Middle school is great a time for students to build practical computer skills for high school and college. Given the ubiquity of computers in high school and especially in higher education, basic computer skills help students succeed.
Keyboarding is the most fundamental of all computing skills. The ability to type words quickly and accurately increases productivity in many different computing tasks such as email writing, word processing, and even chatting with friends on an instant messenger or playing games. To start, give a lesson on "home row" (proper finger placement on the keyboard) and several basic lessons on which keys to strike with which fingers. Avoid repetitious drilling programs; instead, let the students use their typing toward more meaningful and engaging ends. Set up a chat room or instant messaging service and monitor students as they talk with one another by typing over the computer. This encourages students to learn typing, because they will want to be able to talk to their friends. To teach kids not to look at their keyboards, turn off the lights or cover keyboards with thin pieces of cloth for ten or fifteen minutes each class period.
Chances are a lot of middle school students already use the Internet, but it is still important to teach Internet skills for those kids with little experience. Devote some class time to a tutorial about how to open an Internet browser, use the URL bar to direct it to a specific website and conduct Internet search using search engines like Google and Yahoo. Spend some time familiarizing the kids with useful websites, such as Wikipedia and The Free Online Dictionary. In order to test knowledge and efficiency, make a game or race out of searching the net. Make a list of websites and questions based on content located on those sites for students to answer. Safety is an important part of Internet use, so spend some time teaching students about computer viruses, trojans, and the importance of firewalls and antivirus programs. Teach students to avoid chatting online with strangers and never to meet in person anyone that they met online.
Another important computing skill is knowledge of basic utility programs like word processors, spreadsheets and presentation software. Devote a few class periods to teaching different Microsoft Office applications, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, or similar software. Students will likely have to word-process papers and projects in high school, so knowing how to manipulate text and print it out is important. PowerPoint can be fun for kids to learn, especially if you have digital cameras or scanners for kids to include photos and other pictures in their slides. Consider having kids give a PowerPoint slide show as a group project. To teach spreadsheets, have kids enter data into cells from a sheet or website, and then pull up graphs of the data. You can even have students set up email accounts and have them use email to send you their work as attachments during class. If you assign homework, consider allowing students with the Internet at home to send it in via email.
Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.