Learning Microsoft Office in K-5 is Like Taking Latin

Microsoft Office Word 2007
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There’s a small debate going on to decide if kids in grade school will be using QWERTY keyboards in the future. My bet, and the bet of most science fiction writers, is yes it will be a required skill.

If we’ve kept it until now – even though it was designed to keep the swinging mechanical arms of a manual typewriter from sticking together – we’ll probably use it into the future.

MSWord, PowerPoint, Excel are probably not going to be used.

They are already being usurped by wikis, blogs, google docs, WordPress, google wave-like things, all of which provide the basic functionality, but allow multiple people to edit a document simultaneously and keeping only one copy prevents the ridiculous organizational head-ache of making sure everyone edits the latest copy.

And the basic functionality of these options is getting more and more like Word, PowerPoint and Excel every day.

The new media is easier, cheaper, faster and has additional functionality like instant publishing and collaboration.

The kids in K-5 for the past five years have been Myspace- (at first) and now Facebook-ready. That’s their baseline. Learning Word and PowerPoint is extra, not a starting place.

Three years ago I was called down to a 4th grade classroom, because the kids were writing reports and “Didn’t know how to use Word.”

Upon arriving, I found the kids had inserted audio files in their word documents and were perplexed by the teacher who was demanding they “print their reports.”

They were making myspace pages about their reports using Word documents. They were using MSWord because the assignment had dictated which software to be used.

These kids were already multimedia. They are highly self-motivated by this new media, and that’s proved out by the hours and hours a day they spend publishing at home, after school, unassigned.

I asked the 4th grade teacher in the future to provide a rubric as to what media the students were not allowed to do with Word–problem solved.

Another teacher forces her students to do reports in PowerPoint. She’s aghast they don’t know how to use it. Why should they? They have Google Sites which allows multiple team members to edit a webpage with almost the same functionality as PowerPoint, and it is published and can allow (though we don’t allow this) for comments and global interaction. WordPress also allows for the same presentation as PowerPoint but with added functionality.

In that type of world, what’s the point of PowerPoint?

I realized this morning teaching Microsoft Office to K-5 students is like teaching Latin–something else that’s dead. They get certain skills, such as booting up, launching software, font and media placement. They learn to insert pictures and audio. All these skills learned using PowerPoint can be transferred onto the newer Internet-based media they work with 7 hours a day at home.

So, yeah, I guess there’s some benefit, but of course they learn those skills at home by 3rd grade without any intervention.

Seth Golden wrote, “Too often, we look at the new thing and demand to know how it supports the old thing.”

Perhaps that’s why Educational Management is having such a hard time adopting new technology.

So here’s the answer to that question:

All the skills students need to use the Microsoft Office Suite are learned in the K-5 environment using new media. They can easily pick up Word, PowerPoint and Excel in highschool if the workforce is still wedded to those stand-alone software options 15 years from now.

So, for now, let’s use the better, cheaper, faster technology they are motivated to use.

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