Teaching with technology – hands-on activities

Teaching with technology – hands-on activities – includes lists of educational software

Sandee Oehring

Hands-on activities for language arts, math, social studies, and science that your students will love.

Encouraging a Love of Books: For young children, listening to treasured tales or nursery rhymes is like visiting old friends. Recognizing characters, remembering events, and hearing familiar word patterns brings security and joy to beginning readers.

Let Them Listen: Children love to hear their favorite books and poems read over and over. Initially, choose simple stones with few or no words. Show your love of language as you read; use exaggerated expressions and gestures, change your voice to personalize different characters and to reflect the action in the story. Or let your students listen to some of the many “electronic books” available on CD-ROM (see page 16).

Acute Participation: Encourage the more confident students to take a role in the story reading by becoming “the pointer,” “the page-turner,” or a special “sound-maker.”

I Can Read! Once students become familiar with a few “class favorites,” encourage them to read the stories aloud in small groups and pairs, or to cross-age tutors or parent volunteers.

Class Big Books: With their repetitive patterns and predictable plots, fairy tales are a great way to involve your students in creating their first class books. Your students will love to provide the illustrations for your books, or really dress them up with class photos, pictures cut out from magazines, and stickers Typing your class big book on the computer will give it a “finished look.” Gather your students around your classroom computer and let them take turns typing in the class stop. The children will be excited to see their words appear on the computer screen, and just watch their eyes sparkle as the pages are printed! There are several computer software programs available that are made so your students can produce their own big books. (See box on next page.) Print out a version of the fairy tale with no illustrations and only a few words on the bottom of each page. Laminate the pages and give one to each pair of students to “read” and illustrate together with wipe-off crayons.

Team Take-Telling: Students will enjoy working with a teammate to create adventures. Give them some exciting story-starters, such as: “The door to the old house creaked as we slowly pushed it open and stepped inside.” From that point, let the tale-telling teams control the direction of their stories; give them time to develop sound effects or character voices.

Owning the Words: once students have experienced telling stories, they will want to write them down for keeps.” Primary computer writing programs (see box on next page) will let your students type their words, illustrate their stories, and in many cases hear them read back by the computer.

Storybook Theatre by Sunburst provides an environment where children can create animated stones and interact with whimsical characters, sound effects, and scenes. It is advisable to introduce new software to your class as a whole group.

Upper Grade Publishing: Creating a classroom (or school) newspaper can get your kids turned on to research, writing, editing, and publishing! Divide your class into reporting teams. Try to let students choose which area interests them the most, being sure to place leaders and strong writers in the same groups as students with beginning writing skills. Have them devise a list of stories for the paper and get them out there reporting on the news.

Add Computers for Speed, Accuracy, & Fun: The availability of computers to word-process your newspaper will make the writers’ and editors’ jobs easier and more enjoyable. Instead of the frustration of handwriting each draft as it is revised, the editing features of the computer make spell-checking, moving paragraphs or sentences, and adding pizzazz by changing the style and sizes of fonts an easy task. The illustrator’s job then becomes one of choosing appropriate clip art, provided by the computer, to place within each story.

The Writing Center by The Learning Company is one of the easiest newspaper publishing software packages for upper elementary children. With not much additional instruction needed other than familiarizing the students with the typical Macintosh editing menu features, I have used this program with fourth-graders through tenth-graders. Put a colored ribbon in your printer to add an extra dimension to your newspaper.

Shape, Search, & Sort: Encourage your primary students to see how shapes are found all around them and have them bring commonly found objects in a specified shape into the classroom. When asked to bring in circles, for instance, they can contribute bottle caps, coins, plastic lids, and buttons. Use large cardboard boxes to sort and store the different objects by shape.

Shape Houses: Before having students build their own shape-houses using the materials they have brought to class, you can reinforce their knowledge of the different shapes using Millie’s Math House, a primary software program published by Edmark Corp. (see box on next page). In the program, Frank Lloyd Mouse will guide your students through several shape identification and sorting activities.

Just one computer mouse click will get you into Mr. Mouse’s house where he will give your students specific instructions on how to select his shapes. Mr. Mouse’s manners are impeccable as he states, “Please give me a triangle.” If an incorrect shape was chosen he replies, “Whoops, this is a circle, please give a triangle.” And he always says, “Thank you.” These speech capabilities can be turned off if the teacher prefers, but are very helpful modeling for ESL students. Millie’s Math House also has activities for practicing size relationships, patterns, number recognition, and counting.

Baking-Dough Shapes: Children love to cook, and they’ll enjoy making these dough shapes. Make dough by combining 4 1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 1/2 cups of water, and 1 package of dry yeast. After dough is kneaded for 5 minutes, allow the students to roll small clumps into ropes and then have them manipulate the ropes into favorite shapes. Place the shapes on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 475 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Computer Shapes: Use the software Kid Pix (see “Rubber Stamp Graphing” on next page) to let students create their own zany shapes.

