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Teaching Technology Skills That Drive Achievement

Effectively integrating digital skills into curriculum will ensure student success

It’s crucial for today’s students to develop foundational technology skills that can be applied to their core subject learning. To accomplish this goal, districts need to coordinate the efforts of technology and academic staff to embed digital learning into the curriculum. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on March 10, 2015, a district technology leader from Illinois discussed how the school system created a “personalized learning community” from tech lab staff and technology integration specialists, dissected the Common Core State Standards looking for technology-related expectations, and mapped students’ paths to achievement.

TONY DEMONTE
Coordinator of Instructional Technology
Zion Elementary School District 6 (Illinois)

Over the past several years there has been a trend to do away with computer labs and instead utilize carts of devices—such as tablets, laptops, Chromebooks and others. But the reality is that traditional computer labs still make sense. Not all teachers are alike. Some are very strong in their technology skill set, and others aren’t as comfortable. So computer labs can still be important. In an ideal-world computer lab, tech skills and high-quality content are integrated within instructional time, and students have adequate time to practice. But we all know this scenario doesn’t always happen.

Our kids go to the computer lab two times a week for 30 minutes. Our computer labs are staffed with teaching aides, therefore, we have to be very careful what we ask them to do. It was important to us to find an online curriculum so we’re implementing lessons, not necessarily having our aides teaching students directly. Most of the lessons we use are part of Learning.com’s EasyTech curriculum. We typically do keyboarding on the second day of the week in the lab, using EasyTech’s prescriptive keyboarding. These skills are still important in 2015. I hear about a lot of schools and districts removing keyboarding from their curriculum, saying things like, “Kids can type with their thumbs on their phones. What do they need to keyboard for?”

I completely disagree. When our kids get to middle school and they are in a language arts class and their teacher assigns a paper to write, they are not writing it on their phone. Typically they write on a device in front of them that has a keyboard. When they get to high school and they are in freshman English and that teacher assigns a research paper, the students have to be able to type it. And keyboarding is certainly important in college and careers. Many devices still use a full-size keyboard. To not have those skills would hinder kids, at least for the moment. There may be a time in the future when keyboarding skills are not needed, but that time just isn’t right now. EasyTech offers a pacing guide for their lessons dictating what order they should follow, and we found it matched rather well with our research into what is best for students.

It was a good affirmation that we were both doing what was right. We’re letting the classroom teachers do what they do best, which is teaching content. When they check out Chromebooks or laptops and they create a project, they are focusing their energy and the student’s mental energy on the content—not on “Where is the button that does this?” And our aides in the computer labs are focusing on what they do best. Both sides are very happy. The tech aides feel like they are a part of this whole process and the classroom teachers are thankful they can focus on the content. All of this allowed us to convert our middle school class to a STEM environment—exploring everything from building bridges using a 3D printer, to studying rockets, architecture and even magnetic cars. It does not involve basic office-type tasks, or typing, or Photoshop, or some of those other things that we so commonly see in a middle school curriculum.

This is not an elective; every one of our students go through the STEM class. We now have exposed all those boys and girls of every cross section to what STEM is. So now when they go to the high school, they are better prepared, and if their schedule allows for it, they are ready to sign up for a high school level engineering class.

NATHAN SHELLEY
Product Marketing Manager
Learning.com

I am a product marketing manager for Learning.com, and I am also a former IT director and classroom teacher, working with K8 students. Learning.com focuses primarily on developing 21st century skills for K8 and high school students. Learning .com offers a full suite of assessments that measure digital literacy. Then we couple that with curriculum like EasyTech to develop those skills and to make sure students are ready for online assessments, and are able to use their devices effectively in BYOD and 1-to-1 initiatives.

Then, to put the whole package together, we offer a series of professional development services—from one-on-one PD customized to your district, to additional resources online, such as tutorial videos, implementation resources, and scope and sequence calendars. These resources all help our users be successful with our solutions. EasyTech is one of our flagship products at Learning .com. It’s a K8 digital literacy solution that helps students develop core technology skills—including keyboarding and online safety—as well as prepare for next-generation assessments like PARCC and Smarter Balanced. EasyTech is aligned to ISTE Standards•S, and it helps districts provide an easy-to-implement solution to prepare for those online assessments.

EasyTech includes a fully E-Rate compliant online safety curriculum—it actually exceeds the requirements. We take a positive, non-fear-based approach to addressing online safety. We want to make sure that students understand that being online and using digital tools is a positive thing than can aid in their learning, but they need to be aware of the risks and know how to make appropriate choices when they are online. The majority of EasyTech includes self-paced interactive lessons that students find very engaging. Students can do them in the lab, in the classroom, at home, or on their iPads or Android tablets. We also provide journal activities that allow students to expand and practice what they’ve learned in the EasyTech lessons.

One of the things that Learning.com is very aware of is that teachers don’t have a lot of time. They have a lot on their plate. Another great thing about EasyTech is that the majority of the lessons, quizzes and interactive activities are automatically scored. So all teachers need to do is go into the gradebook and see how each student is performing. Engagement is important for us. We have different presentation styles of our EasyTech lessons for primary, intermediate and middle school students. The majority of the lessons are also available in Spanish for ELL students.

We also have closed captioning in a good portion of our lessons. EasyTech is divided into several different sequences based on the educator and what they are trying to do. It’s divided by skill areas, starting with mouse basics, leading all the way up into keyboarding, word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. We also have an HTML web-design unit. We have a curated portion of EasyTech that has content for addressing the skills needed for next-generation assessments. It includes skills pretests that gauge a student’s proficiency in word processing, presentations, and being able to write on the computer—and it will differentiate the instruction for every student.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit: www.districtadministration.com/ws031015