Welcome Back!

K4STEMLAB Room Setup 2014-15
Today’s the day! We’re back! It’s the first day of the new school year for 2014-15!

Entering the third year of my re-imagined K-4 Computer Lab program, they key word is “evolve.” We’re keeping what works (and discarding what doesn’t) in relentless pursuit of the best possible mix of elementary technology skill instruction, guided inquiry learning, and applied engineering concepts. Let me set the stage for you for the new school year!

New State Technology Standards Coming

Over the past several months, I have had the privilege of serving on an New Jersey Department of Education committee tasked with updating the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for Technology. The last update was in 2009; so much has changed since then! Mobile devices are everywhere; connections & collaborations between students and classrooms are easier than ever; and a surging “maker” movement is encouraging kids to do everything from tinker with broken toys to design for 3D printers and even learn how to write code. These trends and more are reflected in the recently published draft standards for technology, and in the work we will be doing in my classroom this year.

Say Hello to Google Classroom

In grades 2-3-4, my students will be using a brand-new tool from Google (just launched in August) called Google Classroom. We are among the very first schools in the country to leverage this new application at the elementary level. Google Classroom will make it easy for students to access and turn in their work while raising collaboration to a whole new level. This short video will give you an idea what Google Classroom is all about.

Entering Our Third Year with Engineering is Elementary

As the basis for the “STEM” emphasis we incorporated into our elementary Computer Lab program two years ago, Engineering is Elementary continues to provide us with a flexible, robust and powerful platform for guided inquiry learning. Just ask any NCS Elementary student what they remember most about my class last year – I will bet their response will be an EiE project! These wonderful units, purchased with grant money we received in 2012, combine beautifully written and illustrated stories with sound explorations of the Engineering Design Process, culminating in hands-on engineering activities the kids love. This short video does a terrific job explaining the program, its focus and benefits:

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The Importance of Foundation Skills 

I often say to students that keyboarding is the single most important skill they will acquire in my class. We will once again be using the online Typing Pal service (grades 2 & up) and a variety of other web-based programs to provide students with a solid grounding in keyboarding skill. For students younger than Second grade, we focus on what we call “keyboarding awareness,” which basically is a working understanding of the basics of a keyboard’s layout, location of the “power” keys (including enter, escape, shift) and when to use each hand to type a letter (as opposed to finger-specific reaches.)

Foundation skills also refer to effective utilization of a mouse (this is becoming more and more important in my class as handheld devices overtake traditional computers in the home), the ability to log onto a Windows-based computer with an ID and password, traversing network drives & managing files, printing, and word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database skills (taught both with Microsoft Office and Google Apps.)

The School-Home Connection

Students come to my class once a week for 40 minutes. Let that sink in. Once. A. Week. 40 minutes! We have, as you can see, a TREMENDOUS amount of work to do every year – and extending learning at home is a HUGE help. Whether it is keyboarding practice or working with Google Apps or even exploring the learning activities on my grade-level Symbaloo pages (KDG | 1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th), every little bit helps. I often hear, too, of students going home and replicating the EiE STEM projects we’ve undertaken. (Sorry about the mess, Mom & Dad – but that’s real learning, too!) Simply put, we are partners in your child’s education. Thank you in advance for your help!

That’s all for now. Let’s get busy!

Mr. Jarrett