In a technology-rich classroom, your fourth-grader uses tools to enhance his learning in a range of subjects, including language arts, science, social studies, math, and art. He is taking the first steps to technological literacy: Using tools to solve problems.

Resources range from computers, software programs, and the Internet to digital cameras, camcorders, and voice recorders. Technology isn’t a substitute for teaching, but a way to bring the world into the classroom. Plus, it’s an essential tool for your child’s future.

The Internet can connect kids to native speakers of a language they are learning or to scientists worldwide. Computer-based programs can give teachers real-time feedback on how well students grasp a concept in math. But technology is no substitute for learning mathematical concepts or the basics of writing an essay. It’s simply one way to enhance classroom instruction and help your child practice new skills and master new concepts.

The technology skills your child learns will help her write research papers in history and do multimedia presentations in science. She will develop critical evaluation skills by assessing the credibility of websites and learning about copyright laws and the ethics of using online information or pictures.

“Fourth-graders are very comfortable using a computer to complete learning projects,” explains our teacher consultant Gayle Berthiaume.

Technology use varies from school to school

Many states base their technology standards on the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS). But because children aren’t tested on their use of technology, teachers aren’t typically held accountable for teaching it. That means computer use varies widely from classroom to classroom. Your fourth-grader may have one or more computer workstations in the classroom, go to a computer lab once a week, or not use technology regularly.

To get the maximum benefit from technology, the best classrooms incorporate technology into regular lessons that develop students’ higher-order thinking skills, promote creativity and facilitate learning. Your child’s teacher may also use technology to evaluate students’ progress.

Technology terminology

Fourth-graders build on their vocabulary to communicate about technology. Your child should be learning the names of computer parts – monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, and speakers – and software terms – menu, file, folder, application, save, and quit.

Keyboard and mouse

Your fourth-grader continues to practice and improve her skills in typing and using a mouse. She works to build speed and accuracy. A fourth-grader typically types 15 words per minute. To avoid repetitive stress injuries later on, she should learn to use the correct hand, wrist, and body positions and the proper techniques for striking the keys.

By the end of the year, she should demonstrate advanced keyboarding skills such as cutting, copying, and pasting to edit her work.

Schools may use a typing program that teaches students how to type.

Word processing and email

Your child can use a word-processing program the same way a professional writer does: to prewrite, draft, revise, and publish work. He may type his ideas in the first draft, then proofread and make changes. In the final stages of the writing process, your child may use word-processing software to add clip art; change the font, size, and color of the text; and learn to use spell-check. He may add bulleted and numbered lists and explore some of the advanced features of a word-processing program, such as using borders, shading, and page layout. He may also learn how to access files over a network. Gayle Berthiaume explains: “Many schools share and save files over a network. Students may access their saved work from any computer in the building.”

Your child may make a class newsletter with pictures and text, write a book review, or email a pen pal in another class. He may learn to use cut, copy, and paste to transfer text or graphics from one program to another.

Your child may use email or a program like ePals to contact a peer, another class, or experts worldwide.

Draw-and-paint software

Draw-and-paint software programs such as Kid Pix and AppleWorks are common in many fourth-grade classrooms. Students use the tools in the programs to type and create pictures. “Students create illustrations with draw-and-paint software for their presentations, brochures, or reports,” Berthiaume says.

Presentation software

Your fourth-grader may use software, such as PowerPoint, Keynote, Pages, iPhoto, and AppleWorks, to add to a class book or presentation in which she makes a slide with pictures and text. Presentation software combines graphics with text to communicate in a visually exciting way. To create an effective presentation, students should be given clear guidelines, such as the number of words, graphics, or background colors to use on each slide. Your child may do a presentation on your state’s history or present information for a book report.

Technology helps students present ideas, but it isn’t a substitute for knowledge of history or geography. Berthiaume explains: “By first planning out or storyboarding their book or presentation, students concentrate on the content of their project.”

Spreadsheets and databases

Fourth-graders may use spreadsheet programs like Excel and AppleWorks to organize data and make graphs. Your child may use database software such as FileMaker Pro, Microsoft Access, and AppleWorks to classify information. He may work with templates in which a spreadsheet or database has already been created. His job is to enter and organize the information. Your fourth-grader may contribute to a spreadsheet of his class’s favorite hobbies or a database classifying its library of books.


In fourth grade your child may visit websites the teacher has bookmarked to further explore what is being taught in class. She may also learn how to bookmark her own sites. She develops critical evaluation skills by assessing the credibility of websites and learning about copyright laws and the ethics of using online information or pictures. She learns Internet search strategies and how to use search engines to do research.

The class may go on virtual field trips to regions, environments, and countries far from home and engage in activities such as viewing an active volcano. After reading a story by an author, your child may visit the author’s website and send an email to ask a question about the book. Your child may learn to use an online dictionary and thesaurus. Your child may check weather forecasts online to compare the weather in different cities. She may go online to find primary-source materials such as letters and journal entries.

To learn about artists, your child may look at artwork online. There are also many museum websites your child can visit. The teacher may publish students’ artwork by scanning pictures the children have created and making an online art gallery.

Classrooms may take part in science investigations with students from around the world through programs like the Jason Project. The class may also view online science lessons such as a simulation of a hurricane. Students can ask questions of scientists on the Internet.

What you might see in a well-equipped classroom

  • Multimedia encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • A digital camera and photo editing software — digital photos can be displayed in a slide show or used in books and projects
  • Interactive storybooks on a computer
  • One or more computers with access to the Internet and a printer
  • A large-screen display connected to a computer used by the teacher to demonstrate a technology lesson to the class. If there is not one available, the teacher may have smaller groups gather around the computer to introduce a lesson or technology skill.
  • Use of email with support from the teacher or classroom helper
  • An interactive whiteboard — an electronic writing surface that can capture writing electronically
  • A digital video camera and video editing software