• by Kathryn Brown • IDRA Newsletter • September 2008 • 

Wouldn’t it be cool if… you walked into a science class where students were co-designing a natural habitat using three-dimensional virtual tools for a multitude of marine species, collaborating via web cams with experts from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, New England Aquarium Georgia Aquarium. And what if they were communicating their innovative and progressive thinking via the web to other students across the world about a habitat that supported the education and research of marine-life?

Wouldn’t it be cool if… you walked into the math classroom next door and students were contributing to Google Earth’s “Cities in Development” galleries, creating realistic and well-constructed three-dimensional, textured models to build a futuristic city or one of hundreds of cities and locations around the world that anyone could “visit” at anytime? And during their learning experiences, what if they kept in touch with their parents by telling them what they were doing through Twitter or sending an e-mail through their cell phones using Jott? Parents wouldn’t need to ask their children what they learned that day. Conversations at the dinner table would be kicked up to the next level to how they applied what they learned and how they created intricate and innovative solutions to awesome problems.

Students in both of these classrooms would understand the content in the deepest, truest sense. The students in the mathematics classroom would have a complete understanding of “three-dimensional geometric figures and related two-dimensional representations and use these representations to solve problems” (Texas Education Agency, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills in Geometry) as well as environmental science and geography.

Students in the science classroom would have a complete understanding of habitats, ecosystems and their interrelationships. This type of interaction would enable students to make justifiable recommendations that restore life in a natural habitat.

What if we merged these two content areas – math and science – that are often taught in isolation, where students could define problems in our environment and use mathematics, science and technology to engineer innovative solutions and make visual predictions through animation and video. These visual predictions could show what would happen to our world’s resources and ecosystems if we continue using them up at the rate we are. Students could then use another animation to simulate what would happen if we actually went with their recommendations.

In this type of curriculum, the world becomes students’ laboratory and their reason for learning is more real.

And wouldn’t it be cool if… the curriculum we taught prepared students for their today, their now, where walking into any classroom in any school one would witness technology being infused in meaningful ways that engage students in real, non-superficial learning experiences?

What we are up to in educating our students though is not preparing them for their now or a future of possibilities where proficiency in math, science and technology are essential for success in pursuing a college education or immediately joining a workforce that requires 21st Century skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007; see box on next page for more data).

Texas ranks 41 out of 51 in its total score on the Chance-for-Success Index. For example, and the Governor’s Competitiveness Council calls for finding a solution to workforce deficits that exist in key industries (including energy, computer technology, advanced technologies in manufacturing, and aerospace and defense). With this and the cutting off of students to possibilities for themselves and their families, we must move forward with a focused urgency in creating quality curriculum that integrates technology. (Education Research Center, 2008; Stutz, 2008)

For many decades, we have been on a path to technology integration into the curriculum. But, we have yet to realize the dream that the pioneers of technology integration in teaching and learning envisioned. Technology integration at its best has been sporadic even in “technology rich” schools. And because of many factors, it is often viewed as optional and is used at a superficial level.

This is evident in a recent report by the Education Research Center where Texas earned an overall C+ on the State Technology Report Card 2008 (see box) and its technology standards (Technology Applications – Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) are written as a discrete, stand-alone document instead of being embedded in the state content standards.

Traditional thinking about technology has made it more of an “add-on” instead of integral to learning. We need to take the WIBCI (pronounced “wib-key”) Wouldn’t it be cool if mentality and embrace a new even more powerful way of thinking where our students are world-ready (SAWr).

There are challenges and barriers when integrating technology into curriculum. These challenges encompass teacher stress experienced when there is a lack of fit between the technology demands and teacher knowledge or between availability of supplies and teacher needs, leadership and instructional support, technical support, and resources in terms of hardware and software, and resources in terms of curriculum that specifically details how to create technology-infused, meaningful learning experiences (Al-Fudail and Mellar, 2008; Eteokleous, 2008).

How do we meet these challenges? How do we create a quality curriculum that ensures that our students are world-ready when they leave high school and are prepared for a knowledge-based economy? The pathway to creating technology-enriched, quality curriculum is for new thinking to emerge by paralleling experiences of teachers and students and expanding on our idea of what curriculum is and how it is developed.