Things With… Make collecting, classifying, and organizing objects an ongoing classroom activity by posting a new group of categories each week. Start with objects easily found in your classroom, such as things with legs, objects you can write with, or student’s shoes. For objects that can be collected, have students bring those items to class.

Collecting + Organizing = Graphing: Once your students are used to collecting items, analyzing them for their differences and similarities, and organizing them into groups, they are ready to graph. Start with real-object graphs. Have each student take off one shoe and brainstorm ways to organize (graph) them (i.e., with or without laces, number of lace holes, or by color or by size).

The Graph Club: Tom Snyder Productions has developed a computer software program called The Graph Club, which is a tool for teaching elementary students to understand graphing.

The program is divided into two major levels. In one level you can use cooperative learning groups to involve your whole class in decision-making activities that will lead them into graphing solutions. As groups, the students research and analyze data, and construct, write, and talk about the graphs that help them solve their problems.

The second level could be used by the teacher in whole- or small-group instruction, or by individuals or pairs of students working independently. This section has options that allow users to make graphs, compare information, change categories, and analyze results. Just a click of the computer mouse switches side-by-side graphs from bar to circle to picture graphs. Help is provided making the program simple to use.

Rubber-Stamp Graphing: Placing a collection of fun rubber stamps and colored ink pads at an activity center will thrill your graph makers! Kid Pix is a software drawing program by Broderbund, which comes with bar- and line-drawing tools, and more than 100 rubber stamps for the teacher who is not quite brave even to put ink rubber stamps into the hands of her second graders. This dynamite program also allows students to make full screen illustrations and use text tools to write about them so it will cross over into all of your other curricular areas.

Real-World Math: It is essential that students learn critical thinking, problem solving, and writing as part of their math instruction. The opportunities to invent math word problems are all around us. Asking local restaurants for menu donations creates a “real-world” source of estimation and problem-solving activities. Many restaurants will let you have one menu to photocopy and laminate for use in your classroom. A sample menu assignment could be: “Compare the prices of three different restaurants and find out which would be the less expensive place to buy a tuna sandwich and a glass of milk.”

Have your children write letters (on the computer) inviting local restaurant managers into the class to talk about operating a restaurant, and how many ways he or she uses math to run the business.

Practicing With Hot Dogs: Give your students practice owning their own business by playing the computer simulation game from Sunburst called Hot Dog Stand. It might be best to do the game as a whole-group activity first, allowing students to help make the decisions about how many hot dogs, buns, chips, and soda to buy and what amount to charge for each item. Then divide your students into cooperative groups and assign them computer time to play through the game together as a group.

Each team begins with $200.00 and if you want to you can make it a competition between the groups to see which hot dog stand will be able to raise the most proceeds.

Teaching Children Citizenship: The social-studies curriculum in the early elementary grades includes teaching social and cooperative skills. Role-playing, discussing, and modeling become valuable teaching techniques. Thinking about cause and effect is not a skill that comes naturally to young children; it is one that needs to be taught.

Accepting Consequences: Peer pressure, honesty, and decision-making are issues dealt with in a computer software package called Choices, Choices: Taking Responsibility, published by Tom Snyder Productions. As the story unfolds, students learn that a child has witnessed another student breaking a teacher’s favorite vase. As a result of this accident, both students are faced with decisions relating to the difference between telling the truth and tattling, defending or supporting peers.

Role-playing: Your students will enjoy acting out the computer simulation themselves. Did their decisions differ when they were actually the children making the mistakes and suffering the consequences? Stage some additional simulations for more role-playing experiences, such as two students witnessing a group of their classmates defacing school property, or a student witnessing another child cheating.

Hometown Awareness: Take field trips to as many local landmarks and important buildings as you can, and make arrangements ahead of time for tours and meetings with community leaders. Invite local business people and community leaders to speak to your students about their jobs and responsibilities in the community.

Community Collages: Spend some time driving around your school’s community taking photographs of important civic buildings, such as hospitals and fire and police stations. Label the photos and make a collage on a bulletin board so your students can view these important landmarks.

Mapping My Town: Make a transparency of a city map obtained from City Hall or your local AAA office, and use your overhead or opaque projector to enlarge the image to wall size. Cover a wall in your classroom with white butcher paper and let your students (or parent volunteers) trace over the map lines from the projected map. Label the streets and have your students draw pictures of their homes to place on the map. Post your photographs of landmarks. (Don’t forget to include your school!) You can also add parks, railroad tracks, or other mass-transit routes.

Community Workers: Illustrate pictures of community helpers such as police and fire officers, librarians, trash collectors, and medical personnel and place them next to the appropriate buildings on your map.

You can use KidArt, a software program made for use with Broderbund’s Kid Pix, to illustrate many community helpers and the city scenes in which you would most likely find them. This easy-to-use program provides KidPix with ten different community backgrounds. Your students can call up a backdrop, place the community workers and their tools onto the scene, and then use the word processing capabilities of KidPix to label their drawing or to write a small story about their picture.

Pictures can be printed out and displayed in the classroom or bound to make a class “Community Workers” book for your room library.

