Making Change for a Quarter: Re-Envisioning 6th Grade IT

7 12 2009

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been two full years since I taught my own technology classes. Of course I’ve done all sorts of co-planning and co-teaching in the last couple of years at ISB, but it’s certainly not the same as having your own group of students to work with. So, this year, in my new role of Middle School Technology and Learning Coordinator, I am thrilled to be back in the classroom, teaching our one middle school IT class – a sixth grade quarter-long exploratory course – for just one quarter this year. With the end of the semester quickly approaching, we’re almost finished with our ‘big project’, so I thought I’d share it here.

Given that I’m only teaching one section of this class (and my colleagues Ross, Matt and Jean are teaching the others), I felt it was important to keep the content as consistent as possible, but of course, I couldn’t resist transforming the process of how we would learn that content, along with the finished product that we would use to demonstrate our learning. As can be expected, since this is the first time I’ve taught this particular class in this particular way, there are a few things I would change for next time around, but overall, I think it turned out pretty well.

Basically the course is intended to teach the “basics” of Microsoft Office (you know the course, you probably taught it back in the 1990′s like I did when I was first teaching). So, considering the content, I tried to develop a project-based unit that would emphasize independent learning (since so many of the students would probably already know the basics), as well as allow them to share what they’ve learned in an authentic environment, and utilize some new technology tools in a creative way.

As usual, I followed the Understanding by Design model to plan the unit and the MYP Technology Design Cycle to break down the stages of the project into manageable chunks. Basically, what we’re working towards is a shared wiki with student-created tutorials on all of the MS Office basics (inspired by Chad Bates, our fantastic tech director who taught the class last year and experimented with the tutorial idea with his class) and an overview of digital citizenship, which we will share with the entire middle school as a resource for their potential technology needs.

Here’s what it looks like:

Established Goals (ISTE NETS Standards)

2. Communication and Collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:

a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.

4. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving & Decision-Making: Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. Students:

b. plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.

5. Digital Citizenship: Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior. Students:

d. exhibit leadership for digital citizenship.

6. Technology Operations and Concepts: Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations. Students:

b. select and use applications effectively and productively.
d. transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies.

Enduring Understandings:
Students will understand that:

  • Responsible digital citizens demonstrated shared characteristics, habits and attitudes.
  • We can work together to teach others what we have learned.
  • We can use web 2.0 tools to collaborate and communicate with a global audience.

Essential Questions:

  • What are the characteristics, habits and attitudes of a responsible digital citizen?
  • How can we work together to teach others about responsible digital citizenship?
  • How can we collaborate and communicate with others online?

Assessment Evidence


  • Goal: Your goal is to produce a multimedia handbook about basic technology tools and digital citizenship for ISB elementary students.
  • Role: You are a team of student leaders at ISB.
  • Audience: Elementary students at ISB, and around the world.
  • Situation: You will need to collaborate together to produce a thorough, easy to understand, multimedia tutorial wiki about basic technology tools and digital citizenship for a school and worldwide audience.
  • Product/Performance: Your wiki must demonstrate everything that you have learned about digital citizenship and basic technology tools this quarter.

Six Facets of Understanding:

  • Explain: Produce a screencast tutorial about how to use a specific technology feature in MS Office.
  • Apply: As a team, create a multimedia handbook about digital citizenship for ISB elementary students.
  • Interpret: As part of your presentation to ISB elementary students, write a skit to demonstrate your understanding of digital citizenship.
  • Perspective: Develop and deliver a lesson to ISB elementary students presenting all facets of responsible digital citizenship.
  • Self-Knowledge: On your blog, describe what you know about digital citizenship. At the end of the course, go back to your first post and reflect on what you’ve learned. What more do you need to learn?
  • Empathize: On your blog, write a post in the perspective of one of the characters in the public service announcements. Reflect on the events of that day and how they made you feel.

And here’s how I broke it down into the stages of the MYP Technology Design Cycle:


During the first part of the project, we spent most of our class time exploring different types tutorials and determining what the criteria are for a quality tutorial. To get the discussion started, we watched and critiqued the first one (on adding a survey in Moodle) as a class. Then, they had class (and homework) time to watch at least 2 other tutorials from the list below (or a different tutorial that they found and shared with the class):

For each tutorial they watched, they added a response to the Moodle discussion forum answering the following questions:

  • What did the creator of this tutorial do well?
  • What would you change about this tutorial?
  • What aspects of this tutorial would you like to include in your own tutorial?

In the end, we came up with a list (as a class) of criteria for a good tutorial that all students will be assessed with at the end of the project. Then, because we had so many different skills to create tutorials on, I asked students to form groups based on the tutorials we needed (this list was based on the course curriculum I was given). Finally, each student wrote a blog post reflecting on what they learned in that section of the project , which tutorial they had chosen to create and why, and what they need to learn to complete their tutorial.

The next time I teach this course, I would also add some exploration time with ScreenRecorder and MovieMaker (and maybe even GarageBand) since we ended up doing quite a lot more editing than I thought we would. I would also add in brainstorming time for students to create a mini-storyline for their tutorial to help give them focus and to make the tutorials a little more interesting.


During the planning, students created a storyboard and script of their tutorial, keeping in mind all of the criteria we developed during the investigate stage. We focused on: making the tutorial understandable by anyone (even people who are not in our class), using simple and clear directions, including a basic introduction and credits, and changing the view and “zoom” on the screen to keep the tutorial interesting. Once the students completed their storyboard and script, they posted it on their individual blog along with a reflection on this part of the project.


