Computer skills for middle & high school students: What competencies should they be taught?

I teach computer skills classes to 7th and 9th graders. In my first teaching job in Harlem, I had one of the few rooms with A/C and Internet. Computer labs were still popular in 2003/4 and throughout most of my teaching career.

The use of computer labs has lessened as 1:1 Chromebooks, iPads and other devices have afforded many students the opportunity to learn directly in their classrooms. While the role of a “computer teacher” may still exist, the title and responsibilities have shifted.

My title is now, Technology Integration Specialist, which means that I work with all teachers to find ways to integrate the use of digital tools into their teaching to enhance the curricula. I’m also responsible for the foundation level computer classes for all students who enter in the 7th and 9th grades. A big question I ask myself every year when I plan my courses is, what technical competencies do my students need?

While the curriculum for my computer skills class is flexible, I’ve been contemplating what essential skills my students need to know and be able to do once they have completed this course. I think there is a tendency to assume that “digital native” students are competent technology users because they are growing up in a world with technology 24/7. However, just because students may know how to perform a Google search, change fonts in a document, or record a TikTok, does not necessarily mean they know how to learn from technology.

The overview of my 9th grade computer concepts course included the following topics: Digital Drama, Privacy & Security, Media Literacy, Mystery Skype, Word and Excel.

Last year, I discovered an online digital curriculum called Applied Educational Systems (AES). This curriculum includes Business apps and Health Care foundation courses. It offers interactive tutorials on applications including all Google Apps and Microsoft Office applications. While my students didn’t “love” completing some of the lengthy assignments in AES, they definitely learned some intricate uses of Word and Excel.

Once we switched to remote teaching, the use of AES was helpful for students to continue their learning. I mainly had my 9th grade students focus on creating spreadsheets in Excel, a practical tool that comes in handy in many areas of life. My students learned how to create budgets, write formulas for recipes and keep track of items in an inventory.

For the next year, I’m thinking of new assignments for my students to create in Excel. Previously, they created travel budgets. If you have some ideas, please share them with me!

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