Lateral Thinking and Parallel Experiences

We have tried a linear “pile it on top of everything we are already doing” approach when “integrating” technology into content curriculum. So, in addition to teaching math, now a teacher has to teach technology.

We need to think laterally instead of linearly. There is great promise that can be achieved through lateral thinking.

Integrating technology is sometimes overwhelming because we think this means that the teacher must know every technology tool that is out there. But it is more about knowing the types of technologies, their uses and relationships to creating a world-ready student. It is about orchestrating the learning experiences and tools that result in building knowledge.

With the emergence of new technologies coming into play every day and the Internet transforming how we communicate and collaborate via Web 2.0 social media tools, it becomes imperative that we adopt a new way of thinking that encourages lateral thinking at its core.

Lateral thinking is a term that describes a “set of approaches and techniques designed to find radically new approaches to problems – to come at them from the side rather than the front” (Sloane, 2003). To be innovative, one has to implement a creative idea that is focused on the goals. This means taking a risk and having the creative space and the leadership support to take these risks in a classroom. It is in this state of innovation that we learn and refine continuously and look for new ways of achieving the goal of preparing students who are world-ready.

We need new approaches to integrating technology into the curriculum. Bringing together creative and lateral thinking techniques will result in transformations in how we integrate technology, teach and learn.

Parallel experiences for teachers and leaders will provide a pathway to these lateral approaches. If one has never experienced a technology-infused learning experience that is required for a 21st Century learner as outlined in the National Educational Standards (ISTE, 2007 and 2008) and the Framework for 21st Century Skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007), then how can one create these learning experiences? It would be like expecting someone to teach a child how to ride a bike and all of the skills necessary to ride an 18-speed (fitting the bike, balancing, shifting gears, pedaling, thinking and looking ahead, etc.) when the “teacher” has never ridden or even seen a fully assembled bike. The teacher may have learned about some parts of the bike and may have used one or two pieces but has never ridden one.

Teachers’ parallel experiences play a critical role in the development of quality curriculum. Teachers are the implementers of curriculum and should participate in the process to realize the full potential of technology in learning and building knowledge (Eteokleous, 2008). A strong, quality curriculum stems from a community of learners and practice, reducing stress associated with technology integration and bringing together examples of student work and lessons (Al-Fudail and Mellar, 2008; Boss, 2008).

Equitable Access to Quality Curriculum and Instruction

The development and implementation process also must be such that all students gain access to quality curriculum and instruction to ensure equity. One concern is the Digital Divide that is present within schools, where some students have access to technology and technology-enriched lessons and others do not, depending on whose class they are enrolled in and if that teacher integrates technology as an “add-on” or on a daily basis (O’Neal, 2007). This also is true if the student is a “good student” and gets the assignment done early or is seen as a tech-savvy student who gets to connect the cables and run the computer.

This is not to say that lessons should be scripted; technology allows for dynamic solutions and dynamic instruction. However, it is imperative that all students have access to curriculum and instruction that does the following (The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007; Sloane, 2003; Marshall, 2006).

  • Provides pathways to innovative, creative and lateral thinking.
  • Connects across content areas, interdisciplinary studies, 21st Century skills and real-world contexts with a focus on teaching for understanding.
  • Blends various types of technologies in non-prescribed ways.
  • Integrates research-based teaching strategies that foster 21st Century skills (project-based learning, problem-based learning, cooperative learning, problem-solving, inquiry-based learning, etc.).
  • Is a dynamic guide on what to teach and how to teach it in a way that teachers contribute through online collaborative tools that model collective knowledge building and where they reflect on teaching practice and creating curriculum units.
  • Connects to experts around the world, especially in the new technologies, sciences and areas that are being developed (i.e., nanotechnology).

Include Student Voice

Technology is a tool that our students use with such ease and finesse; it is imperative that we include student voice in the development of quality curriculum. This helps meet the goals of preparing world-ready students and of overcoming challenges in creating relevant and engaging learning experiences. Students blend technologies very naturally. It is innate and at the same time complex thinking that our students do with such elegance and efficiency.

Students as “contributors and co-creators of quality curriculum” shifts the concept of learning from one that is top-down to one that is collaborative with the teacher as facilitator. It makes the curriculum organic and alive. By learning and implementing the curriculum alongside students, teacher stress is reduced, but more importantly, teachers are modeling for students a crucial skill: the skill of “life-long” learning. It would be most awesome to see teachers, students and experts as co-creators and co-learners.

