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Elementary students learn about computer keyboards

February 16, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - For a fourth-grader, Kaitlin Daley's petite fingers moved surprisingly quickly over her keyboard as she processed a report.

Daley, 10, a student at Fairview Elementary School, is learning how to type - or keyboard - as it's now termed, with the rest of the fourth grade as part of a pilot program introduced in the fall.

It's the first of its kind in Waynesboro, Pa., schools at the elementary level.

"It's faster than looking at the keys," Daley said, as she placed her fingers on the home row.

Now that computers have become a permanent fixture in the classrooms, most schools throughout the Tri-State area are beginning to add keyboarding classes to their elementary school curriculums.

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"The principal and I felt keyboarding was something we needed in the elementary schools," said Kay Eberly, coordinator for computer services for Waynesboro schools. "So far I think it's been a great success."

Keyboarding programs are different from typing classes of the past. The teacher who used to call out letters in a monotone while students tapped in reply has become as outdated as manual typewriters.

Fairview Elementary fourth-graders were introduced to keyboarding using a computer program called PAWS. Working at their assigned computers in the lab, students learned the proper placement of their hands and fingers by following directions and pictures that appeared on the screen in front of them.

Each session included a review lesson, practice time and a new lesson. The program kept track of the students' progress. At the end, students could play a game to test how many words-per- minute they could type.

"They really try to do their best," said Fairview fourth-grade teacher Lisa Brookens.

After six weeks of daily 30-minute sessions, teachers said they noticed a definite improvement in students' keyboarding skills. Few were observed slipping back to the "hunt and peck" syndrome, Brookens said.

"It's not the speed that matters, it's the accuracy," Brookens said, adding that students' keyboarding skills range from 10 words-per-minute to as high as 30.

The fourth-graders are now in the second phase of the program which includes word processing.

In its third year, Chambersburg, Pa. schools have a keyboarding program in place for all third-graders. Students are required to complete the program as part of their curriculum, said Jim Taylor, assistant superintendent for elementary services.

With three computers in every classroom, teachers schedule each student enough time to complete the program over the course of the school year.

By the time Chambersburg elementary students reach fifth grade, they must have a word processing sample in their portfolios.

"To use the computer correctly for word processing it's important to have the correct finger combinations and fingering skills instead of hunting and pecking," Taylor said.

Though keyboarding is not a requirement for students in the 15 elementary schools in Berkeley County, W.Va., typing programs are available on the four computers in each classroom, said Dr. Nancy Kilmon, director of research and technology.

"We've had a typing program available since the advent of computers six years ago," Kilmon said. "We recognize that children need typing skills before they reach high school and even middle school."

As part of a major curriculum revision in Berkeley County schools, Kilmon said keyboarding classes will be a requirement for middle school students. It's likely the program will be modified for elementary schools in the future, she said.

Washington County, Md., schools introduced keyboarding programs in 1993 in the kindergarten through eighth grade curriculum in the county's 25 elementary schools.

Though not a requirement for students from kindergarten through third grades, a keyboarding program is available for them to use on the computers in each school's computer labs, said John Davidson, supervisor of computer-related instruction.

But fourth- and fifth-graders must complete the Type-To-Learn keyboarding course, Davidson said.

"We'd rather give them as much training as possible so they don't get into those bad habits," he said.

At Waynesboro Area Middle School, students can refine their keyboarding skills in the exploratory class using a more advanced keyboarding program.

After completing 13 lessons in basic keyboarding, students can move on to basic word processing skills and projects like creating a spread sheet, database and working with paint and draw.

Though not a requirement, most middle school students create school reports, projects, term papers and other assignments on the school computers or personal computers at home, said Gayle Starr, math and exploratory class teacher. The computer lab is rarely empty, she added.

"Whenever we get jobs we'll probably be doing things with computers. It gets things done faster," said Abby Sloan, 13, a seventh-grade student at Waynesboro Middle School.

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