At this point, students have a good idea of what their tutorial will look like and exactly what steps they need to take to complete their tutorial. They spent a little bit of time exploring with the SmartNotebook SmartRecorder (which happens to be our only screencasting software available to students), after watching this tutorial created by Matt, and then got right down to the recording.

Aside from some serious Windows-related drama about recording volume (oh how I miss working in a Mac lab), it really only took one lesson for the students to record their complete screencast. Of course, they all wanted to add the extra features, so we brought their screencasts into MovieMaker and started adding the finishing touches. Once they had their introductions and credits, it was time to add background music. Since we have access to a smaller Mac lab, we spent one lesson exploring with GarageBand to create simple (and original) background tracks.

As each student finished their tutorial, they did a peer assessment based on the class criteria. Once they had feedback from their peers, they had time to edit and fix any issues with their completed tutorial. After they were satisfied, they uploaded their finished tutorial to YouTube, embedded it in a blog post and reflected on their finished product.


For the last few days of the project, we spent some time determining which aspects of the ISB Definition of Learning we achieved throughout the process of completing our tutorials:

I used a simple checklist to get students thinking about which aspect of learning they met during each stage, then they shared their results with a peer knowing that they would be asked to share 1 or 2 ideas with the whole class, and then we had a whole class reflection. Finally, they wrote a personal reflection as a blog post.

Here are a few highlights from what they shared with me during the whole class-reflection:

  • We learned a lot having to do our tutorials independently instead of being directly taught each skill. This way we learned it when we needed it and as we were doing our project, which helps us remember how to do it.
  • We learned more by being able to test out the tools by ourselves and helping each other than by having the teacher teach us everything together.
  • We would have preferred to do one single blog post at the end of the project reflecting on everything, instead of one for each stage.
  • By writing a blog post at the end of each stage, we really reinforced everything we learned during that stage.
  • We learned a lot about what makes a good blog post from having to write so many.
  • We learned about ISB’s Blogging Guidelines and how to write a blog post with just the right kind of information.
  • We learned how to be independent in our projects, but we liked having the checklists and all the steps broken down for us.
  • We would have liked the steps to be broken down into even smaller chunks so we could meet our deadlines better.
  • We learned that we can use websites and YouTube to learn new things and to teach other people things that we know.

Putting it all together

I waited until the last three weeks of class to have the students start compiling the wiki because I really didn’t know how long it would take to complete the tutorials. So now we’ll spend the next few days putting the finishing touches on the wiki and publicizing it around the middle school so that other students can learn from our work.

We also have a collaborating class in the US who are doing something very similar, except using the Mac version of all of these applications. We’re hoping that they will finish their tutorials before the end of our semester so we can also include them on our wiki and have a brief discussion about the transferability of skills from one platform to another.

We’ll also use this time to discuss digital citizenship and online safety and responsibility to be able to add those sections to the wiki. If we have time, I would love to do something in one or two elementary classrooms to share what we’ve learned  with an authentic audience (that can always use some reinforcement about appropriate online behavior).

Final Thoughts

Considering that I really didn’t have a good idea of how long it would take students to complete this type of tutorial – especially in a PC lab working with MovieMaker (my old enemy), I’m quite impressed with how things turned out. I was so happy to see how much the students learned in this very project-based course. I did very little direct instruction, even though some of the screencasting and editing tools were completely new to most students. It was a pleasure to see how much they appreciated being able to learn independently and to create something new with their knowledge.

Next time I would really like to add a more in-depth collaborative element – having our global partners do the peer assessment instead of simply within our class, potentially sharing more directly via our blog posts, and maybe coming up with some kind of collaborative lesson for our elementary classrooms that could involve multimedia elements (or a Skype connection) from our partner class. Of course, this is all dependent on timing, commitment and logistics. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to teach this course again to make it even better!



18 responses to “Making Change for a Quarter: Re-Envisioning 6th Grade IT”

    8 12 2009
      abran28 (06:53:01) :     

    Wow, fantastic project. Really gets me thinking about my own teaching. I love the collaboration in the learning process. I teach senior students and this whole process you have discussed is giving me ideas galore on how to set up my own classroom. Great post.

    8 12 2009
      Jesús (09:21:48) :     

    Simply put: WooooooW!

    It is just an amazing project, thank you very much for sharing with all of us. It really turns it upside down of what you can really achieve with well-designed projects. Although this is my first comment in your blog, I seize the opportunity to tell you that I’ve been reading you since last year and that the way you teach has changed mine tremendously.

    It sursprised me a lot that you had to work using Windows, you always write about Mac! LOL.

    Again, thank you so much and I’ll read you around.

    8 12 2009
      dcnavis (13:59:52) :     

    With all the different aspects of technology to focus on I am curious as to why you chose Microsoft Office.
    - Did you find you didn’t have enough time to spread in different directions? –
    - Was it something that was team directed and comfort directed?
    - Is there also a tech class for grade 7 and 8 or this it for ‘Middle School tech class’ the rest being an integration model?

    Thanks for spelling it out, it helps to read what you’ve been able to do.

    9 12 2009
      chris kerlin (14:38:37) :     

    Hi Kim,
    Great idea – love how student centered and driven it is. I teach an 8th grade tech class and might do something similar. I was wondering how you ensured that all kids learned all of the skills in the programs? Did you find that they only learned the skill that they did a tutorial for? I mean if Cami did the excel bar graph with custom colors, axis labels and title does she also know how to do everything else in Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Publisher?
    Thanks for all of your wonderful posts!

    9 12 2009
      Dennis Harter (22:56:26) :     

    With meticulousness like this, you can tell The Class were lucky to have you.


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