Movin’ West: Your students will enjoy a unit on the 1840s U.S. westward movement more if you allow them to “live” it rather than just read about it in books. Of course in order to make their simulation accurate, they will need to do a lot of research about the events.

Research Groups: Divide your class into groups that will research various topics and bring the information back to the class in the way of an oral presentation (with visuals if possible). Research topics may include: famous reliable guides; friendly and not-so-friendly Native Americans; what kind of transportation vehicle would be used; and places along the way to stop and trade supplies.

Westward HO! Your students can actually simulate going out west in 1848 with The Oregon Trail by MECC. This program makes you feel as if you are actually on a wagon train traveling between independence, Mo., and Oregon. Important decisions need to be made before the adventure begins, like the types of supplies and ammunition you’ll need to take with you on your journey. As you travel across the American wilderness, you will meet up with many challenges, such as illness and hunger. Playing this simulation either as a whole class or in groups will encourage cooperative decision-making.

Live the Adventure: Have your students use the information they have gained to put on their own simulation. Set a date for a “Westward Movement Day,” planning what the students will wear to school, and soliciting parent volunteers to provide a banquet of foods that might have been eaten on such a journey.

On the day of the big event, your students will be thrilled to put it all together as they arrive in their costumes to dance, sing, entertain, and especially EAT their way across the Wild West!

Animal Homes: Divide a large bulletin board into sections entitled “Who lives in a … ” pond, forest, desert, prairie, or swamp, or on a mountain. Decorate the sections to look like each habitat. Your students will enjoy cutting out large leaves and twisting vines from brown butcher paper for the trees in the forest, painting snow on the mountains, and creating cactus-shaped plants for the desert.

Which Animal Goes Where? Check out as many large animal picture books as your school or public library will allow. After your students have each picked an animal name out of a basket, they can look for pictures of their animal to use as examples when they draw it on large pieces of construction paper, color and cut it out. Now their job will be to look through the library books again to find their animal and decide in which habitat it would most likely be found.

Computer Research Aid: A helpful piece of computer software for this unit would be Learn About Animals by Wings for Learning. There is a section where students can match animals to their worlds. Seeing the animal and its world on the computer screen will help your students be able to properly place their animal on your classroom habitats bulletin board. Other activities on the disk compare animals, food, babies, movement, size, and homes.

Dinosaurs: Children are intrigued by dinosaurs. There is a lot of computer software available to help you educate your students about these incredible creatures.

Dinosaur Diorama. Your students will enjoy using shoeboxes to display what they know about dinosaurs. Instruct them to decorate their diorama with authentic-looking plants that would have been around at the age of the dinosaur. A computer program that can help you print out dinosaurs small enough to place in a shoebox is Explore-a-Science: Dinosaurs by William K. Bradford. This program is actually meant to encourage your students to write about dinosaurs. Extension activity: using this William K. Bradford software program, have students write creative stories with dinosaurs as the lead characters.

Prehistoric Timelines: Timelines are a useful tool to help students understand time relationships. Make a class timeline on butcher paper, and then as your class begins to learn more about the important developments in the Earth’s history at the time of the dinosaurs, place this information in its proper place on the timeline. Tom Snyder Productions offers a timeline generation program called Timelines: Dinosaurs & Other Big Stuff. It is just one of wide variety of historical and scientific data disks that are available for use with this software program.

Life-Size Models: A unit on the respiratory system should be part of your study of the human anatomy. Divide your students into groups of 4 to 6. Ask for a volunteer within each group to lie down on a large piece of butcher paper while the rest of the group traces with pencils around the body. Then the students can use diagrams of the human respiratory system found in encyclopedias or your science textbook to draw the respiratory system on their life-size paper body. They might want to color in their model or use colored paper to show important features, such as the lungs and windpipe. When the models are complete, staple them to a large bulletin board. Use colorful sentence strips to make labels for major organs and body parts that are part of the respiratory system. Staple the labels surrounding each model and use yarn to attach them to the correct part. Now make some visual research tools available to your students by using MECC’s software program called BodyScope. Each body system is covered on the disk, with screens that show the system in detail and quizzes to test your students’ knowledge edge as they progress through the unit.

A Breath of Fresh Air: You will want to address smoking and lung damaging diseases in your respiratory-system unit. The local branch of the Red Cross, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, or Lung Association would be a good place to go for valuable teaching information. These organizations have a wealth of information to share. They can also recommend various guest speakers to visit your school, and they offer other resources.

Advertisement Campaigns: Ask students to bring in several newspaper and magazine ads promoting cigarettes and also some ads trying to get people to stop smoking. Discuss why one side is in favor of smoking, and the other side against smoking Have the students design “stop-smoking” posters and display them around your school. Or ask local businesses to display them in their windows for public view. Students could write scripts on the computer for commercials, skits, or raps that could be performed for other classes.

Ambitious students might even want to write letters to a local restaurant requesting that they ban smoking, or to your city council requesting that ALL restaurants in your city become smoke-free.

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