Computational Thinking Across the Content Areas

Photo by Jan Zhukov on Unsplash

“Computational thinking is the thought process involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer—human or machine—can effectively carry out.” 

Wing, Jeannette (2014). “Computational Thinking Benefits Society.” 40th Anniversary Blog of Social Issues in Computing.

Computational Thinking

Jeannette Wing, a computational thinking researcher, describes computational thinking as a specific thought process for formulating a problem so that it can be effectively solved by someone or something that computes (human or machine).  This makes computational thinking an especially effective approach for developing computer science and programming approaches via physical computers and for those that program and utilize those computers.  But what about for other content areas beyond computer science? A good place to start with this in mind is a slightly closer look at computational thinking. There are four primary components of computational thinking that are commonly recognized as its pillars and they are as follows:

  • Decomposition: Breaking down data, processes, or problems into smaller, manageable parts.
  • Pattern Recognition: Observing patterns, trends, and regularities in data.
  • Abstraction: Identifying the general principles that generate these patterns.
  • Algorithm Design: Developing the step-by-step instructions for solving this and similar problems.

These four pillars are also explained well in a video for educators created by Google.  With these four pillars in mind, we can look at how the ISTE Indicators of Computational Thinking quantify computational thinking into a single applicable statement: “Students break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving,” ISTE Indicators of Computational Thinking.  Essentially, computational thinking is a process for quantifying, breaking down, and solving problems into small solvable pieces.  Problem solving can be done in any content area. By looking more closely at the ISTE Computational Thinking standard, we can get an idea for how computational thinking might be applied more generically across content areas as a way to approach problem solving in different subjects.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 5

ISTE Standard 5, Computational Thinker, students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions. Students:

  1. Formulate problem definitions suited for technology-assisted methods such as data analysis, abstract models and algorithmic thinking in exploring and finding solutions.
  2. Collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.
  3. Break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
  4. Understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

The ISTE Computational Thinker standard emphasizes the leveraging of technology in problem solving via computational thinking.  The focus is on formulating problems, collecting data, breaking down problems into quantifiable parts, and understanding automation via algorithmic thinking.  The ISTE standards aren’t the only standards that address computational thinking, though. We can also look to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Science and Engineering Practices and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Mathematical Practices for direct and indirect references to computational thinking.  The NGSS directly references computational thinking via the fifth Science and Engineering Practice, “Using mathematics and computational thinking,” and references aspects of computational thinking through other practices such as “Analyzing and interpreting data.” The CCSS Mathematical Practices do not explicitly state computational thinking but the components are definitely present in practices such as “Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning” and “Reason abstractly and quantitatively.”  With all of these references across a variety of standards, it makes sense to start thinking about applying computational thinking in as many relevant places as possible across the curriculum.

Essential Question

How do teachers effectively integrate computational thinking across academic disciplines in such a way that it becomes an effective tool for areas of instruction beyond computer science and math, such as engineering, science, reading, writing, history, and art?

Starting with Familiar Computational Thinking Problems

As we think about applying computational thinking beyond computer science and math, it’s probably best to reflect on how computational thinking is more traditionally applied in computer science and mathematics.  This will provide a starting point when thinking about applying computational thinking elsewhere.

  • Decomposition in Computer Science: in programming this means looking at how to approach a problem in small and simple enough ways that it can be written as parts of a computer program that utilizes primarily binary logic.
  • Pattern Recognition in Computer Science: by looking for patterns across any problem or problems then programmers can start to identify similarities and differences necessary for solving various aspects of a problem or problems.
  • Abstraction in Computer Science: once patterns are identified then computer programmers can begin to piece the various small pieces of a problem together into something that might become a larger solution as it’s applicable across problems of a certain problem type whether known or as yet unknown.
  • Algorithmic Design in Computer Science: the creation of a set of steps to solve a certain problem type can be described as an algorithm because it applies to both known and unknown problems.

These various steps when applied via computer science should start to sound familiar for mathematics.  We basically teach students to memorize a variety of algorithms starting with those that are most simple and building up toward the more complex.  Along the way, we also try to teach deeper mathematical thinking, concepts, and terminology but the algorithms tend to be at the center of instruction.  Teaching computational thinking in mathematics means taking instruction to a deeper level, though, because we need to show students how to identify, break down, quantify, and design algorithmic thinking itself.  This deeper approach to mathematics via computational thinking would go a long way toward helping students understand the “why” behind what they are doing.

Applying Computational Thinking Problems to Other Areas

Now comes the more challenging task of applying computational thinking to those content areas that we don’t normally think of as applicable.  By focusing on the four pillars of computational thinking, we can start to think about what this might look like. At its core is probably pattern identification.  So we need to start thinking about everything in terms of patterns. Computer science is patterns of binary logic and mathematics is patterns of numbers. Beyond these two, art is patterns of lines, reading is patterns of letters, writing is patterns of words, science is patterns of ideas, engineering is patterns of science applied to or with technology, history is patterns of events, music is patterns of notes, etc.  This list is probably an oversimplification but you get the idea that we can look at everything as being composed of patterns, and if we can do this then we can use a problem solving approach like computational thinking that relies on patterns to solve problems across all of these content areas.

