Computer Explorers instructor Alice Brown teaches technology at St. Mary's Elementary School in Sacramento. (Photo courtesy of Alice Brown)

Alice Brown has been teaching Computer Explorers courses for eight years. For the last seven, she has been the full-time technology instructor at St. Mary Elementary School, a K-8 school in Sacramento.

How long have you been working with Computer Explorers?
I’ve been teaching technology for Computer Explorers for eight years. I was hired in 2004 to implement the Computer Tots program at two local preschools. I took a laptop, printer and other peripherals such as a digital microscope once a week to the schools. Using a variety of age appropriate software, I worked with three students at a time for 30 minutes teaching them basic technology skills. I started teaching at St. Mary’s in 2005, where I’ve been teaching K-8 students for seven years as part of CE’s Integrated Technology Resources Program. I also teach CE’s TechStars program in the afternoon at Saint Mary’s; TechStars is an afterschool enrichment program that provides the students the opportunity to learn video game design, engineering, robotics, stop motion animation, movie making and more.

How did you come to work with Computer Explorers?
I found my way to Computer Explorers by coincidence. The franchise owner used to work with my husband in marketing at a large telecommunications corporation. We happened to run into her at a local restaurant. My interest was piqued when she began sharing her recent business venture, Computer Explorers. I asked for her business card and we met at a later date to talk about the possibility of working together.

What is your educational and professional background?
I received my bachelor’s in Family and Child Development. I went on to run a large state-funded childcare center that offered services to low-income families with children from 6 months to 9 years of age. When my own children were born I had the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom. However I did part-time work as a teacher’s aide in my children’s school district and as a test evaluator scoring standardized tests. I also took computer courses at the local junior college to keep my job skills current. I have always been involved in childcare and education in some fashion.

I did the Computer Explorers teacher training in Houston. I am not what you would call a digital native, but I was always interested in technology. One of my favorite things about this job is that it challenges me to stay up with the latest in technology. I have to do my homework to keep up with my students every day.

What do you like best about teaching these programs?
My class sizes are 36 to 40 students, and I have to be able to adapt the curriculum for my environment; the flexibility of the Computer Explorers curriculum allows me to do that. I have learned how to make it work in my environment.

How does Computer Explorers complement what kids are learning in your classroom?
I integrate my lessons with what the teachers are doing in their class. For example, the third-graders recently went to a local farm. Before the field trip we watched a You Tube video about the farm and then they made a numbered list using Microsoft Word of the things they thought they might see at the farm. When they returned from the field trip, we edited the list to include everything they actually saw.

How tech-savvy are the students you work with? Have you noticed a change over time as new ones start?
There is huge growth in what the kids are able to do from when I first started teaching at Saint Mary seven years ago. Some of it is due to the fact that these students are exposed to so much more technology than they were just a few years ago, but much of it is due to the training they are receiving in the computer lab.

People say these programs help build problem-solving skills among young students. Do you have some examples?
The curriculum is set up in such a way that students are working in teams of two to complete their projects. With my size classes, I depend on students to collaborate and work together. I do some guided teaching to learn a new skill. Most often if one student doesn’t get it the first time, their partner can help them.

How do Computer Explorers programs foster collaborative learning?
They are assigned a partner and they have to work with that partner. They are free to lean over the next computer station and show students what to do or how to problem-solve.

With most application software, there is no one single way to do things, so we are learning from each other all the time. They are always sharing and we are learning something new together.

Are there any instances that are especially memorable?
I do basic computer operations at beginning of the year. We look at the physical insides of a PC. The system case of an old desktop PC is left open on a table in the back of a room for the students to handle, and one day a fifth-grader walked in and said, “One day, I’m going to build one of these!” (He takes TechStars in the afternoon.)

I recently had an experience where a former student who’s now in college came back to visit. He said he was so glad that he learned how to do formulas in spreadsheets in 8th grade, because it helped immensely in high school and college.

How important is it that youngsters get this type of training early?
Technology is exciting for children, and even if they’re not getting it in the classroom, they will get it on their own. If they aren’t getting directed learning, they will get splinter skills, which means they will be really skilled in some areas but extremely inefficient in others. If you catch them early you can build on their skills and close those gaps. For example I start teaching keyboarding as early as first grade. First grader’s hands aren’t big enough to reach the home row keys, so I have them start by placing their middle fingers on the ‘d’ and ‘k’ keys. They are starting to think about the keyboard as having a left and a right side before they develop the bad habit of “hunt and peck”.

Once they get to high school, their teachers will expect them to know how to use Excel, Word and PowerPoint. It’s expected, but where do you get the training? We teach children not only how to use the features of a word processing program, but also the five parts of a formal letter. With PowerPoint, we teach them what makes an effective slideshow presentation, not just how to animate the text.

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