Monday, May 19, 2014

Teachable Moments: The Mouse/Touch Screen

So, I have a pretty good feeling that most early childhood educators are probably raising an eyebrow and going "huh?" over the mention of trying to teach young learners about the different clicks on a mouse or gestures on a touch screen. However, if you teach the basics about the tools your students use to operate a computer their ability to troubleshoot in the computer will greatly increase!

I definitely had a revelation at the beginning of the school year when my students were first going on the computers in the lab. The number of hands that were raised because a mysterious menu had appeared on their screen was shocking. In today's world, it seems like students are quick to clam-up or freeze when they have made a mistake which was made very apparent in the computer lab. My students did not have an appropriate awareness of the mouse and when they accidentally clicked the right-hand button instead of the left they immediately froze. The first thing many of them told me when I came over to assist them was "I didn't touch anything, this just appeared" or "I'm stuck."

If my students had an awareness of how the tools they were using worked, they would've felt much more comfortable clicking anywhere else on the screen to make the menu box disappear. At the older range of early childhood, they also would've had a range of other options at their disposal when working within a word document or online. For example, things like copy and paste which are part of the WA State Education Technology Standards. Even if they were not yet ready to use these tools, they would understand their purpose and why they are so conveniently located at the right-click or specific gestures.

One way to easily help your students develop familiarity with the navigational tools like a mouse, or the various hand gestures associated with touch screens, is to simply narrate your actions during whole group instruction. You might even ask students to narrate their actions in the computer lab or when using a touch screen device so that they develop an awareness of the navigational possibilities. Another option would be to randomly choose to purposely right-click or accidentally use a gesture to involve your students in a quick troubleshooting discussion or to show them how the available options change depending on the program or site you are visiting. Before you know it, your students will be reminding you of the more efficient ways to get around the computer/tablet.

Some great ways to help your students explore the properties of a computer mouse when you have a larger amount of time include using engaging "play" software like FreeDraw or ABCYa's Paint Go. Free Draw is great for the youngest learners as the utensil always remains fixed and cannot rotate. Whereas, ABCYa's Paint Go has a rotating utensil that requires more precision and thought as to where you want the mark to go. Not to mention, working with a mouse increases students fine motor skills and directional awareness/vocabulary!

While this teachable moment may seem insignificant in comparison to some of the others, it is a skill/awareness that is all too frequently taken for granted. As teachers, we tend to consider navigational tasks during whole group instruction as something we'd like to breeze by as quickly as possible in fear of losing those short attention spans. However, we are truly hindering our students if we are not educating them about these basic navigation principles that will assist them in troubleshooting and ease of access later on in their more sophisticated interactions with technology.