  • Decomposition in Art: breaking down the components of a particular type of picture (e.g. landscape or portrait) into different smaller parts.
  • Pattern Recognition in Art: identifying patterns that a particular type of picture or pictures has.
  • Abstraction in Art: by synthesizing from the patterns of similarities and differences across a particular type of picture(s) then a more general idea or set of ideas can be described.
  • Algorithmic Design in Art: a set of repeatable steps for recognizing and possibly creating more pictures of a certain type allows for this type of art problem of recognition or creation to be repeatable and reproducible.
  • Decomposition in History: breaking down the components that lead up to collapse of a civilization in history can lead the student to understand the smaller details that may lead up to such a large scale event.
  • Pattern Recognition in History: recognizing that a certain pattern of events probably leads up to a collapse of a civilization and means the more similarities and differences that can be quantified then the more likely patterns can be identified.
  • Abstraction in History: by building a bigger picture of the patterns that occur leading up to the collapse of a civilization then a synthesized coherent and detailed description of this overall type of event can begin to emerge.
  • Algorithmic Design in History: a step-by-step description of the characteristics of events leading up to the collapse of a civilization and how these can generally be codified as repeatedly observable steps in a process means that students could be tasked with designing an algorithm for analyzing the typical civilization collapse and search throughout history for similar scenarios.

These are two fairly generic examples of applying computational thinking to content areas beyond computer science and mathematics.  Art and history are not traditionally associated with computational thinking and yet there is tremendous potential for applying this problem solving approach to problems that might exist in either subject area.  With practice, components of computational thinking can be identified in all subject areas and then applied to relevant problems by students with proper support through thoughtfully designed lessons.

How Then Does The Average Classroom Teacher Apply This?

Start simple and start small.  This fun video from the website “Hello Ruby” explains computational thinking in the context of everyday life.  The “Hello Ruby” website also has a selection of fun and unique lesson approaches that include topics such as computational thinking.  This Edutopia website article shared by one of my Digital Educational Leadership colleagues at Seattle Pacific University provides a variety of specific content area lesson examples where computational thinking can be applied in a classroom setting.  Looking at examples helps identify approaches to directly copy or inspire various ways that variations can be created and adapted for a different curriculum. There are a variety of online resources out there and more popping up every day with support from organizations such as the Computational Thinking Alliance.  Again, overall, the key is to start simple and start small while growing your classroom approaches from there over time.


  1. Liukas, L. (2020, February 29th). Hello Ruby. Hello Ruby Website. Retrieved from
  2. Google School. (2016, October 26th). What is Computational Thinking.  YouTube.  Retreived from
  3. Sheldon, E. (2017, March 30th). Computational Thinking Across the Curriculum.  Edutopia.  Retrieved from 
  4. International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. ISTE. Retrieved from
  5. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. (2013). Home Page. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from 
  6. Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2020). Home Page. Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from
  7. Computational Thinking Alliance (2020, February 29th). Home Page.  Computational Thinking Alliance. Retrieved from

Design Process Quiddity

Quintessential Design Process

Next Generation Science Standards Engineering Design Model for Grades 3-5, NGSS Appendix I

What makes a design process qualified to be called a design process?  Before we can determine what the best design process is for educational application, we need to look at what qualifies an approach as a design process in the first place.  This is easier said than done because there are dozens of examples of design processes out there. Asking a professional is a good place to start so I asked an engineer what the best visual was for a real-life design process and he replied, “a giant hairball.”  While seemingly less than helpful, this visual represents the number of people involved and the infinite number of complicating factors surrounding a modern large-scale design project.

The giant hairball visual may also explain why we as educators have created so many simplified examples to try and show a step by step approach that is student friendly.  Suffice it to say, there is not one best example. However, by looking at multiple examples then an educator can begin to get a sense of what goes into most examples of a design process, as well as the various advantages and disadvantages of each model depending on the given context.  Most contexts in education these days start with the standards, so this is a good place to look first.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 4

Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions. Students:

  1. Know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  2. Select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.
  3. Develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
  4. Exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.

ISTE Standard 4, Innovative Designer, describes a level of foundational design skills that students should possess.  While not a design process itself nor referencing a specific design process, the ISTE standard describes the need for students to be able to generate ideas and utilize the design process to solve open-ended problems that require iterative solutions.  This generic and process-agnostic approach, makes the Innovative Designer standard an ideal educational foundation for this work.

Essential Question

How do we help educators navigate the plethora of design processes out there in such a way that they are comfortable selecting a process for students to develop, test, and refine prototypes as part of a design process activity?

My Recent Design Sprint

This whole process was on my mind a lot recently because I just completed a two-day guided version of Google Ventures’ Design Sprint process.  This particular design process is not focused on education or educators but on business. My business is supporting educators so this is where the convergence occurs.  We started by identifying the nature of the problem and then focused on defining this problem through the lens of our work. Next we worked to brainstorm various solutions that could guide our work.  We then designed several possible prototypes, tested them, and identified both failure points and successful aspects. The iterative cycle was repeated via a variety of different approaches several times until we had a rough potential solution.  Admittedly, the process was not linear nor was it cut and dry. In fact, those two days felt more like a giant hairball. Again, that’s not super helpful to an educator designing a lesson or unit but going through the design process experience was extremely helpful and I highly recommend it.  With this process fresh in mind, I think it is useful to look at some common educational models of the design process as examples to compare and contrast, learn from, and potentially utilize.

Common Models of the Design Process

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS): These standards include their own model of the engineering design process.  At first, three steps may seem too simplistic, however, a simple starting point makes for easy access as far as students are concerned.  There are detailed explanations expanding upon the three steps, and the model ties directly into both the NGSS grade-level standards as well as the NGSS K-12 Practices.  So if an educator is looking for a standards-based approach to a design lesson, unit, or project then it’s difficult to beat this model. The NGSS design process model.

Engineering is Elementary (EiE): EiE is generally considered the gold standard when it comes to K-8 education.  The five steps are intentional because they can be counted by students on one hand.  Starting with “ask” and “imagine” makes a lot of sense for students new to the process as does ending with “improve”.  The one-word steps also make this process accessible to young students and more easily applied by all. The process is also integrated throughout EiE’s extensive engineering curriculum product line-up which they’ve been developing, testing, and training teachers on for over 15 years. The EiE design process model. If you like the EiE design process but are looking for more steps then this National Science Foundation funded version is a good place to start.  This design process model more explicitly calls out the “research” step as well as emphasizing the “create” step in the process. I need to do more research, but to me it looks like EiE developed their condensed process from this one. is different from EiE in that it started out as an NSF project and what curriculum they do now have is free and open-source, though only in downloadable lesson form. The design process model.

