Building Skills and Understanding
Building Skills and Understanding focuses on student learning through the use of educational computer games, puzzles, electronic books, tutorials, and other forms of programmed instruction directly tied to specific content areas.
Practice in Action
What Is It?
Activities typically involve students learning through a computer that is connected to the Internet or running a program designed to remediate or build skills in a specific content area. This practice can directly or indirectly support learning objectives for even the youngest students.
What Do I Do?
Review the computer programs available to you and determine if they are appropriate to your students' needs. Consider content, age-range, equity, appropriateness, format, language, technical requirements, user reviews, cost, and licensing. Select the best game, puzzle, or tutorial based on a student's needs and skills as well as overall curriculum goals. Verify that you have the proper electronic connections and equipment to maximize the technology experience. Read Guidelines for Choosing Appropriate Games, Puzzles, and Tutorials (PDF).
Use of these types of applications in afterschool settings needs to be intentional, selective, and done in moderation. That is, be purposeful and do not allow students to become bored or lose sight of the instructional goals. Because some students can become disengaged, distracted, or overstimulated by computer activities, carefully monitor students and they time they spend at the computer. Have students reflect on their learning, and plan a follow-up activity.
Remember that assessing student skills, completing the activity, and determining computer needs are all part of the planning process. Getting Started: Considerations for Activity Planning (PDF)will help you get underway.
Why Does It Work?
Building Skills and Understanding works because computer-based learning can accommodate students in a variety of situations and with different learning styles and needs. Computer-based activities, such as games and puzzles, exert a magnetic attraction for some children. Research is not conclusive regarding claims that computer-based learning increases math skills or other content areas skills. However, used appropriately and with instructional intent, this type of learning can benefit many children.
Planning Your Lesson
Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.
Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons. The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.
Lesson Planning Template Questions
What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?
How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?
What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?
List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity. Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?
What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?
Think about how you might divide up groups―who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?
Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.
What to Do
Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that might be useful—and which was originally developed for science education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see the 5E's Instructional Model.
Outcomes to Look For
How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?
After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place. How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?
Geography Puzzles (3-12)
Students play online puzzle games that challenge their knowledge of U.S. and world geography.
Duration: Up to 2 sessions, 45 to 60 minutes each
- Build or enhance geography knowledge of continents, world countries, U.S. states, and capital cities
- Learn new concepts regarding world continents
- Computers with Internet access
- Electronic projector for instructor computer (optional)
Make sure students have basic computer mouse and keyboard skills and experience operating a digital projector (if available).
- Review and practice the various online activities found on these Web pages:
- All About the United States (Drag-and-drop puzzles that require students to correctly identify U.S. states and their capitals)
- Geography Games (A variety of puzzles that invite students to learn about world countries, their capitals, and geography)
- Test Your Geography Knowledge (A point-and-click activity that quizzes students on all regions of the world)
- Determine student pairings for the lesson.
What to Do
- Engage students by inviting them to take a virtual trip around the world with online puzzle games that will challenge their geography knowledge of the United States and other countries.
- Group students in pairs and demonstrate how to access and play the online games (with a projector, if available).
- After the students have played, ask them what they have learned. How much did they already know? Were the games easy or difficult for them?
- Explain that understanding geography could one day help them circumnavigate the globe by boat or plane using a variety of other technology tools, such as the global positioning system.
- Have students use the online tool Google Earth, to find locations in their city or neighborhood.
- You will need to download a free copy of the application to each computer.
Outcomes to Look For
- Student participation and engagement
- An enhanced understanding of geography
Learning Online (8-12)
Students can find a rich resource of tutorials on the Internet, including learning a new language or how to play guitar, develop job search skills, or find university course credit.
- Students can customize their learning needs through self-paced learning tutorials on a variety of topics
Determine your students' interests, needs, and learning level. Explore what is free online and what requires a subscription fee. Here are some examples:
Review Web sites with games and activities that are appropriate for your students' age and understanding level. With older students, consider adapting some younger students' games and lessons. This helpful site includes a variety of fun and engaging lesson plans for learning English in a variety of practical ways:
Foreign Languages (all levels)
American Sign Language
Online University Courses and Degrees
Tutorials on a Variety of Educational Topics
What to Do
- Have the student computer on and ready with bookmarked sites for students to use.
- Engage students as a group or individually by telling them that they can learn online with a tutorial from their topic of choice.
- Discuss a schedule for their work—either a few minutes each day or longer blocks of time.
- Explore and demonstrate how to progress through the lesson.
- Post a copy of your school's Internet usage policy and rules close to the student computer.
- If available, assign an aide to monitor and help the students.
Once students have completed a tutorial, have them demonstrate to the instructor or their classmates what they have learned (a few words or sentences in a new language, or a new skill, such as guitar playing or a magic trick).
Outcomes to Look For
- Students follow instructions and accomplish new tasks or skills learned from a tutorial
- Students use Internet technology responsibly
For more information and ideas to support this lesson, see the Resources tab.
Ringstaff, C., & Kelley, L. (2003). The learning return on our educational technology investment: A review of findings from research.San Francisco, CA: WestEd Regional Technology in Education Consortium in the Southwest.
The following resources are related to the "Geography Puzzles and Games" sample lesson.
Test Your Geography Knowledge
This point-and-click activity provides several quizzes on all regions of the world.
Google Earth combines Google Search with satellite imagery, maps, terrain and 3D buildings to put the world's geographic information at your fingertips.
Download a free copy of the application to each computer
Guidelines for choosing appropriate online games, puzzles, and tutorials
Software Review Guides
Children's Software Review
Unbiased reviews by teachers of educational video games, software, hardware, sites and tech toys. By affordable subscription - either online or print.
Other Online Puzzles And Games Multiple content areas
Math (all levels)
A Plus Math
Includes Homework Helper feature, which offers interactive multiplication and addition tables, and help tools in algebra.
Zoombinis Logical Journey is an epic adventure of math and skills through puzzle play. An inexpensive computer application.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Math lessons and interactive tools for all levels.
The following resources are related to the "Learning Online (Tutorials)" sample lesson.
ESL (English as a Second Language)
Review websites with games and activities appropriate to your students' age and understanding level. With older students, consider adapting some younger student games and lessons. Here is a helpful site that includes a variety of fun and engaging lesson plans for learning English in a variety of practical ways:
About.com ESL Lesson Plans
Foreign Languages - All levels
American Sign Language
Online university courses and degrees
Tutorials on a variety of educational topics
Learn Guitar- Guitar Tricks
Free Music Online- Free Lessons
How to Do Almost Anything- eHow
Wanna Learn- WannaLearn.com