Middle school computer applications teachers face unique challenges. These teachers are often left with instructional materials that are either geared towards adults or elementary age students… or no curriculum at all! For Reginald Patterson, who teaches Computer Applications in Business, finding ways to meet his standards and keep students engaged was tough. Luckily he found some good resources that not only meet his standards, but save him time and keep students interested.
About Reginald and his Computer Classes
Reginald Patterson teaches computer classes at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Polk County Public Schools, Florida. He took some time to talk to AES Founder and President, Jim Schultz, about the challenges and rewards that he’s experienced in and out of the classroom.
Like many computer applications teachers, Reginald didn’t start his career in education. He has a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and moved around following several jobs, which eventually landed him in Florida. Faced with another move, Reginald searched for a new role that would allow him to stay put. He found himself in the classroom, teaching technology at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy.
Reginald’s year-long course for 6th and 7th graders is Computer Applications in Business. The students return as 8th graders for another year-long course called Introduction to Information Technology. Here’s how Reginald explained the unique setup of his courses:
“The computer application side focuses on software like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, those types of things. With the Fab Lab, we also do design software. We use Sketchup for 3D modelling, we use InkScape for vector design, and we have Vicar Pro for our routing machine. They're learning the design software they have available to them at this point, including six 3D printers. We have a laser cutter, a Shot Bot routing table, a mini mill, and a vinyl cutter. They're able to take what we make from the design software in the classroom to the lab and actually make the product.”
Big Challenges Faced by New Computer Applications Teachers
When asked about the biggest challenges he faced as a new computer applications teacher, Reginald shared:
“The biggest for me was they did not have any resources available to use. Everything that I was teaching, I had to research and develop myself. I had to teach myself the software. I had to develop my own lessons and activities from scratch. Then basically do that every year, so they're not doing the same thing over and over again every year. An extreme amount of time.”
And so his greatest challenge was two-pronged: a lack of resources, and the amount of time it took to develop his own resources.
Solution: The Business&ITCenter21 eLearning Curriculum
Business&ITCenter21 is one tool that Reginald used to alleviate some of the challenges he faces. Due to the variety of materials and his style of teaching, using it as one of his blended learning resources was a perfect fit. Here’s how the curriculum helped Reginald overcome some of the challenges:
Increased Student Engagement and Differentiated Instruction Made Easy:
Reginald describes Business&ITCenter21 as another learning opportunity for his students. He appreciates that the engaging lessons in Business&ITCenter21 can help students develop “a deeper knowledge of what we’re trying to learn” when lecture and demonstration aren’t enough.
Reginald feels that most students like Business&ITCenter21. He admits that one student said it isn't the best platform for him to learn. That student struggled to stay focused long enough to pay attention to the online lesson and translate that to the assignments in Word. “But that's why I have to do my own thing too. And use yours as well for other students... to differentiate,” he explains. “I like your program. I think kids get stuff out of it. I would recommend it.”
Additionally, he shared that breaking the projects into smaller chunks helps students complete the work easier:
“With the projects, I just assign them a couple lessons out of each section. We'd work on the document. We'd go over it. I'd tell them, ‘This is what I expect to see when you're done with it,’ based on what is provided. Then I’d give them a couple more lessons. Then I’d just fit it in increments like that, instead of assigning the whole thing at once to them.”
Saving Time with Automatic Grading and Electronic Worksheets:
Reginald praises the automated grading and electronic worksheets, due to the amount of time and effort they save him each day, saying:
“I like immediately getting the grade feedback. It makes it very easy to keep up with grading myself and getting stuff entered quickly for the students. I like the electronic worksheets that go with the lessons, instead of having to print out 200 copies every time we do a lesson. I do like that feature, and it's easy for me to pull up and access from the teacher site.”
Another aspect of the grading system Reginald finds useful in his Computer Applications in Business course is the pretest feature. “I've used the pretest feature. Which I like, so I can get a feel for where they are.” This is helpful for planning where to start with students on particular topics.
Getting More Done with Blended Learning:
Perhaps most importantly, Business&ITCenter21 allows Reginald to multitask while keeping students moving forward. He breaks students into groups in order to get more done:
“It allows me to be teaching multiple topics, like Microsoft Word, or a business software and a design software, at the same time. I have 30 students... It allows me to take a group of students, maybe 10 of them, to the Fab Lab where they will be working with the design software.
Then I know over here, they've been assigned the AES curriculum. We'll review it when I come back. And then the next day I can take another group to the lab. It lets me multitask in different software, instead of just doing one and being stuck in that silo. I can branch out and get more things accomplished with my students.”
Advice to New Computer Applications Teachers on Using Blended Learning
When asked about advice Reginald would give to a new teacher, he was happy to share. His greatest piece of advice was to be prepared with a variety of activities and learning resources for students. He cautions against planning to lecture or do any one thing for an entire class period.
“From my experience with the Business&ITCenter21 program, it is a great tool that allows you to teach and model the skills you are covering and then immediately let the students jump right in and follow the pre-built lessons and challenging activities to further develop their skills. For a new teacher walking in the door, having the pre-developed lessons is a huge time-saver and it allows your students to progress through the curriculum at a steady pace.
So either you create your activities yourself, which is very time consuming. Or you use a system like Business&ITCenter21, along with the other tools they provide, to help with that.”