Classroom Perspectives, STEM, Technology

Techexpertise: The Digital Starter Kit

Techexpertise: The Digital Starter Kit

Originally published in TEACH Magazine, Digital Citizenship Special Issue, 2020

By Erin Petley-Kerr

Technology is inevitable in our world and especially in our schools. Students come into our classrooms each year with the innate ability to use technology. This can be a blessing, but as teachers, we’ve been given the role to navigate what technology now looks like in our classrooms.

To assist both students and teachers, at my school we have developed a model to support technology use. The system is trifold, focusing on:

  1. Digital citizenship lessons
  2. A teacher technology team
  3. A student techxpert team

We have found that not only have technology issues decreased, but confidence among staff and technology capacity within our school community has grown immensely.

Digital Citizenship Lessons

Starting in the month of September, each grade level teacher begins a digital citizenship lesson focusing broadly on Internet safety. We discuss the difference between green, yellow, and red websites. An example of a green website is FamilyJr, where students know exactly what they need to do, are not required to login, and can navigate the website easily.

On a yellow website, it will ask questions of the students like their username or password. We teach our students that it is important to ask an adult about this type of website before using it for the first time to ensure it is safe. Our school communication platform, Edsby, is a great example of a yellow website. Finally, a red website is one that could be confusing, too hard to read, or shows something inappropriate.

When discussing the three types of websites, we describe the characteristics of each, how they make us feel, and the steps we should take when we encounter each type. We also touch on the differences between personal and school technology devices and the expectations that differ when using them. After this, each month teachers focus on a digital citizenship lesson, based on Common Sense Education resources, but which have been modified and catered for our student population.

These lessons focus on topics such as creating a balance between online and offline activities; being safe, respectful, and responsible when online; keeping information private; and giving credit to other’s work. To accompany each lesson, there is also a family activity, tips, and resources page that goes home so parents are aware and can continue to discuss and have conversations with their child at home.

Teacher Technology Team

As a committee at our school, this team assists with technology problems, offers tips, answers questions, and provides the monthly digital citizenship lesson. The technology team is comprised of one teacher from each grade level, who acts as both the representative and the “go-to” person for their grade. Having a go-to person, specifically one that the grade knows and feels comfortable approaching, has allowed our tech team to be very efficient and helpful. These teachers also act as mentors and positively support the other members of the team through their own technology journeys.

At the beginning of each year, our team gathers and creates a goal for the year, giving us a specific task on which to focus. We meet roughly once a month to discuss our goal(s) and design lessons, tips, or gather current research to support our staff. We also create a pre and post survey with questions around our goal, so we have evidence as to our own areas of weaknesses and topics where our staff may need support. This allows us to design a specific professional development plan focusing on our staff members’ needs and concerns.

Student Techxpert Team

The Techxpert student team at our school consists of our oldest students—grade four students. After a preliminary “try-out” where we observe the skills these students have on both iPads and Chromebooks, we select around ten of them to become Techxpert members. With this group, we meet once a week to work on a variety of things.

First, the Techxperts can be requested by any classroom teacher to assist in their classroom while they are completing a tech-related project. For example, let’s say we have a grade one teacher who is using Book Creator. They have seen examples online of how a project may look but don’t have the skills to complete it. They may simply request our Techxperts to come in and support them and their students. In addition, this team may just be used as an extra body when every student seems to have a question!

Second, Techxperts may also be requested by a teacher to teach them a tech-related skill. For instance, using the same example as above, a teacher might be tutored over lunch hour by a team member, gaining experience and instruction on using a program like Book Creator. The teacher could then work with their own class using these newly acquired skills.

Techxpert members are also responsible for creating informative videos to be used at assemblies or shown in classrooms, such as news reports using a green screen app. Our members are given opportunities to learn new technology skills for themselves as well. We work individually with them to build their own capacity, and focus on a variety of topics such as Micro:bits, coding, and a range of other makerspace skills.

Working with our Techxperts throughout the years, we’ve observed numerous benefits that this club has for our students. Not only do they learn new technology skills, but they gain confidence in their abilities to troubleshoot, to help others, and to believe in themselves.

By working with both students and teachers, the Techxperts develop patience, empathy for others, perseverance when confronted with a difficult task, and communication skills to voice and explain how to do something. Being a member of the Techxperts team challenges students to take on a leadership role in our school, offers them an opportunity to build relationships, and helps them develop the skills that are necessary to lead a group.

Our Techxperts’ excitement around learning has blossomed. They love coming to our club each week because they know that they fulfill an important role in our school community, and every year they tell us how good it makes them feel to be able to help others.

Buddy classrooms is another area that allows our students to shine. Typically, we have our grade four classrooms partnered with a grade two classroom, and our grade three classrooms partnered with a grade one classroom. During allotted times, the students buddy up and work together to complete a task or teach a skill.

Buddy classrooms have been beneficial as they allow one-on-one support for students. Not only are the older students helping the younger ones, but the younger ones can also teach the older students a new skill.

For instance, we had a grade two class that had just completed a postcard activity using a green screen app. They were then able to teach the grade four students the basics of the app, and together the partners put their creative skills to work. The grade two students felt special being able to teach the oldest kids in our school a new skill, and it helped increase their confidence. We’ve observed relationships and comfortability between students grow as they spend the year working together.

In assisting teachers and students with technology, it’s important to remember that everyone is on their own journey; everyone is at a different place and has a different end point. When we create a supportive and encouraging environment, we can see that capacity increases, confidence grows, and relationships remain strong.


Erin Petley-Kerr is in her 11th year as an educator and is currently a Grade 4 teacher at Foundations for the Future Charter Academy in Calgary, Alberta. She holds a Masters of Education from the University of Calgary, and is passionate about tech integration in the classroom.