Which tech skills are most important for kids to master in K-12? Is it a programming language? AI? Robotics? Data analysis tools? Presentation tools? I would argue that it’s none of these, and in fact, that it’s not a technology tool at all. Let’s review what we know.
First, regardless of what they do after k-12 — college, career training, or directly into the workforce — and regardless of what kinds of jobs interest them — business, manufacturing, farming, sales, education, military, law enforcement, construction, medicine — whatever they do, our students will need multiple technology tools, including several types of hardware, software, and Internet resources. Moreover, these technology tools are increasingly specialized within different industries.
Second, we can assume that technology will continue to change and develop rapidly. There are jobs that exist today based on technologies that didn’t exist just 5 years ago. Every profession has adapted to new technology tools, in ways both subtle and profound. This means that we can be certain that we don’t know the specific technology tools that will be important in the lives of our students five, ten, or twenty years from now.
So, we know they will need multiple technology tools that either don’t currently exist or will have changed significantly by the time our students encounter them. They will encounter new tools throughout their careers — and we have no way of knowing what those tools will be. Even if we could wave a magic wand and equip all of our schools with every current technology tool, we would still be missing tools that will be commonplace in the future lives of our students.
What does this mean for educational technology in schools? With limited resources, how should we invest our money to get our schools ready? How can we address technology needs that are essentially unknowable? Which tech skills should we invest in?
Given everything we know, it seems that students will be best prepared if they 1) encounter many different technologies over the course of their K-12 experiences, and 2) gain experience making critical choices about technology. Choosing the best technology tool for a task means engaging higher order thinking. Rather than being told, “Here is the tool you must use to complete the assignment and here is how it is to be used,” we should look for opportunities to scaffold students into making critical choices. The most important tech skill that a student can acquire in K-12 is the ability to encounter a new technology and figure out how to use it to help solve problems that he or she identifies. People who can evaluate the affordances and limitations of a novel technology and figure out how to use it to communicate, collaborate, and reach their own goals will be well-positioned for the future.

Nate Wolkenhauer is a veteran elementary educator with experience teaching in Florida and Pennsylvania. While teaching, he focused on student engagement and technology integration in the classroom and was recognized as one of the top educators in the state of Florida by the Florida Department of Education. As the current Assistant Director of FCIT, he works to build curriculum and programs promoting technology integration in K-12 classrooms and informal education environments.

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