Interview | Welcome to QwertyTown!

It’s an overlooked skill in this day and age (its predecessor, handwriting, can sometimes seem to be nearly an ancient art form), but whether it’s accomplished by thumbs or with proper finger positioning on a full-sized keyboard—typing is inarguably a predominant inputting and communication process that, if done with great speed, can be of great benefit to a person. According to a Pew Internet study, more than 75 percent of teens text and send over 3,000 messages a month on average. But simply look around: nearly every student— all the way down to kindergartners—uses a computer, tablet or some type of device with a keyboard. These facts have not gone unnoticed by Paul Garofano (pictured, right) and Dave Grammerstorf, who both work in the same school district. Although they searched the world over, they had great difficulty finding a keyboarding program that met the needs of our 21st-century students. What to do? “We decided to go out and create that keyboarding program ourselves,” says Paul. “We knew all along that students who are fluent with a keyboard will be better prepared for success in school and ultimately in the workplace; their proficiency with online communication tools would give them the competitive ability to adapt and prosper in school and in our ever-changing world.” What they came up with is standards-aligned, fun—and not your father’s typing class. Read this interview and have a look for yourself.

Victor: I think I get it right away, but let’s hear it from you—what does the name mean?

Paul: QwertyTown is a play off of the name of the QWERTY keyboard. It’s a “Town” because it’s a place where students and teachers interact in a virtual community.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Paul: QwertyTown was created by Second Nature Learning, our educational software company. We are both experienced public school educators with advanced degrees in Instructional Technology and Education.

Dave: QwertyTown is an award-winning keyboarding web app that provides a safe, teacher-controlled environment where students can communicate with their classmates, teachers, and friends. While becoming fluent with a keyboard, students are learning how to interact in a digital environment. This environment will prepare them with a fundamental skill set essential for academic and professional success in the 21st century.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Paul: QwertyTown teaches fluent keyboarding in an environment where students can communicate with friends, teachers, and classmates online. The benefits are fluency in keyboarding and enhancement of digital literacy skills.

Dave: Keyboarding and online communication skills are recognized by The Department of Education as essential to a student’s success. It is from these fundamental 21st century skills that Qwertytown was born. QwertyTown addresses multiple Common Core State Standards in Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history? 

Paul: We officially launched QwertyTown in September of 2011

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Dave: QwertyTown can be explored at http://qwertytown.com

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Paul: As educators, we understand the need for effective instructional tools that also meet budgetary needs. That’s why we work with districts to find the package that’s right for them.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Dave: One of our biggest surprises this year is the number of students who are logging into QwertyTown outside of school hours. This is the advantage of being a web-based application. Whether engaged in keyboarding lessons, customizing their avatars, or communicating with classmates, students are using QwertyTown around the clock in at a level we hadn’t anticipated.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Paul: QwertyTown can be used by any student who can read and write. Many of our school districts use QwertyTown beginning in 1st grade, all the way up until 9th. Because QwertyTown is totally customizable, teachers can adjust benchmarks to accommodate  varying student abilities at each grade level.

Dave: Teachers often use QwertyTown as a stepping stone to prepare younger students with the skills necessary to use more advanced online communication and collaboration tools later in their educational careers.

Victor: How does Qwertytown address some of your concerns about education?

Paul: Educators are very good at figuring out how to deliver instruction in a way that makes sense. What we often overlook is making it clear to students why they should care. Simply put, students want and need to learn keyboarding skills so that they can communicate online. QwertyTown taps into this highly motivating principal.

Dave: We also address the safety concerns of young people communicating online. QwertyTown equips teachers, administrators, and parents with tools that make it easy to monitor users’ communications and overall experience. We’ve also been adding lesson plans to our site that help teachers use QwertyTown as a centerpiece of their online safety instruction.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Paul: Our outlook on the future of education is both positive and encouraging. As technologies become more of the norm in education, educators are using them to empower themselves as professionals and ultimately their students as lifelong learners.

Dave: With the right kind of leadership, teachers have and will continue to have the ability to provide for their students the skills and resources they will need to succeed both academically and professionally.

Victor: Got any funny stories? 

Paul: Back when we were beta-testing the Avatar store (where users can give their avatars new outfits and appearances), one of our students came across a hairstyle choice that unintentionally covered the entire avatar’s face with hair. The student loved it, thinking it was some kind of werewolf hair. Instead of fixing the bug, we changed the name of the hairstyle to “Wolfman” and left it in the program.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of QwertyTown? 

Dave: Just as we use a pen to write and our mouths to speak, we must be equally fluent communicators with a keyboard.

Victor: Excellent! Thank you, Paul and thank you, Dave!

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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