Are you as Tech-Smart as a Fifth Grader?

25 Jul

I’ve been teaching technology to kindergarten through eighth graders for almost fifteen years. Parents and colleagues are constantly amazed that I can get the


Are you puzzling how to teach problem solving to students? Read on

littlest learners to pay attention, remember, and have fun with the skills that are required to grow into competent, enthusiastic examples of the Web 2.0 generation.

I have a confession to make: It’s not as hard as it looks. Sure, those first few kindergarten months, when they don’t know what the words enter and backspace mean, nor the difference between the keyboard and headphones, and don’t understand why they can’t grab their neighbor’s headphones or bang on their keyboard, I do rethink my chosen field. But that passes. By January, every parent tour that passes through my classroom thinks I’m a magician.

What’s my secret? I teach every child to be a problem solver. If their computer doesn’t work, I have them fix it (what’s wrong with it? What did you do last time? Have you tried…?) If they can’t remember how to do something, I prod them (Think back to the instructions. What did you do last week? See that tool—does that look like it would help?) I insist they learn those geek words that are tech terminology (There’s no such thing as earphones. Do you mean headphones? I don’t understand when you point. Do you mean the cursor?) No matter how many hands are waving in my face, I do not take a student’s mouse in my hand and do for them, nor will I allow parent helpers to do this (that is a bigger challenge than the students. Parents are used to doing-for. They think I’m mean when I won’t—until they’ve spent a class period walking my floorboards.). I guide students to an answer. I am patient even when I don’t feel it inside. My goal is process, not product.

By first grade, I let them help each other. Why not kindergarten? Because every kindergartner I’ve met is sure they know the answers whether they do or not so two things happen: 1) I have to retrain the student they trained which makes everyone feel bad, 2) the ‘teacher’ doesn’t get his/her work done and likely neither does the ‘trainee’. First grade and up, they have a year under their belt. They understand basic terminology and problem solving. And, they’re eager to share their knowledge.

The result of all this critical thinking is students learn that they can solve their own problems, they can think through a situation and come to a resolution, and many problems are solved by following what they did in the past. In the end, it’s not just about technology skills. It’s about life skills.

I’ve developed a list of twenty of the most common problems elementary school students face and how to solve them. Once students know these twenty problems, they can solve over half the situations that stop them from moving forward on any given day. Next month, drop by. I’ll share with you the problems that my fifth graders can solve. Don’t’ worry. I’ll also give you the solutions.

Originally posted on Innovate My School; Jacqui Murray–IMS Expert on Websites/Online Content, Tech Advice and Computer Support?

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, an ISTE article reviewer, an 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.

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, will be out this summer. Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.


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  1. AnneNo Gravatar

    November 12, 2014 at 5:24 am

    “What’s my secret? I teach every child to be a problem solver. ” Yes! I feel so strongly that that is the core of being a good teacher. So often, I notice aides or even teachers in the lab giving students the answer when they are stuck. It is so disheartening. I can only hope they don’t do the same thing in their classrooms. “Mrs. X, I don’t know how to divide 720 by 18, what’s the answer?”

    For children to work to get a solution and truly understand it is so rewarding for them. It also greatly increases the likelihood of them remembering (or truly comprehending and owning) that solution. What can be more rewarding as a teacher? It’s giving them a tool that will serve them well in all aspects of their lives, not just being a student. Hopefully, this will “click” for more teachers and we will raise children who can actually think, not just follow instructions like robots.

    • Jacqui MurrayNo Gravatar

      November 12, 2014 at 9:08 am

      I am shoulder to shoulder with you on this one, Anne. I include it in every lesson in my tech curriculum. I follow it in all my classes–even kindergarten, to the distress of my parent helpers. They want to jump in and be the sage rather than the guide.
      Love the way you think!

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