For the past two weeks, students have been using the Autosum function in Microsoft Excel to add numbers. We first did this in class to calculate the total number of bronze, silver, gold medals some of the countries won at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Then, the students went “shopping” and created a chart that showed the total cost of items they selected from the Toys R Us website. For the final task, students visited www.target.com and designed a chart that showed items that they chose for their parents and came up with the grand total. Here is what their final product looks like:
So how could this lesson be used to promote writing skills?
Although I’m no longer a homeroom teacher, I try to seek ways to incorporate literacy into my IT lessons. I thought our unit on Excel would be a great opportunity for students to email their parents to share what they have been learning. Although blogs, screencasts and videos are fancier tools for students to share snapshots of their school life via technology, I still find a simple email to be an intimate and personal way for students to communicate with their parents.
For this particular Excel task, I instructed students to write a descriptive yet concise email to their Dads on what they’ve been learning in IT class. They were reminded of the rules around email conventions. They were then asked to recount their experiences of using Excel whereby they had to explain their task and give a brief set of instructions of how they created their work. Finally, they described what they thought was tricky about Excel and gave suggestions on how Excel could be used at home.
Here is an example of a student’s email:
The end result showed emails of affection and intimacy in nature, reflective and thoughtful in the way the Excel task was described. In comparison to students simply updating tell their parents about their IT class at home, this email exercise brought on greater complexity and critical thinking because it led to “more time for reflection and permanence of the written words”
After going through my students’ emails and their dad’s respective responses (being cc’d on the emails), I realised the benefit of this task was much more than just a mere writing exercise. Interestingly, students were excited to write emails to their Dads whom they don’t get to spend a lot of time with. Research has shown that email communications foster psychological comfort, expression of personal ideas, opinions and emotions (as cited in ChanMin 2008). Although there was a clear objective to this emailing task, students were encouraged to begin with warm greetings, and add any personal messages to their dads. Students took this to heart, and came up with nice openings such as “Hi Dad, how is your morning so far” or “Hi Dad, I didn’t get to eat breakfast with you this morning.” The end result showed emails of affection and intimacy in nature, reflective and thoughtful in the way the Excel task was described. In comparison to students simply updating tell their parents about their IT class at home, this email exercise brought on greater complexity and critical thinking because it led to “more time for reflection and permanence of the written words”
Therefore, teachers could make use of emails to assess students on their learning progress and depth of reflection. I found the students’ writing is better when it grips them personally. More than that though, I am surprised how students are willing to write to someone other than their teacher. I found their writing to be filled with voice, emotion and authenticity – naturally because they know the recipient is someone that truly cares about them.
Reply from student’s dad:
ChanMin, K. (2008). Using email to enable e3 (effective, efficient, and engaging) learning. Distance Education, 29(2), 187-198. doi:10.1080/01587910802154988
在學生編寫電子郵件時，除了報告他們用Excel的經歷，必須用一段親切的問候開頭，並可添加私人的信息到在郵件裡面。有些學生並寫了：“嗨，爸，你早上過的很好嗎？”或 “爸爸你好，我吃早餐的時候沒看到你。 ”
因此，教師可以利用電子郵件，以評估他們的學習進度和思考深度。我發現students writing is better when it grips them personally。更重要的是，原來他們寫給他們關心的人的時候，他們的寫作會充滿情感和真實性的。