Why in Fifth Grade? A Lesson from 2023 Teaching Excellence Award Winner Melissa Zeitz, Springfield Public Schools, Springfield, MA

January 11, 2024

creation of Avatars by Melissa’s  students

(creation of Avatars by Melissa’s students)

The students are wondering. Why in fifth grade?

They are going to be learning about PowerPoint. My students had questioning looks on their faces because they didn't understand; they felt like they already knew how to use PowerPoint. But then I said to them, “We're not using PowerPoint to present information. We're going to use PowerPoint to create a bitmoji that represents you. My opinion is those computer-generated bitmojis that you choose never look like us.”

Suddenly, I see their eyes getting wider, and they're intrigued by what I am about to teach them. I began by teaching them how to create shapes. We will start by making a circle to be our face. Next, let's look at the colors that are offered to us. This is where I will show them a great chart that was created by Audra Kaplan of all the different hex numbers there are for different skin colors. You would be amazed at how excited they are to see that they can choose a color that they feel they are connected to. From there, we continued watching these amazing tutorial videos about how to use shapes in PowerPoint to create their own avatars. The students are creating avatars that look like them.

Giving them personality by adding different images on their shirts and really identifying with their avatars, the students are fully engaged in the activity The next piece of this project is to have students learn about each other by creating a poem called “Where I'm From”. The poem is by George Eliot. I have them listen to it, and then I give them samples of poems that other students have written, and we talk about what common themes are in the poems. From there, I asked the students to author their own poems.

This is a wonderful way for a specialist teacher to bring inclusivity into their 40-minute block. As a teacher, I learned so much about who my students truly are; and their classmates learn about their peers – especially things that don't come up in regular conversation. Here’s an example of a student exchange:

“…Oh, I was born in the Dominican Republic.”


“Yes. I just came over here when I was two or three.”

These different pieces of information are not necessarily things that just come out unless your students are encouraged to engage in writing exercises like this. My students then took their own avatar creations and went into Scratch, a visual block-based programming website where students can create animations.

I guide them to use Scratch to program their own animations. Their avatars are then the main characters of their poems. For a class who has never experienced Scratch, I always start with “The Lion King '' musical trailer from London's Broadway shows, which gives the a way to connect what they already know to a new platform that they may have never used before. “The Lion King” is great because it is a musical and for many of my students who are black and brown, it is one of the only kid-friendly Broadway shows that represent them.

Also, they already know the music. It is nothing new to them when they hear it, and we talk about how Scratch is like a musical. We break it down into what a musical needs, compared to what an animation on Scratch gives you the opportunity to do. For instance, what does a musical need? It needs a setting, a script, characters, costumes, and movement. Using what they shared about the musical, I will walk through the Scratch platform pointing out the different connections. We talk about all the different components of Scratch. So, it's a subtle way for them to transition from what they know to what they're going to be learning about.

I will teach the students different computer science skills that they will need to program their animation. But also, once they start feeling a little bit more comfortable with it, I have them become the teachers and when they learn something new, I will have them plug in their laptops to the board and let them teach the class.

Many times, I am learning right alongside my students. Recently, a student showed me a trick on PowerPoint. I told them in all my years of teaching, I had never realized you could do the technical shortcut they were so excited to share. The student was beaming because she was able to teach me something new. This is one of the ways that I try to give my students a voice through computer science. When they run their Scratch animation program of their poem, there's a sense of pride that they are beaming.

Below I share one of these lessons that give students a voice through the teaching of digital literacy and computer science. Hopefully you can discover the same magic with your students!

Lesson is on whisperingedtech.com under grade 5

Grade 5 — Whispering Ed-Tech (whisperingedtech.com)