Schools are using tech to teach 21st century kids

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan calls on educators to make sure students get transformational learning experiences enabled by technology. In the Chicago area, private schools are leading the way when it comes to mindfully using technology in the classroom.

“In order for our students to thrive and succeed, it is essential for them to acquire the education and 21st century skills needed to prepare them for our rapidly changing world,” says Christine Huzenis, principal of Northside Catholic Academy in Chicago. Its technology curriculum begins in kindergarten with an introduction to coding and by middle school, students participate in projects using 3_D printers, a laser engraver and drone technology.

At the Science & Arts Academy in Des Plaines, all students participate in an “Explore and Create” class, which incorporates technology with science, engineering, art and math.

Technology is not limited to science class

Technology is often closely associated with science, but schools are now incorporating it into all subject areas.

For example, in the upper grades, students at the Chicago Waldorf School use technology to write blogs and design newsletters in their English and Humanities course work. They also use tablets and design software in digital arts class as well as in their robotics and computer science classes.

“Besides merely providing a technical education, the program explores deeper questions concerning the nature of computer versus human intelligence,” says faculty member John Trevillion.

“Technology is a valuable tool across all disciplines,” says Travis Munson, art teacher at Science & Arts Academy. One example is a drama class in which students write, direct and edit their own black and white silent film. “Digital editing allows students to reflect on their performance and make changes along the way,” he says.

Northside Catholic Academy also “integrates technology across the curriculum,” says technology teacher Cathy Love, who notes that the school’s STEAM philosophy has broad application and helps create a “robust” educational experience.

Using tech to help kids succeed

Science & Arts Academy also uses technology to differentiate lessons in reading as well as math. Students also can use technology, such as making a video, to demonstrate mastery of a topic.

Movies using green screen technology are popular at Northside Catholic Academy, and PowerPoint presentations are used to show learning.

They also use technology in its executive function program to help kids develop skills crucial to success in any class. “Through the use of online curricular resources, technology helps students take ownership of their learning. For example, middle school students utilize a homework planning app to assist with student organization and time management,” explains Julie Lettner, director of educational technology at Science & Arts Academy.

Tech time does not mean screen time

Learning about technology does not necessarily mean putting kids in front of computers.

The Chicago Waldorf School discourages early exposure to screens and the use of smart phones before high school. “The school strives to create a healthy pathway into the world of digital citizenship and technology,” Trevillion says.

“Students learn to use simple technologies in their elementary school years and do not have screens in the classroom,” Trevillion says. That is because “students first understand how technology works before incorporating it into a classroom environment.” He says that digital technologies are introduced starting in middle school, which provides a foundation for full immersion in computer science in high school.

At Northside Catholic Academy, “our technology curriculum does not revolve solely around screen time,” Love explains. Students also learn about simple technologies through hands-on activities such as creating marble roller coasters.

Teamwork to teaching digital citzenship

All three schools take steps to partner with parents to keep kids safe online and to educate both students and parents about best practices when it comes to using the Internet as a family.

“Internet safety is a key part of our curriculum and parents play an important role in helping us implement a safe learning environment,” Love says.

Lettner agrees, noting that “to maximize the benefits of technology, it must be used in partnership by the parents, teachers and students.”

The relationship between technology and healthy human development is a topic of teacher-parent evenings and workshops at Chicago Waldorf School, where digital citizenship is an important topic for all.

Parents looking to supplement and expand their children’s exposure to technology can also consider avenues outside of school such as Codeverse. Codeverse is an immersive coding studio where kids ages 6 to 12 can program drones, robots, 3-D printers and lasers. Its KidScript programming language “enables untethered creativity,” says Katy Lynch, co-founder.

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