100K-in-10 Project’s Engineering Fellows: The 100K-in-10 Project seeks to support the training of 100,000 new STEM educators over a ten year timespan.  One of the funded ventures was called the Engineering Fellows. This collaboration among teachers, engineers, and professionals produced an entire 5th grade engineering curriculum as well as a design process model.  While not as tried and true tested as some of the other models, this one better represents the nature of communication throughout the entire design process (quick note: I’m a little biased as I worked on this project). The Engineering Fellows design process model.

Stanford D-School: This is arguably the gold standard of a more universal design process approach.  In other words, expanding beyond the common engineering design process model and looking at how design in and of itself can be a process model applied to solving a wide variety of problems.  In particular, the idea of human-centered design with an emphasis on empathy make this particular approach powerful. I also like the idea of “Ideate” being a step as this really calls out the unique nature of brainstorming an idea into clear existence.  The Stanford D-School design process model.

How Does One Identify the Final Iteration?

How does any designer truly know when they’ve arrived?  The short answer is they don’t. Identifying the final iteration (or best design model for a lesson) is a balance of constraints against success criteria.  Whether seeking “good enough” or “perfection”, every design can always be improved. Like the a piece of writing, a design is never truly done.  The designer has just found an appropriate place to hit “pause” on the work. This is an important seed to plant with students as you encourage them to look around themselves for examples.  The original iPhone was an impressive design brought to market by Apple, but there have also been multiple iterations since then and will continue to be. The possibilities and potential for students are truly limitless when it comes to engaging in the design process.


  1. The Stanford University. Retrieved from 
  2. International Society for Technology in Education (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. Retrieved from
  3. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from
  4. Engineering is Elementary Website. Engineering is Elementary.  Retrieved from
  5. University of Colorado Boulder.  Retrieved from
  6. 100K-in-10’s Engineering Fellows Project. Washington STEM & Washington MESA.  Retrieved from
  7. The Design Sprint. Google Ventures. Retrieved from 

Educating Students on Faux News in the “Fake News” Era

What do the Standards Say?

A standards-based approach drives much of what we do in education.  At the end of the day, we should also teach content because it’s needed and the right thing to do in addition to being aligned with standards.  When it comes to accurately researching factual information and recognizing misinformation, “all of the above” applies. The English Language Arts Common Core State Standards provide strong support through the Capacities of the literate individual: They demonstrate independence; They build strong content knowledge; They comprehend as well as critique; They value evidence; They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.  We also find support in the Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards where the following is stated: Analyzing and Interpreting Data; Constructing explanations; Engaging in argument from evidence; Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. Determining accuracy of information is critical to these standards. Even the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice speak to this need as students are tasked with being able to “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” In terms of the modern era, there is a deluge of information published online every day so it makes sense that we’d look to the ISTE technology standards as a starting point for teaching these skills in support of all standards.  It just so happens that ISTE Standard 3 is well-suited to this task.

ISTE Standard 3

Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others. Students:

  1. Plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
  2. Evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
  3. Curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
  4. Build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.

Being able to “critically curate a variety of resources” requires a variety of research-focused abilities: knowing how to conduct online searches, being able to determine the authenticity of websites and online information sources, analyzing the accuracy of the information itself as presented, understanding how to conduct the verification process, and being able to appropriately cite resources.  ISTE Standard 3 provides guidelines for teaching these concepts as well as communicating the need for students to be technically capable enough to organize the information via a curation process and worldly enough to engage in content with a real-world context.

Essential Question

How do we teach students to critically evluate resources in such a way that they are able to effectively discern misinformation and other “fake news” from legitimate sources?

Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News

“Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” is the cleverly titled presentation that I recently attended at the December, 2019 AVID National Conference.  The presenters, Laurie Kirkland and Pat Regnart, walked attendees through a plethora of information and resources on the topic. While fully engaged, I felt as though I barely scratched the surface in terms of content.  With the topic of this article fully established and that in mind, the remainder of the content will be exploring ISTE Standard 3 through the lens of the presentation entitled “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” and its primary focus on “Evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.”

Where do I even begin?

This article’s title graphic shows the inherent bias that even professional news media possess, but awareness of bias is just the start because knowing how to spot “fake news” is a skill that needs to be developed. According to a recent Stanford study cited by NPR, a relatively high percentage of surveyed students do not know how to spot falsification of information, “… at times as much as 80 or 90 percent…”  A resource referenced by the “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” presentation shares a great tool toward this end. Entitled “Evaluating a News Article”, the infographic walks the reader through asking several questions including the following examples: Does the headline match the content?  Are there spelling or grammatical errors? Who is the Author? Are there references, links or citations? What is the website? Teaching these kinds of critical thinking and questioning skills is essential to developing students that turn into well-informed global citizens.

Evaluating Resources

Understanding primary purpose of media and the various types of misinformation (also known as “fake news”), this is an area where the “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” presentation was especially helpful. The presenters outlined the following categories for media purpose: entertain, sell, persuade, provoke, document, and inform.  Understanding the purpose behind a media piece can be very helpful in terms of navigating the accuracy of information provided. Context is everything, and most likely the author has his or her own self-serving reasons for producing something.  Taking things a step further and understanding the types of misinformation makes it easier to identify “fake news” when a reader encounters. Presented examples included satire, false context, imposter content, manipulated content, and fabricated content. Satire, for example, is not bad but important to recognize for understanding while understanding the other types helps the educated reader remain vigilant. Although limited, when in doubt then a reader can utilize a website such as Snopes or to verify specific statements. Ultimately, the reader needs to be able to be an effective judge of content in the moment or they won’t even necessarily think about the need to verify information via a third source (as all information should given even the smallest doubt and especially before referencing elsewhere).

