Using the, ‘Basic Suite’ of software tools has become part of my life as a teacher. I use these tools myself to create and organize resources, as well as try and simplify my life as a teacher. With my students they can be transformative tools, lifting their learning to a different level. The ‘Basic Suite’ refers to the Big Three software tools which are: word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software.
One of the most important reasons that I use these tools with my students is that the real world uses them. There are few businesses I can think of that still hand write documents. Fewer still that have employees work out data calculations longhand or expect presentations to be given without visual support of some kind. I have many roles as a teacher but the main one is to play a part in helping prepare kids for the world after K-12 education. That world will most probably require them to use some form of these tools.
(Roblyer, 2016) suggests a number of benefits that using these software tools offer. Increased accuracy, productivity, appearance and greater support for interaction and collaboration (p109) are cited as the main benefits to pupils.
Word processing tools such as Microsoft Word, Pages or Google Docs are all in their most basic form, designed to let the written word be presented in electronic form. As they have developed over the years they have changed into powerful collaborative tools where users in different places can work on the same documents in real time. Spelling and grammar tools are built in and the ability add graphics, track changes or comment on a document has become relatively easy. What were formerly programs to record just words have become multipurpose desk-top publishing solutions.
This affords students many opportunities to develop both their thinking and writing skills. In 5th grade, we use Google Docs to collaborate with each other and pupils in other classes on different activities. We write and edit in Word and publish our finished work on the school moodle page for parents to read. Pupils with specific learning needs use Word to support their writing in a number of ways. Displays of our writing are often typed up so that they can be formatted in different ways and extracts taken out. We don’t use word-processing for all our writing but when we do, the pupils are more excited, engaged and can clearly articulate the possibilities of what can be done with the words once they are captured. There is a fun factor that seems to engage pupils.
Recently we edited some writing in Word and a pupil asked if we could blog our extracts in Kidblog. Great suggestion, easily done with copy and paste and then the students had great discussions about their writing. All possible because the words had been captured electronically.
Whether you are using the most widely used spreadsheet software Excel, or maybe Google Slides, the main purpose of the software is to enable collection and manipulation of data. Data is collected in cells and then formulae and rules can be applied in order to draw some kinds of conclusions. Graphs and charts can be created in order to help visualize data. Spreadsheet software is incredibly powerful and is commonplace in the world business.
A 5th grade context is maybe a little easier to introduce the use of spreadsheets because of the cross curricular opportunities which exist. We can teach maths skills while collecting data about Greek Gods, analyze traffic data during a geography study or make charts following an entrepreneur project. We can use charts to illustrate historical data when studying the Egyptians. One of the most important skills though is to teach children the power of data. Understanding what points on a line graph represent is important, helping them to start to figure out what is happening between those points and why it is happening is a valuable analytical skill which can carry over to many other subjects.
I have a personal loathing of slide transitions! Without guidance, 5th graders navigate towards animations and transitions like bees to honey and will happily spend hours finding the exact way to spin in paragraph word by word! The number of bad training sessions I have sat through in which I was read to is burned into my brain. Presentations are easy to get wrong.
As long as I have had access to a projector in my class, I have used presentation software to try and engage pupils. Looking back now, many of my attempts probably did not help learning much. Powerpoint became synonymous with presentation software so much that my pupils still refer to presentations as, ‘Powerpoints’ even if they are using Google Slides or Keynote. It has been that influential. Now tools such as Prezi and Emaze make creating different types of presentation much easier – but can lead to a focus on the visual tricks and take away from the important aspect of what is being said. The technical skill of using the software has to be matched with an understanding of how to create an effective presentation. Roblyer states that, “The effectiveness of interactive presentations depends largely on the designer’s authoring skills.” (Roblyer 2016, p135)
In 5th grade we use presentation software in almost every subject area over the course of the year. For sharing solutions to maths problems, group research projects or developing presentation skills in Literacy. What the tools all give is the opportunity for pupils to share their thoughts and ideas in a different way. To support them in their learning as they learn to stand up and talk in front of their peers.
To not use these types of tools in your class, (if they are available) does not make you a bad teacher. Likewise using them in class doesn’t make you a good teacher. They are simply tools which can be used to enhance the learning experience. If used reflectively the ‘Basic suite’ can: engage students, hold their attention and even offer new previously impossible collaborative opportunities. The real world uses these tools and so to not at least try and find a way to incorporate them into lessons might be to do your pupils a disservice.
Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 7th Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson.