Connected Education is Elementary

Photo by Paul Jerry

“We are all born curious, creative, and imaginative. And the best schools—from pre-K to graduate school—continue to develop these capabilities in students. They do so not by delivering more-of-the-same education, but rather a very different education.” Wagner

When we think about connected education, our minds usually bring us to teenagers and older students who create digital portfolios using the latest tools. We often think of how we need to teach these older students about media literacy so they can negotiate their way through research without falling into the trap of using sources that are inaccurate.

When educators think of connected education they typically do not think about primary school children, and that is something that needs to change because our students are coming to us computer literate at a very young age. Children come into this world with such wonder, and as Tony Wagner stated, with curiousness, creativity and imagination. I sometimes worry that schools stifle that creativity instead of inspire it. Children are capable of doing so much at a young age and we need to foster that.

Can a 3 year old really negotiate their way around an iPad? Is it really possible for students to know more about the internet and computers than their teachers when they enter elementary school? 3 Year-Old Spells on iPad

My friend’s 4 year old son Sammy climbed up on a stool in his dad’s classroom and began to negotiate his way around the computer. He wanted to play an academic game on the internet. Sammy didn’t know it was academic; he just knew he liked it. As I sat back and watched him click away on the computer, I began to question how we meet the needs of  21st century learners in elementary school.

Using the Computer as a Reward

Not that I’m ancient, but I taught elementary school in the mid-90’s when computers were not in the classroom. Within a couple of years, I received four new computers through a district grant. All the elementary school classrooms were provided the same number of computers, whether teachers were going to use them or not. Many times, the computers went untouched in those classrooms, because contrary to popular belief, not all teachers were going to gravitate to them and they certainly weren’t going to allow their students to turn them on. If they weren’t being used as a decorative classroom item, they were being used as a reward for those students who finished seatwork early.

As life went on, it became popular for schools to have computer labs. I had a classroom next to the lab and although teachers had designated time to use it, they very often never went to the lab with their students. Unfortunately, when teachers did use the lab, it was to allow students to play games. I watched as very few teachers interacted with students.

In the school where I am a principal we do not have a computer lab. We opted out of having one in favor of having five computers in each classroom. Teachers are able to use the computers for center-based learning. Over the past couple of years the district has invested in Smartboards for each classroom and we have also invested in netbooks for grade levels so that more students can use technology at the same time. Technology shouldn’t be a place where students go, it should be a tool/resource that they use naturally every day, so we try to make it as accessible as possible.

Elementary School is Cute

I have spent seventeen years in elementary education, which is long enough to hear that it must be cute to work with young kids more times than I can count. Once when I was a teacher, a friend came over to my house as I was doing lesson plans. He remarked that he was surprised that the lessons were so detailed because he thought all we did was color.

The truth is we set the foundation for students before they go on and find their life’s path. That foundation must include the use of tablets, iPads, laptops and netbooks because most of these students, like Sammy, are using these devices at a young age. Although this is a commercial from Dell, it captures what our students are doing with computers while they are home. It shows the possibilities that they have before them.  Annie: The Girl Who Can Fly

Education Revolution

“No one seems to question exactly what students should be achieving beyond better test scores. What matters today, however, is not how much our students know, but what they can do with what they know” (Wagner. Education Week).

We are in the midst of a constant struggle in education. I would go so far as to say it is a revolution, and connected educators are at the center. We don’t look at a computer as a necessary evil; we look at it as a window of opportunities for our students. Depending on your location in the world, some of you may enter schools that are being hit with mandates and increased levels of accountability that have the potential to distract you from providing students with a high quality education.

It’s important to those of us at the elementary level that we try to maintain a balance between meeting mandates and providing students with the important foundation they need. Our PLN’s will help us weed through the distractions and can inspire us to find new and creative ways to educate our students. It is important to do that at any grade level but the primary years are a time when students are at risk of losing the creative spirit that they are born with and it is our obligation to foster that creativity.


Connect with Peter on Twitter


Wagner, Tony (2012). Graduating All Students Innovation Ready. Education Week Commentary. August 14th, 2012.


  1. Mike Byster said:

    As an educator, I believe it is very important to teach material that is important for the future of the students. When inventing my math and memory system Brainetics (, I wanted to focus on new subjects and innovative methods to teach. By teaching for the 21st century, students will be more prepared in the future. It seems like so many aspects of today’s society centers around the digital environment and teaching should be altered to adapt.

    Great article,

    Mike Byster
    Inventor of Brainetics, Educator, Author of Genius, Mathematician

    August 17, 2012
  2. […] DeWitt, Connected Education is Elementary Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in 21st […]

    August 17, 2012
  3. Young learners need practice with the latest tools that are so essential in modern life. Not only through direct contact but also through modeling by using these tools in the classroom. How often are your students teaching adults how to navigate through new technology? This amazing shift is something that every young learner deserves to experience which boosts their knowledge and confidence to succeed. My students have helped their substitute navigate the whiteboard for our Common Core WriteSteps lessons and I hope all students are provided exposure to technological tools.

    August 17, 2012
    • Peter DeWitt said:

      Hi Dondi,

      That is such an excellent point. I have seen students create new ways for their teachers to do attendance on Smartboards and help substitutes negotiate their way around the internet. That transfer of learning is so important to both parties.

      Thanks for your comment.

      August 17, 2012
  4. Steve Ahle said:

    As a recently retired, 30 year, veteran principal I remember when Apple gave us 1 computer in each classroom in CA to use with our students. We have continued to teach and assess like we have in the past and keep a lid on the future applications for our students to become proficient with in living their lives in the future. How many people used smart phones and tablets in 2000? Yet we are not even keeping up with this technology in the present classrooms for our kids. Teaching is no longer sage on the stage but is a guide on the side. The student entering the classroom today in kindergarten graduates from HS in 2025 (may not go to or need college). What will technology be like then? Check out the Corning You Yube videos and see the future we are preparing our students for in life and the skills they will need! A Day Made of Glass part I and II. For those needed help just google the title. Enjoy.

    August 21, 2012
  5. debra said:


    August 30, 2012

Comments are closed.