Digging Deeper

Effective classification of websites enables the ability to curate information that those websites contain, and knowing what tools exist to facilitate this process is an important facet of evaluating resources in the process.  Most websites can be classified by their intended purpose and most fall under the aforementioned categories ranging from entertainment to provocation to information. Digging deeper is made easier by knowing both how and where to look.  The “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” presenters shared several search tools that can help with information verification and include the “info:” search tool as well as the “link:” search tool (utilized by placing either term in front of your search). These allow targeted searches where as the “Whois” search tool provides detail background information on a given web address and the “Wayback Machine” allows the user to search old archived versions of websites and articles.  This is also a good lesson for students that shows them once something is online then it can stay online indefinitely—even if it is supposedly deleted.

Practice and Application

Scaffolding student practice of effective research strategies, evaluating resources, and curating information is necessary for students to internalize and build effective knowledge around identifying, understanding, and navigating a world filled with fake news.  By teaching students how to recognize media and author bias, look for “fake news” clues in an article, recognize categories of media and misinformation, and then providing them with the appropriate tools and time to practice, students can become effective consumers and curators of information from a very young age. Some possible places to start include providing access to a variety of websites designed for this exact purpose: the Pacific Northwest Octopus, OvaPrima Foundation, Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division. These also provide good places to practice site-specific searches by entering the unique web address immediately followed by a colon, a space, and then the search criteria. Overall, we as educators need to provide the information, tools, time, and space for students to do this.

Foreshadowing the Challenge Ahead

One final thing worth noting here is a random conversation at ISTE that predates all of this.  I had an impromptu opportunity to converse with the soon-to-be presenters of “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” and Alan November.  One thing that Alan was adamant about was that we do not give young students enough credit for the level of search sophistication which they are capable.  The conversation took a myriad of twists and turns but his insistence on providing opportunities for students to learn, search, and navigate online resources from second grade on stuck with me because of both his passion and examples of having observed these young students successfully doing so firsthand.  So I guess the question is, “What’s stopping the rest of us?”

*It is worth noting that, during the writing of this article, the following misinformation around the Coronavirus went viral in a school community and required a response from the local school district:


  1. Kirkland, L. & Regnart, P. (2019, December).  Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News: Misinformation, Bias, and Checking for Accuracy.  AVID National Conference. Talk presented at 2019 AVID National Conference, Dallas, TX.
  2. Ad fontes media (2019). Media Bias Chart 5.1 – Static Version. Retrieved from
  3. Domonoske, C. (11/23/2016). Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds. Retrieved from
  4. Kirschenbaum, M. (02/01/2017). Identifying Fake News: An Infographic and Educator Resources. Retrieved from
  5. November Learning (2019). About November Learning. Retrieved from
  6. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from
  7. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from
  8. International Society for Technology in Education (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. Retrieved from

Setting the Standard for Student Empowerment

Technology Standards

The ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) standards provide a solid foundation for planning, measuring, implementing, and evaluating student learning across the subject area of technology.  The 2016 iteration provides seven overarching standards for technology instruction. In ISTE’s own words, “The ISTE standards provide a support framework across the grades and for all subject areas that serve as a groundwork for what’s possible in learning using technology.”  There’s a lot to learn throughout these standards, so it’s helpful to focus on and ask questions about each standard one at time. In this case, let’s focus on ISTE standard 1 and student empowerment.

ISTE Standard 1 and the ISTE Standards

Empowered Learner standard: Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences. Students:

  1. Articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them, and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.
  2. Build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.
  3. Use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
  4. Understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies, and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.

An entire book could be written on these standards, and, in fact, ISTE has written an e-book called “ISTE Standards for Students”.  This means that at least a chapter could be written on each standard if not more. So, in and of itself, asking just one critical question about one of these standards provides plenty to talk and write about.  Since not every educator is a technology teacher, a logical question to ask is how might ISTE standards connect to standards that I teach?

Essential Question

Where do opportunities exist for interdisciplinary integration in the NGSS and CCSS as related to student empowerment and the ISTE 1 Empowered Learner standard?

Seeing the Standards Forest for the Trees

A great visual for seeing how standards can connect is a VENN diagram that comes out of Stanford and is based on work by Tina Cheuk.  Shown above as the title graphic for this post, the visual shows how K-12 standards (CCSS Practices/Capacities & NGSS Practices) naturally supplement, complement, and overlap each other.  What’s perhaps missing to some degree is technology; where does technology fit into all of this?

Fortunately, two great resources provide examples that can help address this question.  The “ISTE Standards for Students” ebook provides several helpful vignettes. One of which is sample scenario 2 for ages 8-11 and describes the role that ISTE standards can play in “Solving Real-World Community Problems”.  The US Department of Education also provides a report entitled “Innovation Spotlights: Nine Dimensions for Supporting Powerful STEM Learning with Technology”. The seventh dimension shared provides both a description and a case study for “Project-based Interdisciplinary Learning”.  The examples show how technology potentially supports, intersects, and overlaps with other disciplines, as well as how technology empowers student learners.

Connecting the Standardized Dots

By considering how standards overlap and disciplines connect then we can begin to think about answering the question around interdisciplinary integration in the NGSS and CCSS as related to the Empowered Learner standard.

