This article will attempt to provide you with some ideas for using magnets as a tactile representative of computer concepts.
First, let me alleviate a concern you may have. We have all heard that magnets can affect your computer. While this is true, it would take a much stronger magnet that a refrigerator magnet type strength I am suggesting to damage a modern computer. However, it can disturb the force on your smartphone- by confusing the internal compass that help GPS apps, like Google Maps, Waze, etc. tell us where to go. So, just to be safe, keep the magnets off of your equipment- including smartphones, CRT monitors (the big boys of yester-year, not the slim, trim LCD and LED most of us have), cards with magnetic strips, and pacemakers- but having weak magnets a few inches away from your desktop or laptop is okay. If you are still concerned, check out the following articles about safe distances for magnets and a Digital Trends modern electronics article.
Now that I have performed my IT due diligence, let’s have some fun!
Where in the world is my cursor?
This activity was fashioned from a suggestion by my esteemed co-worker Jennifer Hyland when I asked for advice on helping a totally blind student who had trouble determining where the cursor was when she was typing a document. Many thanks, Jennifer! I expanded her initial suggestion and I know you can too!
What you will need:
- A small magnetic dry erase board (like this one from Target)
- Magnetic letters (print or braille, depending on your students)
- A blank open text document on the computer **No AT is really needed until Step 5.**
How to play:
- Give a brief overview of what a cursor is. Be sure to discuss the fact that most documents automatically place the cursor in the top left corner when you open it. Also explain what common cursor control keys, such as Home, End, and the arrow keys, do.
- Have the students type a short word into their blank text document.
- Have the students find the magnets that spell out the word they used in Step 2 and place the letters a finger width apart on their dry erase board. They will also need a long thin magnet to represent the cursor- I used the letter I for my first round with this activity, but a popsicle stick with a magnet glued to the back would probably be better.
- From this point, it is all a game of “Press your right arrow one time…. Good! Now, where in the world is your cursor?”. At this point, the students, should show you where the cursor is located within the word. After going through each of the arrow keys, continue to Home (which moves the cursor to the beginning of the line or to the left of the first letter) and End (which moves the cursor to the end of the line or to the right of the last letter).
- Finally, immediately reinforce the concepts with an independent cursor location exercise where your student will be encouraged to use those cursor location skills. If a student has trouble, have them show you where in the world they think their cursor is (on their board) so you can determine which cursor movements they need more practice with.
This is also a good way to help differentiate between delete and backspace and many more Windows shortcut keys. The options are only limited to what you would like to reinforce with your students that day!