There are many implications when moving toward a quality curriculum that integrates technology in ways where the WIBCIs (Wouldn’t it be cool ifs) that have been sporadic move to a continuous stream of meaningful learning experiences where students are world-ready (SAWr) to pursue a college education or join the workforce. Through a process that integrates creative and lateral thinking approaches, parallels learning experiences of teachers and students, ensures equitable access and includes student voice, we have the tools necessary to create new possibilities and realities for all our students.

Wouldn’t it be cool if… we all took these suggestions and followed through with this call for urgency right now?

Demands for Knowledge in Math, Science and Technology are Increasing

In its 2006 report, Are They Really Ready to Work?, The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management brought forward the reality that “the future competitiveness of the U.S. business community will be dependent on America’s ability to produce a highly skilled workforce.”

  • Only 24 percent of new entrants with four-year college degrees have “excellent” basic knowledge and applied skills and deficiencies exist at every level in important areas of knowledge
  • Alarmingly, 42 percent of surveyed employers reported an overall deficiency in the preparation of high school graduates
  • Of the 400 employers surveyed, 81 percent reported deficiencies in written communications, 70 percent cited deficiencies in professionalism, and 70 percent reported deficiencies in critical thinking.
  • Educators were identified by the business community as being the most influential and crucial sector in creating a competitive workforce.

The 10 fastest growing occupations for college graduates by the year 2014 as reported by the College Board and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov) all require proficient knowledge in math, science and technology. Five out of the 10 occupations are jobs directly in technology fields.

The Education Research Center Report Card 2008 reports that Texas earned a C+ rating and is:

  • One of 45 states that does not test students on technology,
  • One of 25 states that does not have a virtual school, and
  • One of 26 states that has stand-alone technology standards that are distinct and separate documents from the content standard.

Compiled by Kathy Brown, Intercultural Development Research Association, 2008.


Al-Fudail, M., and H. Mellar. (2008) “Investigating teacher stress when using technology,” Computers & Education (Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science Ltd., 2008) 51, 1103-1110.

Boss, S. “Overcoming Technology Barriers: How to Innovate Without Extra Money or Support,” Edutopia (August 6, 2008).

The College Board. “Hottest Careers for College Graduates,” web posting (2008).

Education Week Editors. “The Push to Improve STEM Education,” Technology Counts (March 27, 2008).

Education Research Center. “State Highlights Reports,” Quality Counts 2008 (Bethesda, Md., Education Research Center, 2008).

Eteokleous, N. “Evaluating computer technology integration in a centralized school system,” Computers & Education (Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science Ltd., 2008) 51, 669-686.

Google 3D Warehouse. Modeling a City: A Guide for Creating Your Google Earth Environment (2008).

International Society for Technology in Education. “National Educational Technology Standards for Students,” web posting (Eugene, Ore.: ISTE, 2007).

International Society for Technology in Education. “National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers,” web posting (Eugene, Ore.: ISTE, 2007).

Marshall, J. “Math Wars 2: It’s the Teaching, Stupid!” Phi Delta Kappan (January, 2006) 356-363.

O’Neal, C. “The Digital Divide Within: Creating a Level Playing Field for All Students,” Edutopia (June 7, 2007).

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. “21st Century Curriculum and Instruction,” web posting (2007).

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. “Framework for 21st Century Learning,” web posting (July 23, 2007).

Sloane, P. The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills (Philadelphia, Penn.: Kogan Page Publishers, 2003).

Stutz, T. “Texas must improve math, science education, task force says,” Dallas Morning News (August 7, 2008).

Texas Education Agency. Chapter 111. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Mathematics Subchapter C. High School §111.34. The provisions of this §111.31 adopted to be effective September 1, 1996, 21 TexReg 7371; amended to be effective August 1, 2006, 30 TexReg 4479.

The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and The Society for Human Resource Management. Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce (New York, NY: The Conference Board, et al., 2006).

Zhu, J. “Application of computer technology in public school classrooms: Usage dimensions and influencing factors,” Unpublished doctoral dissertation (Pennsylvania State University, Penn.: 2003).

Kathryn Brown, is an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and question may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the September 2008 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]