The “Solving Real-World Community Problems” describes a classroom project where students respond to a recent snow storm by designing solutions to help make their neighbors’ lives easier during the next storm.  Students are empowered to design real-world solutions to share with their community by thinking about the environmental and weather-related science, how technology can improve lives, utilizing the engineering emphasis of the design process to come up with new ideas, and the basic math required to diagram, measure, and build their solutions.

The “Project-based Interdisciplinary Learning” dimension describes a challenge-based learning approach where students research a real-world problem, organize, communicate, and then culminate their work via creation of tangible product solution for public presentation.  The associated case study shared how students researched, created, and presented posters based on their learning around sunscreen, the Earth systems, and how to improve human health while also protecting the environment from possible pollution. Students research biology, chemistry, and environmental systems to understand how potential technological solutions can be better designed while understanding the mathematical scale of the potential impact.

Empowering Student Learners

The two previous examples show strong connections among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while providing opportunities to work within the English language arts as well, but technology is both implicit and explicit throughout. ISTE standard 1 emphasizes empowering students to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating their learning. These examples allow students to leverage technology to do just that by potentially setting learning goals as part of their project work, customizing their learning environment, demonstrating their learning in a variety of ways, and understanding the fundamental concepts of the technology that they are working with via their projects.

Once we begin to see the potential connections that exist across potential lessons and activities, then we can intentionally plan interdisciplinary units. With this integrated end in mind, applying backwards planning through research-proven systems such as Understanding by Design allows educators to empower students to apply all of their learning across subject areas. Doing so with the goal of sharing or presenting as a means of assessment, provides real-world purpose to the problems that students are solving through these kinds of projects. This empowers students to apply all of their learning across subject areas while solving real problems and sharing that with their community.

For a deeper explanation of the standards and referenced examples as well as more in-depth thinking for interdisciplinary integration, I encourage you to explore the resources referenced below.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education (2017). ISTE Standards for Students (ebook): A Practical Guide for Learning with Technology [PDF version]. Retreived from
  2. Office of Educational Technology (2019). Innovation Spotlights: Nine Dimensions for Supporting Powerful STEM Learning with Technology. Retrieved from
  3. International Society for Technology in Education (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. Retrieved from
  4. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from
  5. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from
  6. Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005). Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Digital Readiness Project

Preparing for this Project

As part of my work with the Seattle Pacific Digital Education Leadership program, students in the program worked with their organizations to evaluate key aspects of ISTE Coaching Standard 5. With a focus on digital citizenship, language from this standard guided development of key reflection questions regarding the work that each respective organization is doing around digital education. Essentially all of the questions could be reduced down to the following, how digitally ready are we as an educational institution? The following paragraphs describe some examples of topics that came out of that meta-cognitive discourse.

Promoting Equitable Access

The heart of our work is preparing students for college and career readiness at Title 1 schools.  This permeates all that we do at AVID.  With this in mind, we seek to provide teachers with professional development training that empowers them to support their students along the K-12 continuum and advancing toward college and career.  An important aspect of this is providing platform agnostic approaches and training.  This means that teachers can take back the pedagogical practices and applications to their classrooms.  In this way, teachers can utilize and apply as much as possible from our trainings to their unique educational context.

Modeling Technology-related Best Practices

AVID professional development seeks to model best practices in relation to educational technology.  The overall emphasis is on appropriate pedagogical and andragogical practices.  This ties into our instructional mantra of “Learning First, Tools Second”.  There are too many things to list that go into this effort, however, making college and career readiness connections is always front and center to our work.  As educators, we want students to be ready for yet-to-be imagined technologies and jobs.  At AVID, this means developing professional development that empowers teachers to scaffold critical thinking processes for students, engage with hands-on learning that’s also minds-on, make abstract ideas as concrete as possible, and develop an overall sense of empathy for their students’ journey.

Modeling Safe and Ethical Technology Usage

Modeling safe and ethical usage of technology begins in AVID professional development with the consistent adoption and implementation of norms.  This common understanding of what creates a safe place for the adult learners present helps to model and form the foundation for what this looks like online and back in the classroom.  Some examples of norms include monitoring digital device usage (mindfulness), asking questions, and engaging with an open mind.  Basic technology applications include safe searching online, modeling copyright adherence and appropriate citations, and balance required for effective blended learning.  All of these things provide a solid foundation for developing responsible digital citizens.

Facilitating Education via Digital Citizenship

Developing digital citizenship builds on the foundations laid through safe and ethical usage of technology.  Preparing digital citizens means bringing together all of the necessary digital skills for students to learn, grow, and apply as they become responsible online citizens and display good citizenship in general.  As digital platforms continue to grow as a medium for civil engagement and everyday life, students need to be taught the skills necessary to navigate this.  In many cases, this content is also new to teachers so teachers need support through careful modeling and effective professional development.  A lot is involved with this but professional learning networks can help as teachers seek to learn and apply ways to support students as they become digitally literate, digitally mindful, and authentic contributors engaged with a global audience.

Integrating SEL & CRT is central to AVID’s work

At the end of the day, online human interaction is still human interaction and so it all comes back to relationships.  By integrating effective social emotional learning opportunities across our professional development, AVID is able to provide culturally relevant teaching strategies in an empathetic way that is contextually relevant.  This helps educators to be mindful of instructional nuances that may exist across face-to-face and digital interactions while providing balanced instruction that is pedagogically appropriate.  In this way, teachers can meet students where they are at as we seek to educate the whole child and prepare them for what that means in both face-to-face and increasingly virtual environments.

Next Steps

Discussing these general areas among other ideas led to a great deal of thinking about what’s next for our organization in this area. That could be an entire blog post unto itself. Suffice it to say, we intend to continue reflecting upon what we’re doing well, identifying growth areas in our work, and building upon the strong digital education foundation that we’ve established in partnership with and for our fellow educators.


