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Computers, Keyboarding, and First Grade Students

A first grade teacher shares her successes using computers and educational software to teach keyboarding in her classroom.
By Kathy Gathers

I live in a small town in Kansas and have taught first grade for 30 years. I have had a computer in my classroom for several years. My elementary school uses Macintosh computers. Each classroom has at least two computers. We also have a computer lab with 25 computers. My classroom has three iMacs and one Apple LCII for my students to use and I have one iMac for my own use.
     During reading groups, computers are used as part of my daily centers. The children have approximately 20 minutes to use a variety of software. Choices include Kid Pix Deluxe, Sammy's Science House, JumpStart First Grade, Thinkin' Things Collection 1, JumpStart Typing, Math Rabbit, Reader Rabbit 1 and Reader Rabbit 2, and several other programs. Occasionally I have a project for my students to complete but mostly they have free choice. Sometimes they practice what we have learned in the computer lab.

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The Apple LCII has some of the same programs as the iMacs plus an external disk drive for floppy disks. I have a variety of older skill and drill software that the children can use. This computer is not as popular as the iMacs but it is still used every day. My three favorite programs for teaching lessons are Davidson's Kid Keys, Kid Works 2, and Broderbund's Kid Pix. I can enhance almost any subject by using a combination of these programs.
     This year I have really focused on teaching my students to keyboard. We have a computer lab with 25 Apple LC580 computers. I use the program Davidson's Kid Keys-The Magical Typing Tutor. My children go to the lab for 5 - 10 minutes every day to keyboard in addition to the two days assigned as our regular computer time when we can work on special projects or activities. I realize some people feel first graders are too little to keyboard because their hands are so small. Since we work just five to 10 minutes, I do not feel this is a problem. I have taught piano lessons for ten years and find that my students' fingers on the computer keyboard are not any different than small children's fingers on the piano keyboard. Sometimes the children have to stretch a bit to reach keys but we keyboard only five minutes a day at the beginning of the year. I remind the students to relax and wiggle their fingers when necessary. By second semester they are all comfortable with keyboarding. In fact, they are disappointed if we miss a day.
Kid Keys has several good activities for letter recognition but my students use Monster Rescue because it introduces the home row position and lowercase letters. The Rescue game has three skill levels. Each focuses on basic typing skills. (My students usually use level one.) At each level Keystone the Dragon tells the students what letters to type. The letters appear in the Scroll Window with the letter to be typed in red. Left and right gloved hands appear at the top right corner of the screen. The finger to be used is colored red and wiggles. These hands are a visual cue so the children will know the correct hand and finger to use for the target key. Four monsters are at the bottom of the screen. As the children progress through the program the monsters disappear. When all four monsters are gone the children can print an award from the monsters for completing the level. Awards can also be printed for sending just one of the four monsters home.
     We usually use level one which focuses on the home row keys. Children type repetitive keystrokes moving from single key repetitions to key pairs, to simple reach keys, and finally to key combinations. Most of my students enjoy keyboarding and look forward to it every day. The biggest problem I have encountered is making sure everyone keeps their thumbs on the space bar! At the beginning of the year it takes constant monitoring to make sure everyone is on the home row keys with their thumbs on the space bar, but by this time of year most of my children need little monitoring. Level two introduces children to key trios, quartets, and runs with one hand and then both hands. Level three is the most difficult and involves the children in typing simple words.
" It is amazing how well they are doing. I have 20 children in my class and they have really made great progress."
After nine weeks of school, I taught my students to type their names correctly. We also occasionally type sentences using letters that are close together such as "I have a cat", "The dog is big", or "What is that?" The computer para and I make sure each child knows where the period and question mark are located. We also help them find and use the shift key. It is amazing how well they are doing. I have 20 children in my class and they have really made great progress. I don't know how well they will retain their keyboarding skills after they return from summer vacation but I am sure it will come back to them quickly. I did notice some forgetfulness after Christmas vacation but skills returned to normal in a few days.
    In my classroom I have cardboard keyboards which are color coordinated for each finger. I assign piano finger numbers to each finger - thumbs are one, pointer fingers are two, middle fingers are three, ring fingers are four, and little fingers are five. I have a big poster of the right and left hands with the numbers on them posted in the computer lab and also in my classroom. If a student is having problems finding the right key, I can say" right hand - finger 3" or "left hand - finger 5" and they can locate the key they need. The cardboard keyboards are from the Keyboards Bulletin Board Kit (F1856) from Teacher Created Materials'.
