What Informs Elementary and Middle School Tech Curriculum?

Contrary to popular belief, students are not just “born” with technology skills. While we commonly observe them interact daily with their computers and cell phones, that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand basic use, best practice, and safety risks. In fact, to be ready for the challenges of their future, we have to educate students to become “digitally literate.”

For K-8 students, elementary and middle school technology curriculum provides them with the foundation they need for high school readiness. This is so students can function in a rigorous high school environment in which they use technology concepts and skills to conduct basic research, write essays, practice their speaking skills with presentations, or even code a solution to a problem. To better prepare students with these skills and advance elementary and middle school technology curriculum – so it helps students become digitally literate – standards, online assessments, and various initiatives have been developed.

Standards Inform Technology Curriculum

There are three sets of standards that most commonly inform elementary and middle school technology curriculum to prepare students for high school.

ISTE Standards

The International Society of Technology Educators Standards for Students (ISTE-S 2016) guide most of this K-8 digital literacy curriculum and instruction. The seven ISTE standards focus on “transforming learning with technology” by creating students who use digital concepts and tools to become:

  • Empowered Learners
  • Digital citizens
  • Knowledge Constructors
  • Innovative Designers
  • Computational Thinkers
  • Creative Communicators
  • Global Collaborators

Every state has adopted current or previous versions of the ISTE standards as a framework for digital literacy instruction as part of technology-driven high school readiness initiatives.

CSTA Standards

In addition to ISTE, the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Computer Science Standards often drive components of technology skills instruction for students in elementary school, middle school, and high school. The CSTA standards typically have more of a technical emphasis than the ISTE standards and are often used to guide computer science curriculum and instruction. Major CSTA themes include:

  • Computing Systems
  • Networks and the Internet
  • Data and Analysis
  • Algorithms and Programming
  • Impacts of Computing

As with ISTE standards, many states have also adopted the CSTA Computer Science Standards.

Core Standards

Now, even Common Core content standards in reading, writing, and mathematics require that students use digital tools to learn about and demonstrate their understanding of core content concepts and skills. For example:

Middle School ELA college and career “anchors” require students to “use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others” and to “gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess their credibility and accuracy…and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.”

Middle school mathematics practice standards require students to “regularly use digital tools for math instruction” like spreadsheets, statistical packages and geometry software. The same standard also requires students to “use technology to visualize results of assumptions” and make predictions and to use technology tools to deepen mathematics concepts.

While common Core may not be adopted by all states, most state-level core standards also feature embedded technology skills.

Read more about how these standards inform technology curriculum.


Online Assessments Require Technology Skills

In addition to standards, high-stakes online assessments like SmarterBalanced and a growing number of statewide assessments require students to have fundamental technology skills. While the objective of these online assessments is to determine student achievement in reading, writing, and mathematics, they often require that students have these technology skills in order to navigate the assessment and respond to questions.

As early as third grade, students need essential technology skills around computer fundamentals (mouse navigation, tabbed browsing, scrolling, launching onscreen audio and video player), and typing (students as early as third grade may be asked to type short responses). Students are also expected to answer questions by understanding and using digital concepts and skills like dragging and dropping objects, navigating drop-down menus, and using highlighters. Specifically, online mathematics assessments require additional knowledge around spreadsheets, graphs and charts, and interactive numbers lines and shapes.

Research suggests that elementary and middle school students who take online assessments like these tend to score lower than similar students who take the same assessment in traditional paper-and-pencil formats. Educators realize that students need direct instruction in technology skills in order to demonstrate their achievement of core concepts on these high-stakes, online assessments.

Explore the different technology skills that enhance student performance on online assessments.

School Initiatives Prompt Technology Instruction

In addition to standards and online assessments, initiatives encourage educators to pursue elementary and middle school technology curriculum.


E-Rate provides schools across the United States with funding to provide high-speed networks and broadband access, among other things. By E-Rate funds for technology projects, schools are then required to deliver a digital literacy curriculum to students that is focused on digital citizenship and online safety as part of the E-Rate agreement.


Growing numbers of schools are adopting project-based instructional models around science, technology, engineering, and math. These STEM schools recognize that technology skills are foundational, using technology skills as a vehicle for students to become budding scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.

Computer Science and Coding

“Computer Science for All” initiatives like “Hour of Code” drive elementary and middle school curriculum around computational thinking and coding with the aim of helping all students understand how to think critically, solve problems, and even learn coding language.

In both helping elementary and middle school students meet standards, prepare for online assessments, and address important initiatives and understanding the need for all students to be proficient in digital skills, schools across the country have begun to deliver integrated and comprehensive technology curriculum and instruction.

Dive into this topic more with this on-demand webinar about the importance of elementary and middle school technology curriculum for high school readiness.

Written By

Jeff Meyer

Jeff Meyer, Director of Education for Learning.com, consults with educators, parents and students regarding the importance of digital literacy education. Jeff has worked in public education since 1982 as a high school English-Language Arts teacher and physical education coach. After receiving a M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction and Instructional Technology, Jeff worked as Director of Professional Development and Instructional Technology in the Eanes Independent School District (Austin, Texas) and then was named Director of Instructional Technology for Austin Independent School District in 2000. Jeff joined Learning.com in 2005, and has worked in a variety of roles, including professional development, customer services, and product marketing. He is passionate about the need to transform education using data-based, student-centered approaches and digital resources to prepare students for the future,

End of page. Back to Top