  1. Ribble, M. & Miller, T. N. (2013). Educational Leadership in an Online World: Connecting Students to Technology Responsibly, Safely, and Ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 137-145.
  2. International Society for Technology in Education (2019). ISTE Standards, Coaches. Retrieved from

Digital Learning Mission Statement

My mission as a STEM educator is to seek ways to advance the work of closing opportunity gaps and achievement gaps for all students with an emphasis on equitable STEM education. 

My Digital Learning Mission Statement and STEM Education

My area of focus in education is the integrated pedagogy described as STEM.  The content contained in STEM comes from within and across the subject areas of science, technology, engineering, and math, but is also so much more than that in terms of general teaching practices.  There is no nationally agreed upon standard for what STEM is and the multitude of definitions provided often vary by region and context, so truly defining STEM with a one-size-fits-all definition is next to impossible.  This is part of what makes my work at AVID as a learning designer so interesting to me, because figuring out STEM is equivalent to solving a 21st Century pedagogical puzzle (sort of a Rubik’s Cube meets Rube Goldberg scenario).  Helping guide educators through the myriad of STEM content, approaches, and pedagogy is at the heart of my digital learning mission.  I realize STEM is at times a subset of and at times not contained within the digital learning sphere, but this is all the more reason for me to craft a contextually relevant mission statement around this work.

Deriving My Digital Learning Mission Statement

Penultimately, my educational mission is to advance the work around closing opportunity and achievement gaps for all students with an emphasis on STEM education.  This means my digital learning mission statement is built upon this premise.  The current panopticon of STEM education in the American educational system is a mix of intentional and unintentional factors that limit participation by population groups outside of the male gender and Caucasian ethnicity.  Women and minority populations are often excluded.  While these exclusionary practices may be largely unintentional at this point in time, they are mostly a result of inadvertently perpetuated practices that at one time or another were intentional and ultimately developed into system of practices across societal structures.

The work that I do in STEM education and my digital learning mission will focus around breaking down instructional barriers common to STEM pedagogy and STEM activities, increasing access for students at economically disadvantaged locations, developing models of applied STEM learning that all students can relate to and see themselves present in, and more.  The professional development that I have the opportunity to jointly develop and lead focuses around taking abstract ideas from complex knowledge and simplifying that into more concrete and accessible hands-on learning opportunities.  In this way, confidence can first be built among educators who can then model and instill that with all K-12 students.  Increasing access means leveraging the reach of my organization and our partners to bring opportunities to locations and populations that wouldn’t normally have access to these kinds of opportunities.  Lastly, students need to learn about and see examples of a variety of STEM professions that they can both relate to and see themselves represented in so that all students can envision themselves as STEM professionals.

My digital learning mission is to seek ways to advance the work of closing opportunity gaps and achievement gaps for all students with an emphasis on equitable STEM education.  I will work to accomplish this within the broader reach of goals of the organization that I work for, AVID, while also leveraging AVID’s reach and impact to further the goal of making STEM accessible for all students.  In this way, I seek to positively impact the digital learning landscape and the global society at large.

Closing Opportunity Gaps in STEM Education

Closing opportunity gaps is a critical aspect of improving our educational system.  I hope to support this work through my efforts as a developer and designer of both student-facing curriculum and teacher professional development.  This means also thinking of myself in the role of policy maker as described by Robbin Chapman in “Diversity and Inclusion in the Learning Enterprise: Implications for Learning Technologies”.  I’d not thought of my work from this vantage point before reading Chapman, however, his reasoning does make sense in term of overall impact and repercussions of my work.  As I work to develop and implement curriculum and professional development, I will seek to emphasize ways to enable and empower schools to provide additional opportunities for all students.  This responsibility often falls to schools according to Marshall Jones and Rebecca Bridges in “Equity, Access, and the Digital Divide in Learning Technologies: Historical Antecedents, Current Issues, and Future Trends,” so it’s critical to support schools as much as possible with this work.  Additionally, provided my role, I can work to negotiate discounts and donations of materials for the large swath of Title I schools that AVID supports as a group.  AVID has already had some success in providing additional opportunities in this way through procuring robotics equipment and micro:bits.

Closing Achievement Gaps in STEM Education

Closing achievement gaps is closely related to closing opportunity gaps but different.  Closing opportunity gaps means increasing access for experiences so that all students can have those same educational opportunities.  In a lot of ways, there’s a component of equal opportunity there.  Closing achievement gaps requires equitable opportunity and support which may look different across a variety of contexts.  Some students experience more adversity and require higher levels of support to achieve at a given level.  Increasing access via programs like 1:1 computing can support this work, but the key is the nature of implementation.  In addition to increased support where appropriate, focusing on research-based approaches is critical.  Mike Ribble and Teresa Northern Miller speak to this in “Educational Leadership in an Online World: Connecting Students to Technology Responsibly, Safely, and Ethically”.  We need to prepare educators and the various professionals and community members that support them with accurate pedagogical information so that key stake holders can make well-informed decisions.  My work can directly impact these efforts by providing educators with access to information that will both support their instructional work and empower them to advocate for sound practice by the variety of stakeholders that they interact with in their roles, e.g. classroom teachers, instructional coaches, principals, district coordinators, etc.  Marc Prensky speaks to “Digital Wisdom” in “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom”.  While I may disagree with some of Prensky’s points, his overall emphasis on the need for “Digital Wisdom” is relevant in regard to making informed decisions around educational technology and important to strive for as part of the overall educational process.

