Our children’s home and school lives are filled with opportunities to use technology and tech tools. But how do we ensure that we’re raising good digital citizens? Today’s Modern Educator caught up with Terry Lowry, Head of Technology and Head of Curriculum at Wakefield School in The Plains, Virginia, to see how she is approaching this complicated problem and ensuring that all students – from Kindergarten to Grade 12 – are equipped to thrive in this digital world.
Today’s Modern Educator (TME): Terry, thank you for taking time out of your day to talk with us! Can you share how you became Head of Technology and Head of Curriculum at Wakefield?
Terry Lowry (TL): The role I’m in at Wakefield really is the culmination of a career that has been spent partly in education and partly in Information Technology. I started out my career as a social studies teacher, but after several years I decided to leave and become an IT consultant. While I needed to learn about IT, my teaching skills were put to good use in this role as I did a lot of training and project management.
After a few years working in the private sector, I found myself missing my days as an educator and returned to education as a technology coach for Prince William County Public Schools. From there, I joined the Wakefield School community almost 4 years ago. I love wearing both hats as Head of Technology and Head of Curriculum; I love being able to help our faculty put technology to work to enhance the curriculum.
TME: How do you ensure that technology is integrated into the curriculum and supporting learning?
TL: The most important thing is that we remember that technology is a tool, or a teaching aid, and that it needs to be integrated in an authentic and meaningful way to support learning goals. The other important thing is to ensure that teachers are fully supported as they integrate tech tools into their teaching.
All three divisions in the school use tech tools very differently and have embraced them in different ways. The students are, obviously, all very receptive to incorporating tech tools into their classroom experience. But the key to an effective integration is finding the ways that technology enhances learning and improves the students’ depth of knowledge and doesn’t interrupt the flow of teaching, especially as the subjects and concepts become more complex.
Some of the best ways that we’ve integrated tech tools in the classroom are within existing project-based learning. In Lower School for example, the 2nd Grade students created tourism advertisements as part of their study of the United States, but this year instead of doing them on poster board, they recorded the ads on video, reading from a teleprompter and choosing images to go on the green screen behind them. Meanwhile in the Upper School, the many students in the Senior class are now building web pages to accompany their senior thesis instead of only submitting a printed version of their work.
TME: There are always concerns about children being online; how do you manage these concerns?
TL: Parents and teachers should definitely be concerned about children being online. The key is to teach children to be safe and make responsible decisions regarding their online activities. I believe the best way to help children, and adults, navigate this environment is to become a good digital citizen.
At Wakefield we use the Common Sense Education Digital Citizenship program from our earliest learners in Junior Kindergarten all the way through Middle School. I like this program because it isn’t fear-based like so many programs are. Instead, it educates and empowers the student to make good choices. In my role, I go through and align our school curriculum to the Common Sense Education program. So, for example, in Grade 5 when the students are introduced to research and citations, we’re teaching them about copyright in their Digital Citizenship lessons.
By the time students are in middle and upper school, we’re less focused on specific digital citizenship lessons and, instead, weave it into curriculum. For example, in middle school Creative Arts where students are learning to code there are a lot of ways to talk about the responsibilities that come with being online, especially to do with safety and information security. Meanwhile in upper school the lessons of digital citizenship culminate in the discussions we have with students about their digital footprint as they prepare for college applications and beyond.