classroom management / problem solving / teacher resources / Tech ed

The Secret to Teaching Tech to Kids: Delegate

There’s a secret to teaching kids how to use the computer. It’s called ‘delegate’. I don’t mean sluff off the teaching to aides or parents. Here, I’m referring to empowering students to be their own problem-solvers, then expect it of them. Here’s how you do it:

  • Let them know that computers aren’t difficult. Aw, come on. I see your scrunched faces. Here’s the ugly little truth: Computers are only hard to learn if kids are told they’re hard to learn. Don’t mention it. Compare keyboarding to piano–a skill lots of kids feel good about–or another one that relates to your particular group. Remove the fear. They might not believe you, but you’re the teacher so they’ll give you a chance
  • Teach them how to do the twenty most common problems they’ll face on a computer (more on that later). Expect them to know these–do pop quizzes if that’s your teaching style). Post them on the walls. Do a Problem-solving Board (click the link for details on that–it works well in my classes). Remind them if they know these, they’ll have 70% less problems (that’s true, too) than the kids who don’t know how to solve these. If they raise their hand and ask for help, play Socrates and force them to think through the answer. Sometimes I point to the wall. Sometimes I ask the class for help (without saying who needs assistance. Embarrassing students is counter-productive). Pick the way that works for you. The only solution you can’t employ is to do it for them
  • Teach students keyboard shortcuts. Does that sound like an odd suggestion? It isn’t. Students learn in different ways. Some are best with menus, ribbons and mouse clicks. Some like the easy and speed of the keyboard. Give them that choice. If they know both ways, they’ll pick the one that works best for them. Once they know these, they’ll be twice as likely to remember one of the two methods of doing the skill like exit a program (Alt+F4) or print (Ctrl+P).
  • Let neighbors help neighbors. I resisted this for several years, thinking they’d end up chatting about other topics than tech. They don’t when sufficiently motivated and interested. They are excited to show off their knowledge by helping classmates.

I know I promised in Are you as smart as a Year 6 in technology? to share the twenty tech problems that solve seventy percent of student questions. I will have to save that for next month. For those who want to peek ahead, click to see what readers think is the hardest tech problem they face and click to see the problems I’ll be covering–and their solutions. Next month, I’ll provide detail to help you understand them and their solutions better.

–first printed in Innovate My School

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

4 thoughts on “The Secret to Teaching Tech to Kids: Delegate

  1. How do you deal with creating substitute plans without having to write pages and pages because of uncertainity of the skill level of the sub? I never know how detailed to get since I don’t know who will be subbing. Yet, if they are agreeing to sub part of me thinks thye must have some level of comfort???

    • That is a great question, Mary. To be honest, I’ve given up on subs. More often than not, they don’t know technology or are frightened of the project the kids are working on. I usually give them options. Start with keyboarding (15 minutes if they want). I never start a project with a sub, so then students can continue whatever project they are currently working on. If the sub can, she can teach the next skillset. If not, just let them work. I provide a list of websites that deal with the classroom topics students can visit if they are as far as they can get without teacher assistance on a project. The link here takes you to my classroom start page. On the bookmark list (upper left corner), I have several links to state capitols the fifth graders could study. Sometimes, I use the opportunity of a sub to do a paper quiz, like a hardware naming quiz or fill-in the keys on a keyboard quiz. Since classes are over in 45 minutes, that usually does it.

      What do you do?

  2. If it’s a prearranged absence I write very detailed plans using screenshots and everything. Some times my plans are 6-8 pages long. I too always have the sub start with keyboarding and finish an ongoing project providing links to tutorials on the program being used. Our district strongly encourages us to not just provide subs with “fillers” but continue with the curriculum in place. When I student taught in England over 22 years ago they had “supply” teachers (instead of subsitute teachers). They were expected to go into whichever classroom they agreed to sub in and teach from their own repotoire of lessons. I like that concept so if I am sick I can focus on getting well instead of typing up pages of lessons. Most did a theme for a day that was educational and fun. Of course the US would never resort to this concept but I like the idea. 4 years ago my mother unexpectantly ended up in the hospital where my entire family waited a week before she passed away. I was not in the right frame of mind to get detailed lesson plans together so each sub (a different one each day) basically gave the kids “free time” using links on our homepage. Such a shame but out of my hands. Two years ago I underwent treatment for cancer and forced my tired and aching body to provide detailed plans but the good thing was it was the same sub for the duration of my leave of absence. Just wish there was an easier alternative. Most other professions don’t worry about who is doing their job when they are way sick.

    Love your blog-thank you so much!

    • Interesting. My school tries to get the same sub all the way through an absence, but most know nothing about tech. Even if I provided detailed plans, they’d be lost on them. I’ve started collecting easy projects that can be done in a day for just such days–like filling out a blank keyboard or Spelling City with word study. I never get to those sorts of things during my class time so is worthwhile during sub time.

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