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Curriculum Insights • Technology in the PBS Classroom

Curriculum Insights • Technology in the PBS Classroom
Lane Young, Director of Educational Technology, Sara Poplack, Assistant Head of School for Academics, and Scott Erickson, Head of School

Technology instruction at PBS is structured to best meet the needs of our students. Similar to social-emotional learning, many teachers contribute to students’ understanding of the subject. Similar to art, library, and music, there is also a dedicated technology class taught by a subject expert. No matter who is teaching, we strive for students to be not only passive consumers of technology, but also savvy users and creators. At the conclusion of their PBS experience, we want them to walk away 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.

What sources does PBS draw on for the technology curriculum?
A set of instructional standards is at the heart of our technology instruction. These have been developed by PBS by drawing heavily on the work of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Through this framework, we work to develop seven attributes in all students:

  • Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, as 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 the PBS years?
Students 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 for when technology will and will not be used.

  • ELC: Our belief is that learning and play is best accomplished without technology. Beyond occasionally taking photos as part of our play based approach, technology is intentionally excluded from the ELC program.
  • Kindergarten through 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 classroom teachers. Example: As part of being a Computational Thinker, students learn skills in math, while they will gain skills towards being a Global Collaborator during global citizenship, reading, and writing. iPads are used primarily as an option for station activities. One of the most popular apps in 1st and 2nd Grades is “Epic Reading,” providing students access to e-books aligned with our literacy program. Classes have access to an iPad cart that enables each student access for certain activities. Examples:
    • 1st Grade: National Geographic for Kids website to learn facts about animals
    • 2nd Grade: A custom search engine as part of their research project
  • 3rd Grade: This year marks a big change in technology use at PBS. Students receive their own iPad, which they use through 5th Grade. Tech becomes increasingly integrated into their everyday academic lives. Example: Some writing is done through google docs, which complements 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 monthly instruction from the tech team. Instruction from the tech team helps students begin to think about questions like, “How do I choose the right tech tool for a given task?” and “Why do I need to be careful when searching for information online?”
  • 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. At this stage, we strive for a variety of skills such as:
    • Ability to teach others how to use tech skills as well as being able to use them for 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 regular Tech Class, once in each schedule rotation, in which more specialized knowledge is taught. Example: Students learn some of the basics of video creation while creating a Tech Tip Tutorial on how to perform a specific task like using Google Classroom or managing files.

What are some other focus areas in the technology curriculum?

  • Coding is a major focus of 3rd through 5th Grade tech team instruction. Using visual (block) programming, students are taught fundamental programming concepts such as loops, conditionals, and functions, which will assist them if they choose to learn a language like python or Javascript. This work culminates in 5th Grade with students building an app or designing an animation of their own.
  • Robotics is a new addition to the curriculum this year. In 3rd Grade, students learn the basics of how to use a visual programming language while programming their robot to perform tasks like having their robot tell a knock-knock joke or to act like a puppy. In 4th grade, students are introduced to explore programming concepts in more depth using the robots to solve problems like navigating around obstacles and responding to voice commands.
  • Pair programming is used. This is a technique in which two students simultaneously work on a problem together. This reinforces collaboration and teamwork skills. Importantly, it also enhances student success and learning as they avoid frustration because of a second pair of eyes and the benefit of having a teammate with whom to check their ideas!

How can I support the PBS technology curriculum at home?
We want you to help our students become Savvy Searchers. They are curious about the world around them and often come up with questions that we might not know the answers to. Look up answers together rather than for them, making sure to give thought to:

  • 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 because of different search philosophies. You may want to start with a specific website you trust rather than a search engine, for example, a trusted newspaper to look up information about a current event.
  • How we phrase our search: While most search engines enable asking a question rather than using 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 why we need to use it carefully.
  • Not simply trusting the first answer you get: It can be tempting to accept whatever is at the top of your screen, but that does not always get you the best results. Good role modeling for your children: Look past the first results on a web page and engage in lateral reading.

Here’s what’s next in our series on multigrade subjects:

  • March 21: Article on music by Ashtyn Avella
  • March 28: Article on visual art by Gina D’Emilio
  • April 4: Article on physical education by David Jackson
  • April 5: Parent education session at 8:30 a.m. on campus
    Add-to-calendar 🗓

Thank you for supporting all of our multigrade programs!

Lane Young, Sara Poplack, and Scott Erickson
Director of Educational Technology, Head of Academic Programs, and Head of School

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