Educators face increasing pressure from parents, businesses, and governing agencies to instill in students the technology skills needed to navigate a volatile job market. As schools seek ways to boost students' competitive advantage, some educators are asking whether younger students can handle advanced technology training. Are they up for the challenge? Will it give them the upper hand? 

For one technology instructor in Washington State, the answer is a demonstrative 'yes' and 'yes.' Katherine Schmit-- Business & Technology Instructor/FBLA Advisor at Kalama High School--shares her experience training and certifying incoming high school freshmen in advanced technology curriculum, and the enthusiasm and proficiency these digital natives are bringing to the classroom.

I believe that students learn the technology that we expect them to learn. The higher the expectation, the higher the learning curve. Seven years ago, when I started teaching, Digitools was an elective. During that first year,  several teachers commented in staff meetings that they wished they could assign a PowerPoint, video, MLA paper or spreadsheet with charts to a class with at least the basic technical skills to complete the assignment, as they did not have time teach technology in a core class. At that time, I approached the administration with the recommendation that Digitools be a required course for all freshmen. This would ensure that they knew PowerPoint, Word, Excel, MovieMaker and other technology skills such as blogging to the proficient point of applying it in other curricular areas. They agreed and the rest is history.

In 2010 I learned that the Microsoft IT Academy program offered free certification and we dove in head first. Since then we have been certifying freshmen every year in the three core programs, as well as Expert and even Master-level certifications. 

This year has been a banner year for certification. Students are living up to the legacy set for them by their predecessors. Knowing that a perfect score is attainable, this is what they aim for rather than simply certifying. Each year we have had approximately a 5-10% increase in certification numbers, with approximately a 5% increase in the number of students certifying. This year was my highest by far, including all of my learning challenged students, because I have ALL freshmen with 57% of them holding at least 3 certifications compared to 48% last year. As high as 87% of all freshmen are certifying in OneNote, 79% in PowerPoint, 67% in Word and 49% in Excel! These numbers are more than a 10% increase over last year. Most student know how to use these programs proficiently, yet some have exam phobia and are not able to certify. Again, having students go to the competition and come back excited and sharing their experiences with assemblies and classes has really skyrocketed results. I certainly see this as an upward trend.

 Now why, you may ask, am I posting these numbers? Certainly not to brag…but I want any teacher out there to know that day one is overwhelming! The lingo is foreign, there are websites to become familiar with, processes to be done and programs installed, conversations with the tech department, curriculum department and all of that. But I want you to know that the results ARE WORTH THE EFFORT AND THERE IS HELP! We have businesses in Kalama that are using our success story in their presentations to other GLOBAL potential clients as incentive to do business here. These same companies are aware of the certifications and say that the credential will make all the difference on an applicant’s resume.

As a result of the success with our freshmen, we are implementing a technology plan for K-12 that is much more rigorous than anyone here has previously attempted. Teaching typing in the early grades, MovieMaker, Word, PowerPoint and Excel basics in the elementary grades, certification level curriculum in the Middle School and, if the plan works, Master-level achievement, en masse, as freshmen, so that MTA resources can be deployed to freshmen and upper level technology thought patterns employed at a younger and younger age.

The tech movement is not going anywhere. It is moving forward at light speed and we must either catch the wave, or be left behind. We are preparing these kids for a future and jobs that do not currently exist. We need to introduce them to these skills at a younger age, as they come in as native, digital learners, we must enhance that native skill instead of breaking them down to paper and pencil, just to retrain them later in technology.

Katherine Schmit
Business & Technology Instructor/FBLA Advisor, Kalama High School
Microsoft Certified Trainer
Microsoft Office 2010 Master Specialist