This year after the children had mastered KidKeys, we began using "Mario Teaches Typing". The kids love it! It presents the homerow keys in an exciting format and allows the children to progress to more difficult levels at their own pace. I like it because it allows me to see how many keys each students types and how many errors they make. In past years I have had my students type reports or journal entries using the"hunt and peck" method of typing. They did very well and could edit mistakes easily. However, I feel this is teaching students very bad habits.
    Since we have mastered keyboarding I have had my students attempt to type a two or three sentence report. It was very difficult for all of them. I have come to the conclusion that we should continue to learn keyboarding but not attempt typing reports. We will still occasionally practice typing simple sentences.
  When we type sentences we use the program Kid Works 2 by Davidson. Sentences can be typed on lined paper like we use in our classroom or on unlined paper. I prefer the lined paper. I believe typing sentences helps the children focus on capitalization and punctuation skills because they must remember to use the shift key for capitalizing and must find and type the period or question mark. We have even used the exclamation mark! Typing makes the students' work very visual and mistakes are easily seen and corrected. Most of my students know how to correct mistakes using the delete key and/or the mouse to put the insertion point where it is needed. Kid Works 2 can also be used for illustrating and reading the students' sentences.
     Kid Pix Deluxe is a versatile program that can be used with about any subject. I have used it for Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, and Art. Once the children have mastered the tools, anything is possible. We have used the stamps to make patterns, graphs, sets of objects, and to illustrate number families. The wacky brush plus dice can be used to make math problems when combined with the +, -, =, and numbers found in the alphabet text. We draw pictures throughout the year using the pencil and paint can. My students know how to save and print their work.
Some may need a few reminders but most of them are very independent. Slide shows are fun and easy to do. I have made class slide shows for fall parent-teacher conferences by having each child draw a self-portrait. I plan to add to this project by using the digital camera to take a picture of each student. The parents can then view their child's drawing along with their photograph.
     Life cycles are easy to put in a slide show. Last year each child made a slide show for the life cycle of the butterfly. They completed five slides including the title page. Sound can be added for each slide by choosing from the sound menu or by recording the students describing their pictures. Transitions are also chosen for each slide. This project took about three weeks to complete using one 30 minute class and one 45 minute class during our six day schedule.
"Children are fascinated with computers and with some guidance can become very skilled and create some wonderful projects. Many regular classroom activities can be enhanced by using computers."
Kansas books make another good slide show. This project takes most of January to complete by the time the students draw their pictures, add text if needed, choose transitions and sounds, or record facts. Children who are "pokey" do not make as many slides as those who are able to focus and stay on task. This project could be a whole group activity with each child completing a picture to be included in a class slide show. There are six Kid Pix projects - Kid Pix, Wacky TV, Moopies, Stampimator, Digital Puppets, and SlideShow. I usually use only Kid Pix and SlideShow.
     My students have created cards using Print Shop Deluxe. We do this as a whole group activity. I usually have the card designed and then we work together step by step to duplicate it. The children are encouraged to write their own messages. We have made Christmas and Valentine's Day cards. The older version of Print Shop was much easier to use but it is amazing how quickly the children learn to change fonts, font size, choose borders, design the front, inside, and back of the card using the Deluxe program.
There are many commercial books available to help plan lessons and projects. Some that I use are Evan-Moor Math Activities on the Computer for grades 1-3, Evan-Moor K-1 Alphabet Activities on the Computer, Evan-Moor K-1 Early Math Activities on the Computer, Frank Schaffer's Classroom Computer Center for grades K-2, and Teacher Created Materials' Computer Activities A-Z.
     Finding activities for the computer lab or classroom takes time but is well worth the effort. Children are fascinated with computers and with some guidance can become very skilled and create some wonderful projects. Many regular classroom activities can be enhanced by using computers. Think about projects you already have planned and decide for yourself if technology would be a realistic way to achieve the desired outcomes. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Link to Teacher testimony and to comments and suggestions for Kathy Gathers teaches first grade in Fredonia, Kansas.

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