By Melissa Beltz
Technology has fueled fundamental changes in the way we move through the world and interact with one another. It has also given us unimaginable power: the ability to access information, to construct an identity for ourselves, to shape the world’s perceptions of others, and so much more.Understanding how to use this power responsibly is a crucial skill. That’s why Parker is ensuring its students have all the tools they need to become good digital citizens. From what they post on social media to where they go to research homework assignments, Parker students will be equipped to navigate the digital world responsibly and safely.
As any parent knows, there is no keeping technology away from children, so Parker designed its digital citizenship program to take flight in the Middle School. Digital Foundations is a mandatory course that teaches all Grade 6 and new Grade 7 students how to use technology as a force for good, helping them to “create and manage a positive digital footprint.”
Self-awareness is an enormous part of the equation. Middle School Technology Coordinator Stephanie Oberle said that Digital Foundations encourages students to “think about how they interact online a little more, about what they’re posting and reading.”
Oberle developed Digital Foundations four years ago with fellow technology teacher Lyford Rome and robotics teacher Ryan Griggs. The three saw the need for a focused digital citizenship course once the School started distributing iPads to every single Middle School student. Students use the tablets to submit class assignments, check their grades, and keep track of their busy schedules—but also as a gateway to the internet.
“We needed a class to teach students how to use their iPads and use them safely,” Oberle said.
The class is broken down into several mini-courses covering topics such as digital citizenship, library and research skills, study skills, robotics, and mobile apps. The curriculum gets students comfortable with the technology, but its most-lasting lessons are grounded in ethics.
“We cover big concepts that we’re not always able to cover in other classes,” said Linda Vista Campus librarian Ricca Gaus, who plays a key role in the research side of Digital Foundations. Students learn where to find trusted, legitimate sources for their projects and how to identify information that may be biased or unfounded. They discover the phenomenon of fake news—something few of us were aware of just a few years ago—and learn to read with a critical eye. This is in addition to the classic research principles that their parents were taught about citing sources and acknowledging others’ work.
“We want students to be aware of these issues,” Oberle said. “If it comes up in another class or elsewhere, are they able to talk about it and explain it?”
Students are challenged to define what it means to be good citizens in both the digital and real worlds. The course offers an opportunity to begin thinking critically about the posts, comments, and other forms of content they produce that may have an impact on other people.
In general, consideration for one’s peers is a hallmark of Digital Foundations. Because students come in with varying levels of proficiency with iPads, peer-to-peer learning is both natural and common. Gaus said she often sees students’ willingness to help extend beyond the classroom.
Well on the road to wielding their digital power responsibly, students have a chance to learn more about the options that technology affords them. Digital Foundations allows them to begin exploring robotics and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.
“We need more women in STEM. We wanted every student to take robotics to see if they like it, because if they take it and love it, they will move on with it.” — Stephanie Oberle, Digital Foundations teacher
In the Digital Foundations robotics module, students use the graphical user interface Mindstorm to program EV3 robots to create a story that they will film on their iPads, edit with iMovie, and upload to Google Drive. Creativity is in play: a pair of Grade 6 students recently made a robot adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” called, “Bethany and the Robot.”
In the Digital Apps Bootcamp module, students become familiar with—among other things—the core apps used at Parker, including Digital Compass, Google Drive, the design app Canva, and the notetaking app Notability. Projects in this module include an interactive family tree, featuring hyperlinked images and descriptions of their family members.
As technology evolves, so will these modules and the Digital Foundations course as a whole. “It’s always changing,” Oberle said. “We make it individualized to the needs of the kids.”
Learning these digital tools helps students become more independent. It also prepares them for life in high school, college, and their careers. When you encounter responsible, engaged, and compassionate digital citizens in the future, it’s highly possible that their technological fluency and self-aware mindset trace their roots to Parker.This article was written for the Fall 2017 issue of the Parker Magazine.