Note from Bri: This is a guest post from Frank DiMaria, a middle school computer teacher in Fort Mill, SC. Frank has written a number of articles to help other computer applications teachers be more effective in the classroom.
At AES, we hear from computer teachers across the county about the many challenges they face. One that is hard to overcome is the dreaded time of being kicked out of your computer lab. We asked Frank to share some of his ideas for teaching when he doesn't have access to computers to help other computer teachers like him.
Have you ever been displaced from your computer lab, forced to come up with computer class lessons without computers? This happens to me every May when students take their End of Course exams in my lab and my students and I are relocated. Being displaced disrupts the students’ routine, and middle school students thrive on routine. Program and schedule changes are not pleasant in a middle school. Couple this with the fact that in May students can see the finish line and many seize any opportunity to coast into summer vacation.
Over the years I’ve used a number of tap-dances to keep my displaced students engaged. I’ve distributed digital cameras and allowed my students to take photos that we later used in a graphic arts lesson. I’ve also secured Chromebooks and had my students practice their typing. Both engaged my students, but this year I tried something new.
Integrating Writing Activities for Middle School
As part of a statewide initiative my administration encourages teachers of all subjects, including computer, to integrate reading and writing into their curriculum. To meet this initiative, I presented a lesson I developed with assistance from my school’s reading specialist.
The objective for students was to read a magazine article and respond to a prompt in a text-dependent analysis. The analyses took the form of a standard five-paragraph essay. Students had to cite and analyze evidence and draw a conclusion.
I chose an article called Is the App Mentality Killing Student’s Creativity? The article is one I wrote for a technology website, and is based on The App Generation, a book by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis. The article presents opinion and evidence that digital technology is making students more creative in some areas and less creative in others.
The Writing Assignment Lesson Plan
This lesson takes four to five class periods to complete – two days for reading, discussing, and annotating the article and presenting the video. Then another two to three days to craft the essay. I broke my lesson into five sections:
Discussion & Student Sharing
Video Presentation (optional)
Introduction to the Assignment
We convened in the Media Center where students sat in groups of four. I gave each student a copy of the article, the rubric, the prompt, and a writer’s checklist for a text-dependent analysis. At the center of each table I place a stack of lined paper.
I provided the objective of the lesson and instructed my students to read the article silently. To ensure engagement, I asked them to circle two unfamiliar words, write two questions about the article, and highlight facts, statistics, and studies that would defend their arguments in their essays. They had the option of annotating the article or using the lined paper.
When my students finished reading I asked volunteers to share the words they circled. After we defined these words I asked students to share the passages they highlighted. A discussion ensued as my students began sharing the examples they highlighted and elaborated on them.
Teacher-Guided Reading and Student Sharing
Next I read the article aloud to my students, stopping to discuss passages I highlighted prior to the lesson and commenting on the arguments Gardner and Davis made. We discussed these passages and arguments, sometimes passionately. I instructed my students to highlight those passages and studies I thought would help support their arguments and attack the writing prompt. (I decided to model annotation after my students annotated their copy of the article in hopes that they would come to the article unbiased and seek out facts and passages on their own.)
After I discussed my annotations and we further discussed the article as a class, I allowed my students to share ideas with their peers. Students swapped papers and for the rest of the period discussed the article in groups of four. This portion of the lesson is where students began to form the arguments they would present in their essays. As they bounced ideas off each other, they began organizing their thoughts and pondering the prompt.
Video Presentation (optional)
This part of the lesson is optional. If you can find a video clip that augments your lesson and you have the time, it may be beneficial to your students to view it. My time was running short. If I had the time, I planned to show a video clip of Gardner and Davis discussing their book before a live audience at Harvard. The video featured several topics in the article and would have put it in perspective.
Writing the Essay
When the video is over, it's time for your students to get to work on their essays. I restated the objective and read them the prompt:
Has digital media (computers, phones, tablets, and apps) made today’s students more creative or less creative in the visual arts and fiction writing? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
My students picked up their pencils and started organizing their thoughts using graphic organizers and outlines, just as they learned to do in their Language Arts classes. Soon they were making and defending their arguments in a well-crafted five-paragraph essay.
Because my students did not have access to computers during this lesson, they were forced to write long hand. For those students who were more comfortable typing their essays, I allowed them to submit a typed version on Google Drive or using Microsoft Word. But they did that on their own time.
On the whole I was pleased with the insightfulness my students demonstrated in their essays. Most had very strong feelings about whether digital technology is making the digital natives we teach more or less creative.
Think Outside the Box When You Have No Computers for Computer Class Lessons
Teachers are a very territorial group – for many, being displaced can be a tragedy of epic proportions. But with a little ingenuity and some help from the creative people around you, being displaced can offer you and your students an opportunity to move outside of your comfort zones and shine in ways you never thought possible.