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Curriculum Insights • Technology in the PBS Classroom

Lane Young, Director of Educational Technology

Student technology suddenly became top of mind for teachers and families because of the meteoric rise of distance learning in the past two years. Fortunately, PBS was well prepared for the challenge, as the role of technology was already intentionally planned and integrated within our larger program. PBS educators have always been acutely aware of the need to assist students in thoughtful, appropriate use of the technology that surrounds them in family and educational life – even pre-pandemic. This existing foundation meant we were as prepared as possible for the pivot to DL. As the dust settled and in-person instruction returned, we’ve worked hard to incorporate lessons from that experience while returning to technology instructional standards that we have historically believed in and developed.

Technology instruction at PBS is a bit unique. Similar to social-emotional learning, many teachers across the school contribute to our students’ understanding of the subject. Similar to art, library, and music, there is also a dedicated technology class taught by a subject matter expert. No matter who is teaching, we strive for our students to be not only passive consumers of technology, but also creators and savvy users. We want them to depart PBS with a set of core skills and mindsets that will assist their technology use at home, in middle school, and beyond – no matter how rapidly tech evolves around them. 

What sources does PBS draw on for its technology curriculum?

A set of standards, developed by PBS, are at the heart of our technology instruction. These draw heavily on the work of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Through this framework, we work to develop seven attributes in our students:

  • Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
  • Digital Wellbeing: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of living, learning, and working in an interconnected digital world. They act in ways that are safe, legal, and ethical.
  • Savvy Searcher: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts, and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
  • Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new useful or imaginative solutions.
  • Computational Thinker: Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.
  • Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats, and digital media appropriate to their goals.
  • Global Collaborator: Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.

How is technology used as children progress through their PBS years?

Students at PBS are fortunate to have plentiful access to technology in which it enhances learning in any given subject. The tech team works closely with grade-level teachers to formulate specific plans about when technology will and will not be used.

ELC: Our philosophy is that learning and play are best accomplished without technology. Technology is intentionally excluded from the ELC program beyond occasionally taking photos as part of our play-based approach.

Kindergarten–2nd Grade: Dedicated tech classes are not part of the everyday experience. Instead, much of the work on the seven attributes happens in core academic classes and is taught by lead teachers. Example: As part of being a Computational Thinker, students learn skills in math, while they gain skills towards being a Global Collaborator during global citizenship class.

iPads are used primarily as an option for station activities. One of the most popular apps in 1st and 2nd Grades is “Epic Reading,” which provides access to e-books aligned with our literacy program. Classes have access to an iPad cart, which enables each student to use an iPad for certain activities. Some examples are:

  • Kindergarten: Wet-Dry-Try, which aligns with our handwriting curriculum to practice letter formation
  • 1st Grade: National Geographic for Kids website to learn facts about animals
  • 2nd Grade: A custom search engine as part of their country research project

3rd Grade: This grade marks a big change in technology use at PBS. Students receive their own iPad, which they keep through their 5th Grade year. Tech becomes increasingly integrated into their everyday academic lives. Example: Some writing is done through Google Docs – complementing writing still done with paper and pencil. To support this more formal work, iPads include a keyboard case, and students are given typing instruction through the “Typing Agent” app. Students continue to learn technology primarily from their homeroom and specialist teachers, supplemented by occasional instruction from the Tech Team.

4th and 5th Grades: Technology becomes an increasingly important part of learning. By the end of 5th Grade, students use iPads daily and often in multiple subjects. We teach a variety of skills such as:

  • Ability to teach others how to use tech skills as well as being able to use them adeptly themselves
  • Knowing how to best navigate search engine results to find useful information and websites
  • Taking ownership of digital actions to be their “best online selves,” and take care and responsibility for others when interacting online

Tech instruction by classroom and specialist teachers is complemented by a regular tech class, once per schedule rotation, in which more specialized knowledge is taught. 

  • Coding becomes a major focus. Using visual (block) programming, students are taught fundamental programming concepts such as loops, conditionals, and functions. This helps them if they choose to learn a language like python or Javascript.
  • “Pair programming” is used: A technique in which two students simultaneously work on a problem together. This technique reinforces collaboration and teamwork skills. It also enhances student success as they avoid frustration thanks to a second pair of eyes and the benefit of having a teammate with whom to exchange ideas.

How can I support the tech curriculum at home?

Please help them become Savvy Searchers. PBS students are curious about the world around them and often come up with questions for which we lack answers. Look up answers together with them rather than for them, making sure to be thoughtful about:

  • Where we look for results: YouTube will give very different answers than Google, though both are owned by the same company. DuckDuckGo will give different kinds of answers, too, because of different search philosophies. You may want to start at a specific website you trust rather than a search engine. Example: A trusted online newspaper to look up information about a current event
  • How we phrase our search: While most modern search engines enable us to ask a question rather than use keywords, the way we phrase a question can lead to very different results.
  • Where we get our answers: Talk to your children about what sources you trust and why. Example: In 4th Grade, we discuss Wikipedia and its benefits, but also why we need to use it carefully.
  • Not simply trusting the first answer: It can be tempting to accept whatever comes up at the top of your screen, yet that doesn’t always get you the best answer. Going past the first results on a web page or engaging in lateral reading can offer a great form of role modeling for your children.

To learn more about technology and other multigrade subjects at PBS, watch for upcoming parent education opportunities:

  • April 5: Final article in the series (topic: physical education)
  • April 5: Virtual parent education at 8:00 p.m. led by Jon Fulk and PBS multigrade teachers

Thank you for supporting our multigrade programs!

Lane Young, Jon Fulk, and Scott Erickson
Director of Educational Technology, Head of Academic Programs, and Head of School

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