This past summer, with the help of my brilliant friend, Kristen Swanson, I took my Technology Curriculum to a place I had never imagined it could go. As a computer lab teacher, there has never been an easy to follow, mapped out path for instruction. As such, over the last 5 years I created a scope of skills and concepts across grade levels to guide my teaching and I had begun to map out what kinds of projects I could use to teach these skills. Still, my curriculum always seemed a bit disjointed and while my students created wonderful work and amazed me with their ability to apply their skills to video, music production, programming and more, I still felt like I wasn’t doing the best job at making it ‘stick.’

Fast forward to today.

This summer, I put together a framework for my curriculum that ties all instruction to four ‘pillars.’ These pillars are the glue that holds the curriculum together. As I told my students, after we had defined that pillars hold up buildings, that these pillars will ‘hold up our learning,’ that everything we learn this year will be held up by one of these four ideas. I am so intent on providing a metaphorical ‘hook’ on which my students can hang their skills that the first week or so of classes will be focused on knowing and understanding these four pillars and connecting them to the technology we use in the lab and in our daily lives. While I named them ‘competencies’ in my curriculum, I felt the word ‘pillar’ would mean more to my students.

The Four Pillars of Technology in the Classroom

Today, my 4th-6th graders and I focused on first understanding the idea of a pillar and what it is, and then we got into the work of unpacking the first pillar, Communicate. Through a ‘Think, Pair, Share,’ they pulled together a definition of what Communicate meant to them. It was thrilling to watch them discuss with each other, often using hand gestures to explain the back and forth of two people talking and sharing ideas. I then gave them the ‘official definition’ as a comparison. They then repeated the Think, Pair, Share activity with the following question: “What are some technology tools we use to communicate?” We then shared a variety of tools, ranging from YouTube to Skype to webcams, to keyboards, to cell phones, and even to pencil and paper. All of this brainstorming was recorded in the note-taking template I provided for them.

After reviewing their class notes and their ‘exit tickets,’ I have no doubt that my students understand how technology allows them to communicate in a variety of ways. This is powerful. We built knowledge together and they reached the learning goal I had hoped to achieve without me having to tell them anything except for ‘think about this question and talk to your neighbor when the timer goes off.’

I can’t wait to hear their thoughts and the connections they make for the other 3 pillars. I hope that these prove to be the glue that holds all of their learning together this year.



  1. Reply

    This is really good. My problem is with the word processing – keyboarding – touch typing. How do we get students to learn the repetitive skills set necessary when the class meets 45 minutes once every 8 calendar day. eeek ! It just doesn’t happen.
    Bruce Cattanach

    • marybeth


      Bruce, this has been a struggle for me since Day 1. This year I have created a competition between grades and classes, with a ‘leaderboard’ on one of my walls. I am going to use (they have free teacher accounts) to track student progress and I am making it very clear (posted on the wall) what the WPM benchmarks are for each grade level (I just take the grade level and multiply by 5). After a few classes of ‘bootcamp’ and competition, I will most likely dedicate the first ten minutes of class to keyboarding for a couple of months. One of the units I teach is Office Tools, so they will get practice in those during the year.

      I have gone back and forth over keyboarding skills over the years, but I have finally decided that it just too important a skill for me not teach when most of my students have little or no access to computers at home. I just do the best I can!

      • Laura


        I also followed a very similar process – including using typingweb – for a few years. Worked well – in typical bell curve fashion I had a few standouts, a few that didn’t do it at all, and most that fell in the middle somewhere in terms of development. I also agree that keyboarding is essential – however, I taught that they need to know how to find the keys without looking – the fact that they type on so many keyboards, and swype and thumbtype, took away my insistence that they use specific fingers to do so. Good luck to you!

    • marybeth


      Thanks! I will hopefully have time to reflect on whether the glue sticks in a few weeks 🙂

  2. Chris


    Wow, this is fabulous. I’m a computer lab teacher too for K-8 and began documenting my curriculum this summer also. It’s still a Work in Progress, so I’ll probably refer to yours as well.

    As far as keyboarding. I see my younger kids twice a week, which helps and I start them on it in 2nd grade. Then in 3rd and 4th I have a typing tournament at the end of the year with highly motivating first prizes. (this year it’s is nooks for 4th grade and iPod shuffles for 3rd grade. I put my 5th graders on the typing program I use (typingPal) this year and they are still doing well with it!

    • marybeth


      Wow, those are some nice prizes, Chris 🙂 I’m thinking that the competition factor I am trying this year will help make what is a really boring skill to practice a little more fun. I’m not familiar with typingPal, I’ll have to check it out!

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  4. Reply

    Hi Marybeth! Am I OK to use your pillars with our students? I totally agree that the “why” has to come before the how. I sometimes think that teachers think that our students aren’t ready for these understandings, but I truly believe that they are, even the little ones! Thanks! Deb

    • marybeth


      Of course, Deb!

      I shared it so that others could both provide me with feedback and use it.

    • Reply

      Wow! You have a lot going on. Homeschooling in Disney sounds awseome, can’t wait to hear more. Sorry to hear about your FIL, that is never easy to hear. Happy Anniversary! We celebrate our 15th this January, we can’t wait, we are taking a trip to Florida in Feb. What is a hot rock dinner?

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  6. Reply

    I would like to use this with Digital Learning Day in my school (Wisconsin). I want to encourage staff to share their digital work online. This framework is a nice way to provide examples. Is this okay?

    • marybeth


      Of course, Matt. I should probably license the image, but it is free to share non-commercially. I hope it proves helpful!

  7. Pingback: The Four Pillars of Technology Use in the Classroom | Technology Integration Showcase


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