Working Toward Equitable STEM Education

Working toward equitable STEM education circles back to efforts around closing the various opportunity gaps that exist.  By closing opportunity gaps, all students would have access to similar experiences with additional opportunities provided to those that do not have the same level of home support.  These additional opportunities in conjunction with research-based practices and approaches should lead to reductions in the achievement gaps that exist across the educational system.  Sound pedagogy is key, and this is where I can play a critical role as I careful and intentionally work to develop student curriculum and teacher professional development.  By providing teachers with the appropriate tools and resources then training them in how to effectively implement those things in their educational context, I can work to support more equitable STEM education. Most likely we’ll never actually arrive at Utopian views of education like those offered by Marcus Childress in “Utopian Futures for Learning Technologies,” however, we can continually work and strive toward this ultimate goal while making solid improvements to the overall educational system and a difference in the lives of millions of students along the way.

Connections to My Work At AVID

The organization that I work for is AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), and they’ve developed an integrated STEM standards crosswalk document.  I think it makes sense that my digital learning mission statement would be in line with this document as I work to advance STEM education in line with AVID’s mission statement focus of closing the achievement and opportunity gaps for all students. I have tried to make some of these connections obvious via my digital learning mission statement.  For reference, once it’s publicly available, I’ll publish a link here to AVID’s STEM standards crosswalk document.


  1. Chapman, R. (2016). Diversity and Inclusion in the Learning Enterprise: Implications for Learning Technologies. In N. J. Rushby & D. W. Surry, The Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology ( 287-300). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
  2. Jones, M., & Bridges, R. (2016). Equity, Access, and the Digital Divide in Learning Technologies: Historical Antecedents, Current Issues, and Future Trends. In N. J. Rushby & D. W. Surry, The Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology (327-347). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
  3. Prensky, M. (2013). From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom. In From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning (201-215). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  4. Ribble, M. & Miller, T. N. (2013). Educational Leadership in an Online World: Connecting Students to Technology Responsibly, Safely, and Ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 137-145.
  5. Childress, M. (2016). Utopian Futures for Learning Technologies. In N. J. Rushby & D. W. Surry, The Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology (557-570). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

STEM Summit

Brief Introduction & Description

The 2019 WA STEM Summit provided the opportunity for STEM leaders from around the region to converge, communicate in person, and collaborate around a common vision for advancing STEM education for all students across Washington State.  This work is directly relevant to the work of the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University. 

Sessions Attended

The general sessions introduced and emphasized WA STEM’s increased focus on equity work and targeted application.  Historically, WA STEM worked to increase awareness around STEM education and the need to focus on this area.  That work is transitioning into a focused effort around closing opportunity gaps for all students in STEM.  Additionally, in lieu of awareness, WA STEM is now targeting early math interventions and conceptual pedagogy as a foundation for STEM education and high school STEM career pathways.  There is a need to broaden and recognize the role that the trades play and the importance of connecting students with STEM careers beyond just a focus on four-year degrees.  Finally, the general sessions provided an opportunity to thank partners and express gratitude for the role that they play in the overall work as amplified across all of the regional STEM networks.

The first of three topic-specific sessions that I attended at the conference focused on Computer Science in rural Washington.  The presenters shared about work done in the central part of the state in conjunction with the TEALS program.  One of the main challenges in rural areas is access to qualified instructors coupled with a general lack of localized professional support.  TEALS bridges this gap via video conferencing and by connecting new CS teachers with mentors in major metropolitan centers.  These mentors may be several hours away so in-person consultations are rare but online support can be relatively frequent.  The TEALS program practicing gradual release of responsibility with the goal of having new CS teachers self sufficient by the end of year three.  By developing both the human and physical infrastructure, TEALS proves to be an effective measure for supporting CS education in rural areas.

Centering Equity in Career Pathways session provided an opportunity for me to learn about work central to my job at the secondary level.  The emphasis on career pathways means that high school students graduate with a certification in a STEM-focused profession.  The modeled example centered on work being done in the Highline school district where local medical facilities host students working on their nursing certification.  The overall partnership connected schools, government, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations around this common goal. The presenters were directly involved in the work and spoke to the critical role that community colleges played in this partnership and growing opportunity for community colleges to support this natural blending of CTE and STEM at the secondary level.  Finally, the presenters spoke to the need for a multitude of certification opportunities across various careers needed at the high school level and to be open to all students.

The session on Progress and Challenges in Building an Equitable K-12 STEM Ecosystem presented an opportunity to hear from individuals in a variety of different sectors (public, private, nonprofit, etc.) and then to discuss with professionals from across the different area of STEM education.  The panel of presenters spoke to the various facets of the ecosystem and the inherent communication gaps that exist among organizations attempting to work in the same space and do similar work.  The panel then provided an opportunity for the representatives from different sectors to speak to how they actively support STEM education and what they wish others knew about their work.  Most intriguing to me, panel members spoke to what other groups in the ecosystem needed to understand and what was paramount for each to work on and accomplish for the extended ecosystem to be successful.  Ultimately, most of the requests centered around increased communication and collaboration in efforts in order to reduce duplication of work and increase efficiency and effectiveness of outcomes.

Brief Summary & Conclusion

As DEL seeks to support effective digital education for fall students, this work naturally dovetails with STEM education efforts.  The technology component is a natural overlap of efforts which anchors common threads throughout.  My work via DEL and WA STEM amplify the goals of both organizations and empower my efforts to help all students access a quality STEM education.

The Three Dimensions of the NGSS According to Science Cat

STEM is Just Like Going to an IMAX Movie: 3D!

Okay, so unless you’re seeing a science movie then that’s probably where the similarities end.  However, I wouldn’t mind writing a post about the Avengers versus the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards)… the science geek in me is pretty sure that the NGSS would win.  Seriously, though, the NGSS is multi-dimensional.  Not in a vortex or time-travel sort of way, but as in you can’t teach one of the dimensions that composes the NGSS without teaching another.  They are interwoven, interdependent, interconnected, and pretty much inseparable!

