Our Essential Question: How does an information and technology curriculum stay relevant and meaningful in the 21st Century?




Introduction

The world in which we live is changing at a rapid pace and those in the field of education are beginning to comprehend the impact that technology is having on school culture and curriculum. In 2006, five exabytes (5 billion gigabytes) of new information were added to the world and of that only .01% was printed. Computers and the software that run them change at a dizzying pace. What was seen as a technology standard and benchmark five years ago now seems trivial and basic to our new crop of learners. For the first time in history, our job as educators is to prepare our students for a future that we cannot clearly describe. Technology (cell phones, computers, the internet etc.) is as familiar to the youth of today as the television and radio was to the generation before them.

As our world changes, so must curriculum if it is to remain a relevant institution whose mission is to prepare our students for the demands of citizenship on the world stage. Every day our pupils read and navigate through a "global electronic library" as well as through the media housed in traditional libraries. They have access to a wealth of information and resources unimaginable even five years ago. Student are able to access, create, design and present information in so many new and exciting ways that educators are having trouble keeping pace. A new literacy has emerged and with it comes a brand new set of skills, responsibilities and challenges. It is time to rethink the role that information technology plays in schools and transition from disconnected entities to partners in learning.

"This is not something that we teach in the 3rd grade, check it off, and go on. It’s not a skill. It’s habit. ..and it needs to be a part of almost every conversation that we have in our classrooms."
David Warlick - 2 Cents Worth

This curriculum is about creating "habits" for the 21st century learner.


Beliefs and Attitudes

We believe that technology is a tool that can help and enhance learning. Everyday we see technology used as a tool outside of formal schooling for communication, collaboration, understanding, and accessing knowledge. It is our goal in developing an integrated curriculum to ensure that the way students learn with technology agrees with the way they live with technology.

Technology is in a constant state of evolution and change. Access speeds, hardware, software, and computer capabilities all evolve and improve on a monthly basis. This change occurs at a rate at which it is impossible for schools to keep up and adapt.

Is it not time that we create a curriculum model that understands and this fact and works with it rather than tries to control it?

Too often typical information technology curricula have focused heavily on skills and their scope and sequence across the curriculum. The hard reality of this approach was that they became outdated as soon as they were printed due to changes in software, hardware and the skills that students came equipped with.

Instead of asking the question "What technology skills must a students have to face the 21st century?" should we not be asking "What thinking and literacy skills must a students have to face the 21st century?" These skills are not tied to any particular software or technology-type, but rather aim to provide students with the thinking skill and thus the opportunity to succeed no matter what their futures hold.


Influenced by best practices

Best practices regarding meaningful technology integration vary world wide. It is because of this fact that this curriculum looks to established and trusted best practices that inform and guide the practice of teaching and learning. As technology is no more than a real and relevant teaching and learning tool, the approach used to integrate it into the classroom should be guided by internationally recognized best practices and current research.

The model for the structure of this document is Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Their framework for curricular design is commonly accepted for all other curricular areas and new literacy and technology should be no different. Good planning and design starts with well-posed Essential Questions focused on the true knowledge you want students to have.

This curriculum will be drawing from the best practice approaches to teaching and learning found in:


The Focus

While the efforts of this document in relation to the new literacy required of a 21st Century Learner will focus on how technology is learned throughout a child's (and person's) life, it is important to highlight that the core of these requirements is much "bigger" than technology. Successful participants of the 21st Century will needs tools and sensibilities that include, but are not limited to, the skills mentioned below.

Schools of the "Now" (because we can't wait for the future) must develop the whole learner as a collaborator, a communicator, and a person knowledgeable in the affairs of the world and who understand the impact and causality of action. Technology and information literacy play a large role in this development, but it is by no mean comprehensive. Learners must be given opportunities to solve problems creatively, work alongside others, and develop their own understanding of the world. All of that is part of the greater curricular imperative. This document focuses on a subset of that imperative: a new information literacy as a necessary skill set (understanding?) to contribute successfully in the 21st century.

With increasingly fast and constant access to near infinite amounts of information, knowledge is now available to everyone, all the time. However, with that sheer volume of information come required skills for success. Additionally, interpersonal as well as global communication and collaboration continues to become more and more accessible.

The focus of this curriculum document is on thinking. It includes the curricular levels of Essential Questions, Enduring Understandings, Learner Outcomes and Assessment Rubrics all focused on the thinking, communicating, and collaborating skills that need to be embedded throughout the curriculum. The all-encompassing nature of this curriculum lends itself to teacher understanding and use. It is purposely designed to be accessible to teachers in a way that technology scope and sequence or standards never have been.


What are the needs of the 21st Century Learner?

At the core of ISB students’ learning and growth are the Essential Questions for the 21st Century Learner encompassing all age groups and all subject areas. In order to answer these questions, students will need both technological and non-technological knowledge, understanding and skills.

The Essential Questions for the 21st Century Learner are:

  • How do you know information is true?
  • How do you communicate effectively?
  • What does it mean to be a global citizen?
  • How do I learn best?
  • How can we be safe?

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It is important to note that these questions apply to all students PreK to 12 at varying levels of sophistication. They are life-long learning questions. which do not focus solely on technology.

These questions speak to thinking, critically evaluating, analyzing, and communicating. They emphasize the value in responsible behavior and knowing yourself as a learner.

In a world in which it is impossible to predict what technology children will be using as adults, it is the "answers" to these questions that will provide students with the skills necessary to succeed and thrive in the 21st Century.

The power of these Essential Questions, lie in their applicability to all ages and to conversations more important than technology standing alone. A grade 1 teacher can and should have valuable discussions with students about being safe or recognizing truthful information. Who are the people you trust? What about them makes you believe what they say? What makes one "source" more valuable than another?

Those same questions can be asked throughout a child's schooling, but the answers begin to include more sources and more critical examination of their world. And they begin to include technology. If experimentation and data analysis is a way to know something is true then you will have to learn how to use the technology needed to analyze that data. If being safe is valued, then learning about responsible use of social networking sites, issues of privacy, and web 2.0 technologies inevitably will be discussed.

The broad nature of these questions makes them accessible to teachers whose responsibility it is to embed this curriculum into their students' learning. Teachers believe that they can teach effective communication. They don't believe they know much about PowerPoint. Nor should effective communication be limited to a software title anyway. The answers of these Essential Questions are higher-order thinking skills and issues of global citizenship. These are the skills we NEED students to have and the ones that will serve them well once they leave the arena of formal education.


But where are the technology skills?

Technology skills are not the focus. In fact, technology does not come up directly in the aforementioned questions. Instead, technology is a part of a greater whole. Technology skills will be learned in school by students in the same way it is learned “in the real world”: as they need it.

It is a primary focus of this embedded curriculum, that the skills of using technology become the habits of students and teachers - that technology is called upon when needed the same way a dictionary or pencil has been in the past. Search techniques or spreadsheet skills, for example, should be learned when they are needed, not only age appropriately, but also context appropriately.

In life and school, technology skills are embedded. They are in the conversations that teachers have with students about information and safety and communication. They are in the projects students do to more richly learn the curricular content of their classes. They are in the ways students communicate and they way in which they learn. And they are in the habits of teachers and students in both their school and daily lives. And in this way, the technology skills are embedded in this curriculum.