Starting an Elementary Student Helpdesk

Last year (2014-2015) Kim Lynch (a 5th grade teacher) and I started a Student Helpdesk at our elementary school. The idea was to have a group of trained students who could help with tech-related issues in the building. Here’s how the Helpdesk came to be, and how I hope it will change in the future:

The Vision

Helpdesk working in first grade.

Helpdesk students working in first grade.

The vision was to have a group of students who could help teachers, or other students, or even whole classes when they needed a hand with technology. This could mean them joining me working in a classroom, or they could work without me if I was already teaching in another room.

Since elementary students don’t have study hall, or unscheduled, time this would mean taking them out of class to help out. It was always made clear to teachers that if I wanted to borrow a Helpdesk student from their class, I would seek their permission first. Helpdesk was not meant to be a ticket to get out of class. Each time I would make sure each student was okay academically before taking them. (That said, I definitely believe that when a student helps another student or classroom learn a technological skill, the teaching students learns some valuable skills as well.)

Tech Skills

Since our district is 1:1 with iPads, our skill list is pretty iPad-centric. I developed the list and grouped the skills into categories (most of them correspond to the district’s Foundational Apps). Students came to the computer lab during their recess time to practice the skills, and help each other master them. When they felt they had mastered a category, they would sit with me 1:1 and show me that they could do everything on the list. I kept a running list of who had mastered which apps, so if I needed help with iMovie or Book Creator or Google Drive I could quickly see which students had mastered which apps (and who would be a good student to help out).

On missing recess: Coming to Helpdesk was never required. If it was a nice, sunny day after a week of rain it was fine if kids wanted to be outside. Interestingly (but not entirely surprising), if you look at recess as free time or a way for kids to recharge mid-day, most of the Helpdesk students were just as happy to recharge by learning a new app on the iPad than running around outside. Most mornings I was greeted with, “can we come down at recess today?”

Students

In it’s first year, we hand picked about a dozen fifth graders. Most were boys, which initially we were uncomfortable with. But the more we looked at the specific makeup of that year’s 5th grade class, we felt better about it – it was a group that really didn’t have a lot of tech-interested girls. Looking at the class we had the year before, it would have been a more evenly balanced group simply because it would have been a different population to choose from.

Moving Forward

Changes for the upcoming year:

  • I want to develop an application process. I want a questionnaire so students can tell my why they think they’re a good fit for the Helpdesk (Why do you want to be a part of the Helpdesk? Are you willing to give up recess time? How do you feel about helping younger students or teachers? If you miss work in class, are you willing to make it up on your own, possibly as homework?). I don’t want to hand pick the team again.
  • I want to open it up to both 4th and 5th graders. The idea here being in subsequent years I’ll have a crop of kids in the fall who are already trained (trained as 4th graders, now starting 5th grade). They might be able to help train the new students (if their recesses overlap), but more so we’ll be able to start helping classes as soon as the school year starts.

I’m looking forward to a new and better Student Helpdesk this year.

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