Bookending a Learning Experience with Strong Beginnings and Endings, Another Fun Idea: Upcycled Computer Key Board Keys

My last two posts have focused on methods for positively influencing learning outcomes with groups through strong beginnings. I shared some of my favorite activities for starting off with style and creating a “hook” to engage participants from the moment they walk through the door including the use of postcards, objects and quotes.

These methods can also be used later on in a program as reflective or closing activities to tie it all together. Using these activities for the dual purpose of introductions and reflection is a “brain-friendly” teaching technique. Research on the brain and learning shows that learners remember most about the first few minutes of a learning experience, and secondly the last few minutes of a learning experience i.e. the primacy-recency effect (Sousa, 2005, Willis, 2010).

Here is another engaging activity that works well for both purposes. One of my favorite aspects of this facilitation tool is that it is free, involves recycling, and is easily found in most offices and schools.

Computer Keyboard Keys
In 2009 my friend Andy La Pointe, Career Development Specialist and Challenge course facilitator at You Inc. a Therapeutic Youth program in Massachusetts shared that he had been inspired after one of our workshops on processing/reflection tools and conversation about upcycling and recycling various props for facilitation. After our session at his school, he walked by a stack of keyboards in the recycle bin and it sparked an idea.

When I arrived at his site for another workshop the following week, he handed me a bag filled with the pieces of the keyboard that he had recycled stating, “I bet these would be interesting to try with a group”.

We tried them that day with his colleagues. After engaging in a problem-solving activity we asked group members to choose a key that represented their role in the process. I was impressed with the conversation the keys initiated and the connections group members made to various keys. It can be surprising where conversations can go with such a simple tool.

Since that time I have used them repeatedly as an introductory or transitional activity as well as a processing tool. On the first Monday in January as middle students I was working with entered the classroom after holiday break I asked them each to pick a keyboard key that represented their new years resolution. I was amazed at how the keys were used by students to represent their hopes and goals.

Some examples included:
 “I chose the escape key because I know I need to make some better choices about who I have been hanging around with- or at least sitting next to in class- at times I need to “escape” from my friends and distractions so I can get my work done and not get into trouble”.

” I chose the home key because I would like to try and get along with my stepbrother better”.

 “I chose the question mark key because I know I need to ask more questions and get help during homework club time so I can improve my grades.”

A teacher who attended a recent workshop where we used the keyboard keys reported back a few weeks later that she had success in using this activity with colleagues and students at her alternative school. She stated:

“I really liked the keyboard activity you shared with us in our workshop last month. I’ve used it at the end of some team-building work with students and asking the question “What was the hardest part about your work today” and at a staff training using the question “how would you describe your teaching style”.

I will be teaching a demo lesson on Thursday, and would like to use the activity to open class rather than to close it. I see it as a good icebreaker since the kids have never met me before. The lesson is on (Microsoft) Excel and how it relates to a technology education project (truss bridges) they have been working on. The main point I would like to convey is that Excel will make their lives easier by simplifying the math involved. I’ve thought of asking the question “which key describes how you feel about math” or “describes you as a math student”.

Sandi Lindgren who is a social worker with an organization called I Support YOUth! recently shared her experience with this activity:

“I used the keyboard keys yesterday and the group loved it!  I was speaking to a senior class of social workers at a local college about research/surveys (sharing examples from my dissertation) and then about how to find your dream job as a social worker.”

“I used the keys in the beginning as an introduction. I asked them to choose a key that best represents where they currently are in this class’ research process. The professor was delighted with the on-point honest sharing that occurred. I was then able to reference their examples later on in the session. Examples included: The space key for taking a break and not really doing much with homework. The S key for stress. The tab key for taking a break (the old soft drink tab). The group also later pointed out that the tab key moves one forward.”

“The professor picked the command/apple key, sharing that as a teacher (apple) he’s delighted with the learning and processing and he also has to ‘command’ by telling students what to do. The page down key was chosen by someone who feels their process is really slow right now. The caps lock key was chosen by another student who is so stressed they feel like everyone is talking to them in all CAPS WHICH IS YELLING ON THE SCREEN (that was great).”

Recently I picked up keyboards from both Macintosh and PC desktops and laptops. I have been mixing them together when I use them in groups. This led to some interesting and humorous conversations about learning and personality styles.

As with many tools that I have experimented with having no clear picture as to how it would work there have been many pleasant surprises. I encourage you to take a new look at your recycle bin and see what you might come up with!

Sousa, David. (2006). How the Brain Learns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Willis, Judy. (2006). Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


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