5 Questions to Ask When Researching New Middle School Computer Lessons
Continued changes in educational technology, standards, and software ultimately impact middle school computer classes quicker than other courses offered at that level. At Applied Educational Systems, we hear from thousands of teachers who are looking for help with their middle school computer lessons.
Administrators are focused on academic curriculum and common core, leaving resource research, selection, and implementation responsibilities to the computer applications teacher. The selection of new digital content to enhance their middle school computer lessons is their responsibility.
Sometimes the purchase and implementation go poorly for the teacher. Meanwhile, for most teachers, time is at a premium. If you are limited in time, it helps to ask the right questions to choose the best tools for your middle school computer lessons. Having heard from teachers and helped them through this process, we can provide help to teachers so they can avoid common mistakes.
If you’re currently in the process of choosing new or supplemental middle school computer lessons, here are 5 questions that are critical to ask. By so doing, you’ll likely eliminate issues and ultimately experience the success you’re looking for with your classes and your students.
1.) Will it help with keeping students engaged?
We are always thinking about keeping students engaged when designing any lesson. And this includes creating middle school computer lessons. This promotes better learning for the student. And it helps you with your work as a teacher. A win, win, we think! When you are reviewing or trying out a new resource, ask yourself if it will keep your students engaged.
Why is student engagement such an important aspect of any tool you choose? It's next to impossible to get disinterested, disengaged students to learn?
Make sure the tools and resources you consider include some of these engaging tactics...
- Student-Directed Learning: If your students are bored in class, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are boring! Students have different learning styles, and they often learn at different paces. Traditional lectures and “lock-step” activities may be too fast for some students and too slow for others. Try mixing in activities and assignments that students can complete at their own pace. Assignments can still have “due dates.” But allowing students to control when and how they work on those assignments will help to make sure you are not boring your faster students or leaving your slower students in the dust!
- Interactive Exercises: Computers and mobile devices are quickly replacing newspapers, magazines and even television as our primary sources for news and information. And the main reason is “interactivity.” Just as we prefer to interact with our information sources, students also want to interact with the instructional materials you provide. Are there ways that you can transform some of your passive reading or listening lessons? For example, interactive exercises such as “drag-and-drop” activities engage students in simple vocabulary lessons by drawing them in as active participants, and providing them with immediate feedback.
- Multimedia Content: When large blocks of information must be learned in a short amount of time, “reading assignments” may seem like the only option. But some students have reading difficulties, and others simply refuse to read. To keep students motivated and engaged with these types of assignments you could try reading to them… (better get out your tap shoes!). Or you could provide them with multimedia content. Through photos, animation, and video, students receive information in a way that is visually interesting. And narrated text ensures that all students can hear as well as see the written words.
- Hands-On Activities and Group Projects: Although multimedia content and interactive activities can be very engaging, students can get too much of a good thing. (My own kids even take occasional breaks from SnapChat and Instagram!) So to keep students engaged it’s important to mix it up.
- Teacher-Led Presentations and Discussions: Sometimes teachers just have to teach. In fact, standing in front of your students and sharing your knowledge and experience with them is often the most valuable blended learning tool of all. And just because it may be called a “lecture” doesn’t automatically make it boring! Look for resources that help you lead better discussions.
We believe that keeping students engaged is something that is particularly important to the middle school teacher…so much so, that we’ve developed an eBook, “Keeping Students Engaged in CTE: Part 1” (because we couldn’t fit it all into one volume!)
2.) Is this age-appropriate for my computer applications class?
One thing just as important as engaging resources is age-appropriateness. Time and again, teachers tell us about the challenges of finding age-appropriate resources for their middle school computer applications class.
Do your middle school students stare blankly at you or their computer screens during your computer class because the content being presented is completely irrelevant and uninteresting to them?
Do you ask yourself “How can I engage my middle school and early high school students with curriculum that is not age appropriate?”
Multiplication isn’t taught to first graders. They aren’t ready for those concepts yet. But if you ask a first grader to add 1 + 1 and get 2 and then ask them to add 2 + 1 and get 3, they are essentially doing the same thing. The difference is that they are doing it in an age-appropriate way.
The same is true with your middle school computer curriculum. You need to put spreadsheets and databases and documents into age appropriate contexts and move at the right pace with the right amount of practice. You need those concepts and skills put to scenarios that are relevant and understandable to your students.
Take this teacher for example, “I signed up for this free trial because I needed additional curriculum for my students. My school could not afford books, and I was struggling to find assignments/projects for my students. I love the assignments I have used so far! They are on grade level academically, yet challenging at the same time.”
