The Relative Advantages of Using the ‘Basic Suite’ for Learning

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

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.

Spreadsheets

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.

Presentation tools

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.

Conclusion

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.

References:

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 7th Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson.

 

Relative Advantages of Instructional Software in the Classroom

Prior to the reading for this week (Roblyer, 2016) , I was aware that there were different types of software which I used in the classroom. I was vaguely aware that they could be used in different ways for different things, but I had not really thought about categorization. I hadn’t thought about the type of software and how it would impact my pupils. I tend to stumble across things and then think about how I can add them to my classroom environment.

From my reading, I have learned about the following 5 different categories of software. Drill and practice, Tutorials, Simulations, Instructional Games and Problem-Solving Software. In this post I will discuss a little about each one and include some examples for each that could be used with 5th grade pupils. The final part of the blog discusses the relative advantages of using instructional software.

Drill and Practice

Drill and Practice software provides students with opportunities to learn by working through examples, usually one after the other and then receiving some form of feedback on their performance. There are different types of activities such as Branching drills, Flash cards, Chart completion and more Extensive feedback activities.  Given that this type of software was some of the earliest to be used, there is extensive research that shows that these types of activity can facilitate the successful transfer of knowledge to long term memory for users. Criticism often comes from constructivists who argue that drill and practice is synonymous with ‘old fashioned’ and out of date teaching methods. The following pieces of software are examples that I could use and adapt for teaching Social Sciences to my 5th grade pupils.

Sheppard Software: This webpage has a range of different geography and history based drill and practice activities.

https://quizlet.com is a flashcard based piece of online software.

Tutorial

Tutorial software is similar to how a teacher might teach, but virtually. It is usually designed to be completed alone rather than as a complement to other teaching. This type of software is either, branching or linear. A linear tutorial is as it sounds – a straight through piece of software which gives explanation, practice and feedback to the participant no matter the performance of the learner. A branching tutorial is more complex and will offer different ‘paths’ for different learners dependent on their performance. The software often includes drill and practice activities within the tutorial and so as long as the activities are well thought through so the same advantages apply. Difficulties lie in the effort and research required to produce an effective piece of tutorial software. Constructivists also argue that this type of software is simply an extension of direct instruction. This type of software is often limited at 5th grade level – often being designed for older students. I struggled to find an appropriate piece of software for use in Social Science with my class, so included a link to Khan Academy, a resource many of my pupils use for maths but which covers social sciences as well – albeit at a higher level that 5th grade.

https://www.khanacademy.org

Simulations

Simulation software varies widely but essentially is a piece of software which is a computer model which mimics in some way a situation with the intention of teaching the user how the system actually functions. Rather than teach the user what to do, a range of choices are usually presented to the learner. Simulations which teach a learner, ‘about something’ are categorized as Physical or Iterative and those which teach, ‘how to’ are categorized as Procedural or Situational. This categorization is attributed to Alessi and Trollop (2001). There are a number of advantages to using simulations, but the most apparent to me is the ability to let children participate in learning situation which would otherwise be impossible. Criticisms of the models tend to focus on the danger of eliminating, ‘hands-on’ experience for students especially in science lab software which tends to be the most common. The Icivics resource is free and can be used for history or geography.

https://www.icivics.org

http://mapzone.ordnancesurvey.co.uk This is a simulation I have used in the past which teaches pupils about flood defenses in the UK. Note it appears to no longer be supported but worked in Chrome.

Instructional Games

Instructional games are designed to add fun to educational experiences. They can focus of the learner having to acquire and apply knowledge but usually with some kind of rules and gameplay which might include competition. The engagement is one of the strong points as pupils seem to be engaged and drawn into the competition. I have created my own ‘game structure’ to use in maths lessons rewarding pupils with points, levels and awards and they love it. Simple tasks become much more motivated. While not a social science resource, I can not go past this site which we use in school a lot. The maths games are FUN and the pupils love the ability to compete amongst each other as well as against other schools.

https://www.mangahigh.com/en-us/

Problem-Solving Software

This category of software is very popular and might be mistaken with simulation and instructional games. The difference is that this type of software is created to help students foster specific problem-solving skills rather than focus on one specific curriculum area – although many of the elementary specific titles do focus on math or literacy. Supporters claim that visualization is encouraged, that students are more motivated and that some software helps students to understand how their knowledge can be applied. Critics have claimed that there can be a lack of skills transfer and that there can be a lot of confusion of the actual skills being developed. The following link came from a suggestion in the reading this week and I am going to try it with my maths class this week. Again not for social studies but valuable for 5th grade.

http://mathbydesign.thinkport.org/default.aspx

The Relative Advantage

I have learned a lot this week, and have found a plethora of new resources which I will be using in class. More importantly, I have a better understanding of the types of software which I can use. The relative advantages of using such software are clear to me – with one caveat. The software has to be evaluated carefully by the teacher to make sure that it serves a purpose and is appropriate for purpose. If it does, then the advantages are very apparent. Students might well be more engaged and motivated, there exists the opportunity to have more pupils learning independently and in an individual manner. For large classes pupils can all be engaged and often work at a pace that suits them more appropriately. There exists evidence that drill and practice software can help learners commit to long term memory more easily. Often the impossible becomes possible with different simulations. There are balances to be aware of but it is obvious that the advantages that well designed and thoughtfully implemented software afford outweigh the disadvantages.

References:

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 7th Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson.

Alessi, S., & Trollip S. (2001) Multimedia for learning: Methods and development. Needham Heights, M.A. Allen and Bacon