Something that I often struggle with when integrating more complicated technology into lessons with students is the balance between the learning that the technology is being integrated with, and the learning of the tech skills that accompany the piece of technology. Reading through Drew Perkins’ 15 Questions to Ask About Tech Integration In Your Classroom, his questions were a fantastic reminder of effective practice, but the ones that struck me this week were “Will this tech lead to non-productive struggle and frustration?” and “Have I started with purpose and pedagogy instead of the tech?”

These are the questions that I often find myself wondering about when I’m planning something where students will have to spend a considerable amount of time learning tech skills before they are able to use those skills to connect and extend their other learning. Technology is at its most powerful when it is connected to other curricular areas to expand the possibilities of learning. These connections to the curriculum are where I see the best opportunities for Kim Cofino’s 3 Steps to Transforming Learning through relevance, real-world task and authentic audiences, and I believe they should be prioritized. The technical skill aspect can become a barrier to this connection, but it is one that can and should be overcome. It can be as simple as working with younger elementary students to develop their basic computer skills (we are a 1 to 1 iPad school, so every MacBook has permanent smear marks on the screen from students trying swipe with their fingers), or more complex skills like students learning how to create 3D designs in Tinkercad. It can be time-consuming, but almost always the long term benefits of students developing these foundational tech skills outweigh the shorter term impacts of time lost from the other curricular focuses of the class. It’s all about finding the right moments to take that time.

One example of this is one of our Grade 5 Units of Inquiry with the central idea “There are no original ideas.” Throughout the unit, students are tasked with exploring a medium of creative expression that they choose, and developing their own understanding of what an original idea might be, and how others work can influence our own. Students spend the first week participating in workshops where they can try out and experiment with different mediums, and then spend the rest of the unit becoming experts in their chosen medium through research of techniques, related artists, and exploration and experimentation.

This year I ran a workshop where students could learn the basics of designing in Tinkercad. When I first used Tinkercad myself I thought it was pretty intuitive, but naturally, I quickly realized that I have a different scale for intuitiveness than our fifth graders do. In the context of this unit, the amount of time that students who chose to pursue 3D design required to acquire the skills to even begin to create their designs were significantly more than students who were exploring mediums like photography or wire sculpture. There was a range of designs that were created ranging from original action figures to students following tutorials to create phone stands depending on how quickly the students were able to develop their skills. In the end, the process led to valuable discussion and reflection from the students about how difficult originality can be when we are still developing the necessary skills to turn our ideas into reality.

Organic modelling using Sculptris by Pixologic

I’m still relatively new to the 3D printing world, and while I loved the possibilities that Tinkercad has to offer I found that students were sometimes frustrated with using the predefined shapes. I was excited when I came across Sculptris, an organic modelling program that allowed the students to create designs in a way that is similar to working with a ball of clay. I found that this program while bringing its own set of skills and challenges, allowed students to more easily turn their ideas into reality.

How do you balance the teaching of technology skills with the integration of the technology into your core curriculum? Do your elementary students do any 3D designing? What programs or strategies have you found to make it more accessible to younger students?