It’s official. The state of Michigan has it written into the new technology benchmarks that all students by the end of grade 5 will “know proper keyboarding positions and touch-typing techniques.” I figured it was due, as before adopting the NETS and ISTE standards for technology, many Michigan school districts were already requiring that students learn to type using the home row and touch method. While I’m not surprised, I’m still at a bit of a loss over how to make typing practice engaging.
During my last teaching stint in the computer lab I relied upon the very helpful MicroType program for teaching 3rd through 5th grade typing. I also introduced other typing practice, such as paragraphs that I had written to reflect the holidays or current events. The theory was if it was something the students were hearing about or in times with the season, they might be more inclined to retype it, rather than rely on the rather dry passages in the typing program. I also encouraged them to challenge both themselves and me with typing shields and “one on one” typing duels. While these techniques worked for a few, I was still at a loss to get my 5th grader, who had after two years of typing become a bit lax in the area of typing practice. Thus I wanted to create something engaging, fun, and more importantly useful to the 5th graders here in my new position, while still helping them to encourage using the home keys.
Enter our building technology lead person. She noticed that her teenage son didn’t really become interested in learning to type until he started playing online games. The more role playing and multi-player games he played on his computer, the more he realized that he needed to be able to type in order to keep up conversations with others in the game. She suggested using a chat room with my 5th graders. Brilliant I thought! Using chat and IM are also included in the Michigan technology benchmarks! But where do I find such a safe place for my students to chat with one another, meeting the district’s privacy and ethics standards, while at the same time giving me enough control to ensure that they aren’t chatting inappropriately in the chat rooms? And that’s when I realized that Gaggle has chat room features. I had used them with my students last year on Fridays. They were given 35 minutes of free read and/or chat time, and many would chat in the filtered, predator-free chat rooms Gaggle provides for all free users. We even had a separate chat room set up just for our school, a nice feature of the free service.
While that worked with 25 students, I’m curious how I’m going to deal with 300 or so 5th graders, but more importantly, how do I engage them in the chat rooms. Sure, they’ll get plenty excited just about the idea of coming to computers to chat, or chatting in their free time (Gaggle has a VERY robust filtering and monitoring system, so I trust them on their own). But once they’re in the chat room, how do I get them motivated to type enough that they’re actually practicing their typing skills? Especially when we’re all in the same room together and it would be silly to just sit there chatting back and forth with our computers just for the sake of typing. I thought about doing a scavenger hunt on the Internet in which one students directs the other one through a number of sites. I even thought that playing a game of 20 questions might be engaging and encourage lots of typing, but I’m still trying to overcome that hump of what to do that’s so engaging they don’t mind chatting with people in the same room in order to get some real life typing practice done. Finding other classrooms to chat with might be the answer, but I’m worried that scheduling enough classrooms (let alone finding them) in other buildings or districts to chat with my 11 sections of 5th grade would be an impossible task. Not that I wouldn’t mind the challenge, but I’m sure there’s a way to engage these students with typing and chatting that I haven’t thought of yet.