Teaching 21st Century Skills in Kindergarten

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    Research shows that using interactive technology engages students and deepens understanding.  Realizing this, I have strived to learn ways to incorporate technology and its vast benefits into my teaching.  The computer has a way of instantly engaging five and six year olds.  The difficulty has been finding age appropriate resources for my kindergarteners other than games for my single classroom computer.  Building a unit of study, Pioneering Communities, helped my young students learn about how needs and wants were met by early settlers in our local area.  I teach this unit in the spring to allow the children to exercise their newly acquired skills of reading and writing in a meaningful way.  When I learned about the Intel Teaching Thinking with Technology Master Teacher class last summer, I felt these were the kind of 21st Century skills I wanted to teach my students.  So I built some Visual Ranking activities to use with the Pioneering Communities unit.  The Visual Ranking Tool makes the process of ranking items and comparing lists easy.  My students are able to discuss and negotiate their reasoning with their team partner and can move items to any position in a list with a click and drag.  The computer becomes a tool to enhance thinking, reasoning and collaboration for my kindergarten class.  Later, a discussion of the similarities and differences of their work can be done through seeing a correlation of lists with other teams. To introduce my class to the Visual Ranking Tool, I created an ABC activity where chunks of the alphabet were listed in random order.  The teams learned to login to the Intel student workspace, click and drag items into different places in the list, and how to save their work.  A number order activity had them rank 10 random numbers between 10 and 30 in order from least to greatest.  Familiarity with this content allowed them to focus more on using the Ranking tool.  The teams worked together very well, were deeply engaged, and thoroughly enjoyed these activities.  When completed, these activities had correct answers.  The farm animal activity, with no “correct” answer, would have the students think, discuss and defend their ideas with their partners.  This exercise is being done by the children as a pre-test to assess their knowledge of farm animals and their benefits.  The goals involve using tech skills of logging in, typing information, using the mouse to click and drag, and saving their work.  They are collaborating with partners, reasoning, and writing results in notebooks.  Most importantly, they are engaged learners. At this point in our year, most of these children have learned letters and sounds and are well on their way to becoming readers and writers.  They are ready for new challenges and always eager to “play games” on the computer.  Two of the children in this group are Exceptional and need extra help with many of the activities in our class.  When planning the teams, I chose partners who could help, but still allow input from these children.  Two children in this group are ESL and are each teamed with an English speaking student and working as an equal partner.  As the video begins, I am helping the children complete the login to the Intel site.  They are watching the big screen in front of the lab to see where I move the cursor to click into the site.  You can hear as they call, “Mrs. Tippett” for help to get them on the right page.  You can see that the children are immediately engaged in the activity. My assistant moves around the room with the camera to show their work and some of their comments, which was more effective than the stationary camera being operated by our media specialist.  You can see pencils and fingers pointing on screens as the discussions of placement are ongoing.  Having had experience with the Visual Rankling Tool during previous lab sessions, the students quickly get on-task after logging into the site.  When the animal list came up on their screens, children began the process of ranking.  As the activity continues, they can be seen using literacy skills to write notations in their notebooks.  Some animals were ranked by student favorites.  For example, Ulysses justified his choice of cats by saying, “Cats. I like cats.”  Victoria can be heard saying, “Zebras!” Her tone would indicate surprise at zebra being on a list of farm animals. Bur her partner, Logan, says, “Yea, that’s good.”  Then they call me over.  To facilitate communication and collaboration, I ask, “Do you think zebras are more important than roosters?  Why”  Later, Chloe announces, “OK, we did it!”  When I looked at their ranking, I questioned their placement of the elephant.  Both Chloe and Daniel agreed that there would not have been elephants on a farm.  They discussed the ranking and changed placement of some of the animals.  At the end of the video, Chloe can be seen showing the camera the list she and Daniel generated in their notebook.  As more of the children finished their ranking, I reminded them of the ‘save’ button and had them log out.  Saving the work allows me to use the Intel site to do correlations between teams and see how closely they ranked the animals.  Using these correlations in a subsequent lesson, the students can compare and contrast their lists and discuss their reasoning for rankling.  Visual Ranking is an effective assessment tool, in this case, providing pre-instruction information before beginning the Pioneering Communities unit.  The video shows my kindergarten students using a variety of technology skills: keyboarding, mouse click and drag, using the monitor, logging in and out, and saving their work.  They are participating in teamwork, discussion, reasoning, collaborating, as well as literacy skills of writing information in a notebook.  I can examine their lists to get an idea of their knowledge of farm animals and can use this information guide instruction when we begin our Pioneering Communities Unit.  The Ranking Tool also provides correlation between teams.  For example, Team 1 had a very strong positive correlation with Team 3 of 0.84 and a weak positive of 0.27 with Team 4.  Therefore, pairing Teams 1 and 4 to compare and contrast their lists would lead to a discussion of the reasoning for their placements and a good learning experience.  Using the Visual Ranking Tool helps me teach “21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and creativity” to my kindergarten.