The NGSS is composed of the DCI’s, CCC’s, and Science and Engineering Practices… great, more acronyms, right?  A lot of really smart people are doing some incredibly deep and serious analysis of this stuff.  So much so, that I am nowhere near comfortable doing a full break down yet.  In fact, there are so many books written on this topic already that even trying to do so in a blog post would be either a disservice, dishonest, or both.  I need to read a few more books before I even pretend to have an informed professional opinion.  So, I did the next best thing. By popular request from previous readers, I asked my cat.  The following is a breakdown of the three dimensions of the NGSS from a cat’s perspective.  It’s probably not going to add any insight to the conversation, but (and this is a big but), I’m willing to wager that you have yet to be instructed on the NGSS by a cat so your chances of remembering details that are helpful for the average classroom teacher are slightly higher.  Plus, you are (as a reader), inevitably smarter and more discerning than my cat.

DCI: Developing Cat Intellect

Okay, this would be the definition if you were actually teaching science to cats.  By the way, I don’t really recommend it.  STEM Cat agrees.  She much prefers soft cat food and ear scratches.  Actually, DCI stands for Disciplinary Topic Ideas.  This is basically what we all are most familiar with seeing in our state’s science standards.  These are the meat and potatoes of the science standards.  The content, if you well.  The DCI cover everything from Newton’s laws of motion to states of matter to conservation of energy to why is the sky blue.  This is the “what” of science.  Explaining this part first is most helpful because this is what you already know as either a science teacher or a former science student.  This is also the last part that you will transition to as you take on the NGSS, because this is the only part that you are not doing already.  And the good news is that if you are a science teacher and are actually teaching science then you are already teaching some of this content depending on your grade level.  See, curiosity may have killed the cat, but it sure makes for a better scientist.  So, now that we have developed some cat intellect, let’s move on to practices which both involve curiosity and should also be almost as familiar as the DCI.

Cat and Feline Practices: You Know, Like the Felinetific Method for Sleeping, Bathing, Eating, and, um, Sleeping

The best, and simultaneously worst, way to describe the Science and Engineering Practices is to compare them to the scientific method in some way, shape, and/or form.  I’ve been told that this comparison is a great idea, a horrible idea, and everything in between.  However, I really don’t think there’s anyway around it because people eventually get there on their own.  The Practices are not the scientific method, nor are they the NGSS version of the scientific method. The Practices are, however, an updated description of how scientists approach questions, problems, experiments, and any other natural phenomena that they are trying to understand or explain.  The difference is that scientists don’t approach their jobs like a checklist written for an elementary school student.  Instead, they start out in any number of places and ping pong around like a pinball machine: moving to and from, back and forth, and all throughout the different practices until they feel like they are ready to share their work (which, ironically, perpetuates the non-linear process).  This doesn’t mean that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.  You will get those science teachers that now think the scientific method is out of vogue, when really it’s just a slightly anachronistic set of training wheels–still applicable for your young linear thinkers that need a concrete approach.  But it’s also a temporary scaffold at best that you want to move away from as you embrace the full depth, nature, and application of the Science and Engineering Practices in your pedagogy.

CCC: Cross-cutting Cat Concepts

Okay, okay, so these are just the Cross Cutting Concepts.  No cats allowed.  Unless you’re experimenting with cats which I’m pretty sure is illegal.  And, either way, STEM Cat wouldn’t approve.  So, cats aside, the CCC are probably going to be the most foreign aspect of the NGSS for most teachers.  At least, the concept or theory of these permeating all K-12 science education is going to be.  But that’s what these concepts are: ideas that encompass and cut across all scientific sub-disciplines while universally applying from kindergarten through college.

The CCC are as follows: patterns; cause and effect; scale, proportion, and quantity; systems and system models; energy and matter; structure and function; stability and change.  And the good news is that you are already inherently teaching them throughout your science lessons.  You just are probably not explicitly naming or highlighting them.  Yet.  You see, as educators we seem to like to put everything in neat and tidy walled-off box gardens.  We start with the different subjects, and then as time progresses we narrow down within these areas like with physics versus chemistry versus biology.  But science is science, and topics like recognizing patterns are as relevant and applicable to building understanding in kindergarten as they are to a post-doctoral fellow working on decoding the human genome… or an advanced mathematician trying to solve the Turing challenge in programming.  We need to start highlighting and drawing out these connections for students because as they recognize the overlap then understanding will grow and students won’t try to categorize everything we teach them as something completely new.  This is so important, so relevant, so practical, and so doable.  Like, now.  In fact, of all of the shifts and adjustments inherent within the NGSS this is the easiest to outright make.  Utilizing the Cross Cutting Concepts does not require a new curriculum or training or anything except a willingness to illustrate the universal connections present throughout science in the language provided by the NGSS.  That’s it.  STEM Cat says: you can do it!

Making the NGSS as Accessible as Possible: It’s as easy as herding cats

Okay, I get it.  No matter where you start this is a lot.  That’s why I didn’t throw a bunch of graphs or diagrams or complex standards language at you.  Just some good ol’ basic analogies and bad jokes.  However, implementing the NGSS is the reality that we face as educators, and honestly it’s a huge improvement over our old science standards.  Much of which was stuck in the 1990’s along with Laser Discs and Hammer Pants.  Or, you can take on an easier but invariably hairier profession… like, say, cat herding.  Me, I prefer STEM cats.  Whoah there, easy girl!


  1. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States (2019). NGSS Appendices. (NGSS Lead States.) Retrieved from (Original work published 2013).
  2. National Science Teachers Association (2019). The NGSS@NSTA Hub Homepage. (National Science Teachers Association.) Retrieved from (Original work published 2014).
  3. California Academy of Sciences. (2012, November 16th). Science in Action: How Science Works. Retrieved from (Original work published 2012).