Technology Focus: “A Lens to See the World”

 

2019-20

This year, students are engaging in new projects aimed at expanding their definition of technology and deepening the foundational skills they use to approach it. “Technology is so much more than the tablet buzzing in your hand,” explains Darcey Blake, the school’s technology teacher.

The curriculum focuses on integrating technology within each academic discipline and, Ms. Blake says, on exploring technology as “a lens through which to better see and understand the world.” In each grade, students are encouraged to embrace a broader definition of technology as they practice skills like problem solving, working in teams, pattern recognition, data visualization, and encoding. Ms. Blake elaborates: “Technology is a set of means put to practical use to solve problems. This includes technological processes, objects, materials, and knowledge. Computers, cellphones, iPads, and other devices belong to only a narrow definition of technology.” 

Fourth grade students explored the connection between sound and technology through a study of bird songs. Engaging all five senses, they used a spectrogram to study the visualization of sound and created their own bird songs using woodwind recorders. They learned to use Audacity, an audio editor, to record and edit their songs. 

“Conservation and nature are a great bridge for students who don’t see themselves as traditionally science- or technology-oriented,” Ms. Blake says. “Connecting nature and technology opens up this world so that it is accessible to a more diverse group of people.”

In conjunction with their social studies curriculum, second graders are working in teams to create stop-motion videos to illustrate plate tectonics. “Students saw Pangea break apart into the continents we know today to learn how the world we know was formed and what implications this may have in the future,” said Ms. Blake. 

The materials for this project may seem unexpectedly analog. Students first looked at books to learn how the continents have moved and what plates look like. Next they cut continents out of paper and labeled them, and then they physically moved the continent shapes to reflect what they had learned about the shifting of plates. Ultimately, they will use a child-friendly iPad app to take photos of the continents at each stage of movement. The app then pulls these together in a stop-motion film.

Ms. Blake says that approaching technology this way provides a solid, age-appropriate foundation that will allow students to adapt to the technology of the future. “We are providing the building blocks of what technology is and will be. Coding languages change, tools change, but the skills and ways of thinking remain the same. We don’t know what technology will look like in the future, but we will be ready.”

With the curriculum’s distinct conservation focus, technology class is not relegated to the classroom. “The fifth grade went to the park to record squirrels so we can encode their behavior and conduct an experiment to find out if the squirrel they recorded is left or right handed,” Ms. Blake said. ”In sixth grade, we will be going to the Bronx Zoo soon to get ideas for the ethical and technologically focused animal enclosures students are designing in class.”

As students progress, the curriculum expands upon the skills they have built to embrace a more traditionally technical framework, with an emphasis on social justice. In seventh grade, for example, students will use the Quantum Geographic Information System (QGIS) to source data from New York City and New York State databases and construct city maps that explore green space equity and access. “Students download data and transform coordinates into shapes that can be displayed in QGIS to create a map,” says Ms. Blake. “Then using those maps we can problem-solve and explore geographic environmental justice issues and questions.”

The emphasis on using technology to solve real-world problems in just and equitable ways is right at home with St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s mission. “You don’t need sophisticated technology to be able to look at the world around you,” Ms. Blake concludes. “Looking at conservation and social justice through tech opens up this world to students who are interested in all different disciplines.”