Guest post: How can I teach my kids technology when I’m not tech savvy?

The following is part of a series of guest posts by leaders in the field of literacy and family learning. This guest post is by Matthew Dawson, Curriculum lead for Applied Digital Skills at Google.

NCFL Guest Blogger Series

There’s an increasing understanding of how important technology education is for students. But how can you teach technology if you’ve never learned it yourself? Even if you have a background in technology, what is the best way to share that knowledge with your family?

My advice: Don’t start by thinking about skills — start with context. As an educator, I was trained to start every lesson by listing learning objectives. If I was teaching, for example, spreadsheets using a skills-first approach, my list of objectives might look like this:

  • Add, delete, freeze, and insert rows and columns
  • Reference cells
  • Bold, italicize and change font
  • Merge cells, wrap text, fill color and add borders
  • Insert charts, images, links, forms, and drawings
  • Use formulas like sum, average, and count
  • Share digitally, comment, and print

But, even if I successfully taught someone all these skills, they wouldn’t really be able to use a spreadsheet. They wouldn’t learn how to organize all the suppliers of a part and recommend the best choice, for example, or how to create a budget or analyze data to make an informed decision about something. Technology skills by themselves aren’t helpful unless students can apply them in a meaningful context.

Instead of making a list of technology skills to teach your kids, let the learning happen organically by embedding those skills inside a real-life situation. Your child wants a cell phone? Here are some examples of how you might make that happen: Use a spreadsheet to organize the options according to their priorities (features, size, brand, etc.). Calculate costs over a two-year contract. Decide the best option and communicate a decision.

Planning a summer vacation? Give your kids a budget and ask them to plan your trip in a spreadsheet. Guide them in how to budget for expensive activities by doing more free activities with the rest of their time. Have them include costs for transportation, meals, and souvenirs. Encourage them to share the spreadsheet with the rest of the family, and to use feedback to come up with a solution everyone is happy with.

You and your child can learn real, meaningful skills by starting with the context. It’s just as important for kids to create, communicate, analyze, and research as it is that they know how to use a formula or adjust the formatting of a spreadsheet.

Even if you’re not proficient in technology, you can help create that context for you and your children to learn technology skills together. Find projects you can do as a family. Look for opportunities in everyday life to incorporate technology in a creative way.

Video-based learning is one way that families can learn together. For free, video-based lessons that create a context for learning digital skills, check out Google’s Applied Digital Skills curriculum. Together with your children, you can watch videos on the Applied Digital Skills website, build projects using G Suite tools like spreadsheets and digital documents, and discover ways to make learning technology skills creative and fun. Don’t forget to “Sign In” to track your progress and build projects.


Dawson headshotMatthew Dawson, Curriculum lead for Applied Digital Skills at Google.

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