use each component
- Demonstrate how to turn the computer, monitor and printer on and off
- Demonstrate how to use the mouse and keyboard
This is also a good time to begin talking about computer etiquette such as how to behave while one is on the computer and how to respect the equipment they are using.
At this level, having a series of icons on the screen that take a child to an educational website is helpful. Sites that help children exercise their use of the mouse and keyboard are useful. Since the students are still learning their alphabet, the keyboard will be used more for mimicking instructions rather than creating something. For example, an online game that asks the student to press the key that matches the picture they see on the screen can be helpful.
There is also the opportunity to tie in reading and writing skills with the computer at this level. Make sure the difference is explained between writing on paper with a pencil and “writing” on the computer. The computer shouldn’t distract from the student’s reading and writing efforts.
Software that may be introduced at this level could be a graphics or paint program. The visual reward of such tools can help the students develop their mouse and keyboard skills.
First- and Second-grade Computer Lab
Now the students are introduced to the concept of creating something brand new. A simple word-processing program or text editor becomes the whiteboard for the students at this level. They learn how to create and edit simple documents, and work their way up to actual class assignments.
Some example exercises for this level are:
- How information is stored on the computer: the concept of files and folders
- Accessing folders and finding files
- Starting the editor program
- Creating a new file, opening an existing file
- Adding new text and editing existing text
- Saving the file so it may be found and edited later
- Basic formatting commands (e.g., bold, italic, underline)
These exercises can be tied into classroom activities and assignments, which makes them more relevant to the student.
Third- and Fourth-grade Computer Lab
This is where the concept of data versus information may be introduced. Until higher math skills are developed, databases and spreadsheets may not make sense to students. At this grade level, they can understand how data can be useful if made easy to get to and interpret.
A curriculum for the third and fourth grade may include the following topics:
- Discuss what a database is and how it is used
- Show examples of databases that the students might find useful
- Discuss what a spreadsheet is and how it relates to databases
- Demonstrate using a spreadsheet to create a small database
- Discuss tables, columns and rows
- Demonstrate cell formatting
- Show simple charts that can be made from the data
At the third- and fourth-grade levels, working with numbers and formulas in the spreadsheet should correspond with their math lessons. The computer work should complement their classroom curriculum, not compete with it.
Fifth- and Sixth-grade Computer Lab
Building on established computer skills, this level can focus on presentation. Learning about slide presentations, embedding images and formatting printed documents gives students the finishing touches for their elementary computer education. The curriculum at this level may include these topics:
- Introduction to slide-show presentations
- Discuss what comprises a good presentation and how to reflect that in a slide show
- Discuss templates, layouts, backgrounds, fonts and colors
- Demonstrate creating slides and editing, sorting and transitions
- Discuss including images, animation, videos and sound
- Demonstrate editing documents to add and format graphics
Incremental Learning and the Elementary School Computer Lab Curriculum
The most effective approach to the elementary computer lab instruction is to combine the computer work with current classroom lessons. This creates continuity in students’ learning so they don’t have to go back and forth between different topics. The computer lab can be used to emphasize the current topics being presented in the classroom. It should not be a competing force in their learning but something that engages students and keeps them interested in their education.