Last year, we (Justin Medved and Dennis Harter) sat down to tackle the big question, "How does an information and technology curriculum stay relevant and meaningful in the 21st Century."  As Technology and Learning Coordinators at the International School of Bangkok this question was important to us for three reasons.

1) 2006-7 was a WASC accreditation year for ISB and we were charged with taking a look at the K-12 Information Technology curriculum and creating a plan of action to improve it.   

2) The discussions and writings coming out of the edu-blogosphere last year were rich in ideas all about "shift" , "re-thinking" and "who is teaching these new skills?". It was hard not to feel like there was some momentum building around a fresh educational paradigm and a shift away from the "integration of technology" in the classroom, moving towards "embedding" it in the way schools "do business".    

3) Prior to our roles as coordinators we had both taught in schools with elaborate technology scope and sequence plans which we felt had little to no impact on learning and often became outdated the moment they were written. We also felt that the previous NET standards were too bulky and disconnected from the average classroom teacher. We wanted to create something that could stand the test of time and be manageable to the average teacher.

With initiative and a purpose driving us forward we sat down to write a rationale to guide our approach. We came up with this:

"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 The hard reality of this approach was that they became outdated as soon as they were printed due to changes in software, hardware and the skills that students came equipped with.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."

We felt strongly that for too long that way technology was integrated with learning  focused more on the tool and less on the curriculum/content that it could be used to support. To compound this fact ,since technology changes so rapidly it became almost impossible to map what "skills" students needed to learn from year to year as new technology arrived on the scene and old skills trickled down age groups.  It wasn't long ago that spreadsheets were the domain of high school students in accounting classes.  Now we introduce them to fifth graders doing graphing and data analysis.

Typically teachers saw teaching these technology hardware and software skills as "someone else's job."  IT skills to be learned in isolation.  Yet schools rightly began to insist that technology be integrated into classroom practice. 

Under this technology skill curricular model, faced with teachers ill-equipped and not believing that it was their job, IT integration was doomed to failure.

We had to think bigger different ........   

Looking at Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design approach to curriculum and unit design we liked how big "essential questions" and "enduring understandings" had helped us plan and design units when we were teaching math and social studies. What if this same "best practice" approach could be applied to the way technology was used and talked about in the classroom?  If this was good curricular design practice, why should technology and thinking curriculum be any different?  What if that same approach was used in the way we looked at connecting technology and learning across the curriculum? What if there were only a few manageable questions that even the most tech-resistant teacher could see value in?

Over the school year we fleshed out these questions and ideas and came up five essential questions that we felt addressed the core elements of a comprehensive technology and learning curriculum - one focused on the thinking that was needed for the 21st century learner, rather than the technology.
  •         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?

You can read into the elements of each of these questions at our curriculum wiki -

What do you think of the approach?  We'd love to hear your thoughts.


Justin Medved & Dennis Harter, Guest bloggers

Cross Posted at: Medagogy  and Thinking Allowed

Tomorrow's post: Curriculum 2.0  - Creating buy-in, shopping an idea and refining through collaboration