12 Tips for Teaching Middle School Tech

Middle Smiddle schoolchoolers are a special breed. They definitely need to learn productivity software like word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, but I’ve found it’s better to give them big goals, general guidelines, deadlines, and let them go. I just finished editing a tech textbook for 7th grade and it includes units on problem solving, logical thinking, digital citizenship, programming. To teach these topics, you as the teacher engage students with Robotics, Scratch, games (select games that teach–i.e., Minecraft, Bridge Builder, SimCity), web-based communication tools (Animoto, Glogster, blogs, wikis). It’s self-directed, student-paced, so places responsibility for learning squarely with the student.
Here are some ideas:
  1. flip the classroom. Provide resources to students on the topic (say, Scratch or robotics) via a screencast or a Google Hangout and then do a project using the skill during class time. Students will have to do the homework to be productive in class.
  2. use backchannel devices like Today’s Meet or Socrative–or even Twitter. Keep the feedback displayed throughout the lesson on the Smartscreen so you and students can track involvement
  3. focus units on inquiry, collaboration and sharing, and strategies to be used in all classes
  4. use domain-specific language as you teach tech. Don’t shy away from terminology like ‘backchannel’, ‘programming’, ’embed’, ‘widget’
  5. use every tech tool you can for every activity possible. Show them how tech is part of your daily activities, ingrained into your teaching. Use a digital online clock to track time. Take pictures with your iPhone. Scan art projects with an iPad app. Have them come up with more ways to use digital tools.
  6. Expect students to be risk takers. Don’t rush in to solve their problems. Ask them to think how it was done in the past or what strategies might provide a solution. Embrace all that come your way.
  7. if a student doesn’t like one of the tools you suggest, let them come up with their own. If they can convince you it satisfies the Big Idea and answers the Essential Questions, let them use it.
  8. Regardless of what you teach during the year, be sure to cover digital tools being used by your school, correct keyboarding, and how to be good digital citizens. These are critical.
  9. Differentiate instruction for your students. Be flexible, open-minded, and adventurous. One of techs biggest pluses is that it differentiates well for learning styles. Use it.
  10. Collaborate with other 8th grade subject teachers on cross-curricular planners that involve technology.
  11. Treat students as ‘authors’ and ‘doers’, rather than passive consumers. Consider a BYOD approach in your classes so students can use the devices they have easiest access to and are most comfortable with (if your school IT folks and infrastructure can support this approach). Encourage students to complete projects when most convenient for their schedules.
  12. Assessment isn’t static—nor is it ‘bad’. Be creative. Remember why you assess: 1) to see if students understand the lesson, 2) to see if what was taught can be transferred to life, 3) to help students prepare for college and/or career.

I use these in my 7th and 8th grade curriculum. If you click this link, you’ll find a table of contents (in the photo gallery).

More on Middle School tech:

Middle School Programmers: Meet Alice

Dear Otto: How do I teach Inquiry and Research in Middle School


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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Categories: classroom management, lesson plans, middle school technology | Tags: , , | 23 Comments

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23 thoughts on “12 Tips for Teaching Middle School Tech

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  6. Colin Bridgewater

    Some great suggestions here, but how do you manage to integrate Twitter use in the middle grades when some of your students aren’t old enough to meet the TOS requirements? I have found that since my school gives each student a GoogleApps account, sometimes we can register for other sites via our Google logins (http://www.coggle.it is a great example). Luckily, we are not in a school like the one in VA that blocks access to Google Images and Google Apps: http://trnwired.org/2013/10/internet-changes-affect-students/ – it’s hard to believe that some schools still think this is okay in 2013.

    • You’re right to be cautious about that–and do share your concerns with students so they see how you incorporate their privacy and protection into your teaching. There are a variety of ways to handle Twitter for students not old enough for their own accounts. I like what an ecolleague did here–one class account, students tweeted with initials only. Here’s her class Twitter stream (younger than middle school, but the same concerns apply).

      Having said that, it is of course critical that you follow your school’s social media policies. Those will provide the guidelines for getting your students involved in lots of different online conversations.

    • One more thought, Colin. Sylivia Tolisano has a great guide on using Twitter in the classroom. I’ve found it very useful–http://langwitches.org/blog/2011/08/27/guide-to-twitter-in-the-k-8-classroom/.

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  18. Good article

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