Monday, May 26, 2014

Teachable Moments: Printing

Have you ever gotten to the end of computer lab time and asked your students to press the print button only to watch all of their hands go up multiple times as they walk their way through the series of print screens? Take a moment to check your students knowledge of how the printing process works and provide them with a foundation for how machines communicate with one another!

Retrieved from

While printing is becoming more and more obsolete among older grades, it is still a necessary practice for our young learners. These young students are not yet ready to be publishing their work to a blog, e-mailing it to their teachers, or completing any other digital means of submission. However, my second graders have quickly become rather successful at sharing documents with each other and myself using Google Documents but that is a post for another day!

I believe the printing process is one of the more complicated tasks young learners are faced with and it seems to be the one that brings up the most complications, as well. It is also a process commonly overlooked by teachers when giving instructions for an assignment in the computer lab as it is one of the final steps and is a rote process for many of us. However, young learners are fascinated by the concept of printing and if allowed, would print just about anything in order to wait with wide eyes by the printer to see their "masterpiece" come sliding out of the printer.

Before asking your whole class to print a specific assignment or task at the conclusion of a lesson, I recommend taking the time to either provide a brief tutorial of the printing process and screens students will encounter or, better yet, simply utilize a computer lab time to focus on printing. Now, I am not asking you to devote your 30 minute block in the computer lab to printing. I would suggest that you select a shorter, less-structured activity for your computer lab time (like having free time with a drawing program to explore new tools or having students practice typing their name several times in a word document with appropriate capital letters). This way you'll have a few more minutes to talk print screens with your students.

Personally, I would highly the print preview button for my students and have them learn to print via that screen. It is an easy practice to reinforce the concept of reviewing work before it is "submitted" - a skill that is so readily overlooked by students! While it is obviously worth your time to walk your students through the print process to avoid all those little hands shooting up across the room as they are prompted with more and more questions, I think it is even more important to talk to your students about how computers (or tablets) and printers work together.

If you are using a wired printer, are your students aware that a cable connects the two devices and what type of information travels between the devices? If you are using a wireless printer, are your students aware that a signal is traveling from their computer via a network to the printer? Take a few minutes to ask your children how the image on their computer screen travels to the printer. I bet the answers will be pretty entertaining and in the end you can educate them about how machines communicate with one another. No need to get all technical with your students, but just sharing the basic concept of information transfer via signals is a great start! If you'd like a little more information yourself, check out this article.

This conversation also serves as a great introduction for further discussions about why it is important to take certain precautionary measures to ensure your safety when surfing the web or interacting with others online. (This is because of how networks can be protected or unprotected and the open nature of the web which can make it easy for others to send unwanted mail, ads, and other spam.)

If you have the luxury of extra time, you might want to try a quick experiment with your students to deepen their understanding of the printing process:

Print the Nose on the Smiley Face
1. In front of your students, draw a smiley face on a piece of paper. Place it smiley-face up in the paper storage compartment of your printer.
2. Ask your students to predict how the smiley face/paper will appear when it leaves the printer after printing. You might want to give your students their own pieces of paper to manipulate while they consider how paper flows through a printer.
3. In real time (or set-up previously), put a large red circle in the middle of a Microsoft Word document and select print. Depending upon your printer, the "nose" will either appear on your smiley or be on the opposite side of the paper.
4. Depending upon your results, involve your students in a discussion about how the paper traveled through the printer to produce the desired results or how you could change the results by placing the paper in the storage tray differently.

Like I said before, printing may be quickly becoming a thing of the past...but, for now, it is still a staple in many elementary schools and certainly with the youngest of learners. Not to mention, it offers an opportunity to include some critical thinking about how the world around them works!