And this teacher, “I wanted to check out this resource and see if it’s a good fit for my class. I’m struggling to find something that will ‘stick’ with them.”
Why not try resources actually designed and intended for use with the very students you teach? When investigating resources, ask yourself if the contexts are age-appropriate.
3.) Does it meet my middle school computer classes standards?
Of course student engagement and age-appropriateness don't mean much if the resource isn’t covering your middle school computer standards. It can’t just be great content. It has to be the right content. For example, the Business&ITCenter21 curriculum is designed around national and state standards listed below. Your resources should match up to the standards you are responsible for.
- Common Career Technical Core
- Florida: Keyboarding, Introduction to Information Technology, Computing for College and Careers
- Georgia: Computer Applications I, Middle School Business and Computer Science, Introduction to Business and Technology
- Massachusetts: Employability Knowledge and Skills, Technological Knowledge and Skills
- North Carolina: Computer Skills and Applications
- Ohio: Business Operations/21st Century Skills
- South Carolina: Computer Applications
- Texas: TEKS Introduction, Technology Applications
Be sure to ask if the resource aligns to national, state, and local standards. Companies that develop resources that align to standards will be happy to share those correlations with you. Just keep in mind that likely no single tool will meet every standard, and that's okay. Find what you think will work best and then fill in where you need to!
4.) Will it lead towards IC3 certification and other certifications?
For those teaching middle school computer lessons, students likely aren't heading directly for a certification exam. However, they may get there at some point, so it's important to be sure they are getting the groundwork for those skills they'll need for certifications.
For computer applications teachers and CTE directors and administrators getting students prepared for IC3 certification is an ongoing responsibility, and frequently a struggle. But a necessary struggle…as Certiport so effectively puts it, “A job candidate or college applicant with IC3 Certification is instantly recognized as already having the critical entry-level skills needed to function effectively in academic and work environments.” That’s what you are providing for your students when you prepare them well for IC3 certification.
But why is it such a struggle? Well, there’s making sure you know what needs to be covered, making sure that content gets covered, and then making sure your students are proficient with that content. Add to that the fact that IC3 certification requirements can change, starting that cycle all over again.
Preparing students for IC3 certification involves more than simply test prep materials. For students seeking certification, they can’t just take the test prep course and use the test prep tools. They need the foundation first. The instructor’s job is to assess the needs of the students and provide instruction and material to give each student the best chance to succeed. Blended learning is an important tool for a diverse student population.
What about Microsoft Office Specialist certifications? Certification test prep materials are specifically designed to help your students pass the Microsoft Office Specialist tests and can be very beneficial for students who have mastered the basics of the application. But middle school students who are preparing for these exams need more knowledge of the specialized skills related to configuring and customizing Microsoft applications.
You need resources that create a firm foundation with the curriculum content. Once your students have a firm grasp on the foundational skills needed and understand how to apply what they have learned, begin to introduce your test prep materials. Finding that fine line depends on how much your students already know about Microsoft applications, and at what grade level they currently are. Middle school students will learn differently than students in 11th or 12th grade. Younger students will also most likely need more of a base to start from before diving into the details of test prep materials.
Preparing middle school students for IC3 and MOS certifications doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are some solid, proven tools and resources out there that can help you help your students be successful, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! When looking at resources, be sure to ask yourself if that tool helps students work towards certification.
5.) Is it easy to use in my middle school computer lessons?
Well, you won’t know until you try it out. I recommend that you simply pick something that attracts you. Whether it’s a particular lesson or the delivery style, or the price, whatever speaks to you, just give it a try. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. For example, most online curriculum products are very forgiving. You’ll likely find a free trial. DO NOT FEAR THE FREE TRIAL!!! Free trials are fabulous. They often give you an authentic experience with the product so that you can determine if it truly is the right product for you and your students.
If after exploring a free trial, you decide that the product isn’t right for you, simply move on to the next one. As you gain experience with each online curriculum resource, you’ll start to hone your hunting skills for what products best meet your needs.
The best resources won’t require much complex management. An online resource should allow you to simply set up your materials and get students logged on. The best will have simple, intuitive grading data and capabilities that allow them to be seamlessly woven into your existing courses. They log on and do work; you log on and get their grades. It should be just about as easy as that. (It shouldn't take more than about 5 minutes to get started with a new resource.)
Keeping these questions in mind as you explore new options for your middle school computer lessons ought to help you choose the best fit for you and your students. The worst thing to do is NOT try new things because you are afraid they'll fail. Applying logic to your search will increase your chances of success.
Not sure where to start when choosing a new resource? Use the 5 tips you just learned, and read this article to help you decide: How To Decide on New Instructional Materials for Your Computer Applications Class