Digital Storytelling: Meaningful Technology in Third Grade cover image

By: Tyra Moore

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  • Are we sabotaging our children by classifying them as smart or not? Do we empower them to gain meaningful technology experiences? Elementary-aged children are quite different from the nearly adult students I’m used to. I had an opportunity to lead a STEM camp for rising third-graders last week, and I’m forever changed.


When the principal and my boss sat down with the media coordinator and I to talk about the camp, I had no idea how I was going to fair with primary kids. It turned out to be a beautiful adventure!

My first day at the camp began with a field trip to the local zoo. My trusty pal, the elementary instructional coach from my previous post was with me, and again on the following day. Thanks to her I was able to slow my brain down and show them effectively, how to create digital stories. The school media coordinator was there to save the day on the third day.

I was reading Mindset, written by Dr. Carol Dweck at the time. For three days, I was handling these children with care. The book forced me to be cognitively aware of the holistic features in each child.

These were my takeaways:

1. Third-graders like to hug – a lot.

For the first time in a long time, I felt like a rock star! After just a few moments of getting acquainted with my new little buddies, they began to approach me, one by one with open arms, smiles, and half grown-in front teeth. “What is this?” I wondered. Admittedly, I have a twelve-year-old who used to love to hug. Now I have to beg for them, but I do fondly remember that time. This was a bit different, and as the days went on, I began to expect them with glee. I believe hugging is their way of showing appreciation for learning.

2. Young children find many things amazing, that we take for granted.

On the bus ride to the zoo (all of 15 miles away) I could here all declarations of wonderment.

“We’re gonna pass my grandma’s house!”

“We’re almost there! Look there’s the sign!”

I smiled and remembered a time when I was just as excited about the little things. Then something magical happened. Several pairs of kids began playing a hand-clapping game. It was my very favorite one from the playgrounds of Riverview Elementary School in the early 1980’s: “Mrs. Mary Mack!”

It wasn’t until Friday that it occurred to me that the children associated the game with my name. After all, I had instructed them to call me “Mrs. Mac” so that they would not lament through remembering “McCullough.” I almost missed the message in the moment.


3. To reach them, you must nurture them.

Although the other adults who assisted me in this endeavor used a somewhat sharp tone with the kids at times, I found it nearly impossible to do. Some of them reminded me that they “knew these kids” and that you had to get tough with them from time to time. For someone with high school and middle school experience only, these children reminded me of the kids at vacation bible school. Sure, they strayed off task, but were easily refocused with a simple call of their name, or pointing to their seats. I smiled when they obeyed, and I frowned when they did not (which rarely occurred).

I’m currently enrolled in an online course through East Carolina University. The chapter we’re reading (Reiser and Dempsey, 2012, ch. 4), highlights the time period just after World War II when computers were invented. Previously, it was theorized that students learned by taking behavioral cues. Thus, the Behavioral Learning Theory was was introduced to the world by B.F. Skinner. That theory still holds true to some degree. In short, when students observe positive feedback through behavioral cues from the teacher (e.g. a smile after recognizing good behavior), they tend to repeat those behaviors for additional positive feedback and in the process, those behaviors become habitual (p. 36).

4. They are not as dependent as we think!

There were times when we had to walk the campers through every single keystroke. Other times they wanted us to cease the superfluous banter and get on with it already. Once kids get the point of what it is you’re trying to get them to learn, and more importantly, what you’re trying to get them to do, they want to dive in!

One little girl spent most of the next day after our zoo trip signing into her email account again and again. The problem? She misspelled “Bertie” repeatedly; the county in which she was born. My first notion was to dismiss this child as one who would probably grow up and never really “get” computers. Instead, Dweck’s teachings swung into action, though subconsciously.

The next day, that same camper came in on time and we issued her Chromebook as we did the day before. Only, on this day, she signed in once and was successful. She imported photos from a shared Google Drive folder, successfully. Aside from only managing one sentence in each text field per slide and having some repetitive statements, this child submitted a very good digital story! This may not have happened if we hadn’t minded our emotional/behavioral cues, and instead robbed her of the chance to get it right. Children need us to teach them to try harder most, not to be better, do better, and score better.

5. I don’t like 3rd graders…I LOVE them!

Yes, I love them (just not as much as my high school darlings)! At the end of the camp, I felt somewhat saddened that our time together had come to an end. Thank goodness to my elementary specialist friends for saving me from failure.

One thing I’ll never forget was this sincere question during lunch.

“Mrs. Mac? Are you going to stay,” Tina asked.

I answered, “Stay? Like all week? Sure!”

“No,” said Sarah.

“Are you going to stay all year, or are you going to leave,” she added.

My heart ached for a split second. I realized that it may have been typical. Maybe they were bracing themselves for the blow children feel when they get close to a teacher and then abruptly, he or she leaves. I left my school email address behind for them to stay in touch.


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