As children progress through the education system, their physical and educational needs grow with them. The right device for supporting learning and teaching goals changes as well. Younger students may find early learning success with simpler touch-based devices while older students have the skills and need for more computing power and an environment filled with innovation and opportunity.
Schools face the challenge of creating personalized and relevant learning experiences for students while preparing them with modern skills to meet the demands of the 21st century workforce. Choosing the right devices for learning and teaching is an important decision on the journey to personalized learning. However, schools must also consider how the devices, classroom technologies, and school campus will connect with and be supported by the education IT infrastructure. A robust infrastructure gives students and educators secure access to the Internet, cloud, data, apps, digital content, learning platforms, analytics, and more, as they strive toward personalized, meaningful learning experiences enhanced with technology.1 2 3
Lower Elementary: Grades K-2 (ages 4-8)
The early elementary grade levels lay an important foundation for learning. Students are learning the basics of reading and math while exploring the world around them: animals, habitats, patterns in nature, and history. This is also the best time to encourage interaction with technology and collaboration with peers using purposeful, hands-on activities that help young students understand subject matter while developing motor skills.
Educational apps and 2-in-1s inspire learning in young children through touch, audio, text, and video activities that draw attention to content with simple prompts and instructions. Many apps now consist of immersive, kinesthetic activities and games—supported by easy-to-use touch interfaces—that allows experiences comparable to those of books, games, and other traditional materials.
- Student device choices: 2-in-1s with touch or pen input allow students to collaborate through exploration and investigation. Students can use them for one-to-one access, pair, or small group collaboration, and/or classroom cart mobility.
- Educator device choices: Mobile, full-featured 2-in-1s help teachers manage their classrooms and communications efficiently, create and prepare curriculum and digital content, and have a reliable connection to their personal learning communities and access the school’s network, cloud, and LMSs from anywhere.
Upper Elementary: Grades 3-5 (ages 8-12)
In upper elementary grades, teachers incorporate a variety of teaching methods and students increase mastery of basic knowledge and skills. As they start to build research skills and expand their foundations, students need a supportive, encouraging, and friendly classroom climate with focused, productive learning activities. Teachers may integrate digital learning practices with a mix of teacher- and student-led activities where children take the lead and explore educational apps together.
For this age group, technology is a useful tool to develop and catalog student portfolios, monitor work, and provide feedback. The capability to connect a keyboard enables the device to be integrated across subject areas and digital assessments as well. Diagnostic applications and platforms allow for regular monitoring of student progress, collecting and analyzing student data, and providing personalized instruction plans.
- Student device choices: Chromebooks* and 2-in-1s are best for this age group. Students are ready for tasks and assignments involving keyboard and mouse interaction.
- Educator device choices: Educators need a mobile, full-featured 2-in-1 that enables them to manage their classrooms and communication efficiently while providing access to ongoing learning opportunities and the school’s network.
Middle School: Grades 6-8 (ages 12-14)
At this age, basic classroom management strategies, consistency, organization, and routine become important as students are much more dynamic. Instructional strategies focus on problem solving, computational thinking, exploration of multiple ways to approach issues, and interactive lessons.
Digital resources support teaching and learning with self-directed collaborative and inquiry-based activities that challenge students. Blending traditional classroom instruction with online and digital content provides access to relevant resources beyond the school.
- Student device choices: Laptops, Chromebooks, and 2-in1s are the best devices for this age group as they provide the mobility and performance to support students' growing proficiency for technology. They can collaborate with chat and video tools, research topics on their own, and create dynamic presentations.
- Educator device choices: Incorporating a virtual learning platform, interactive whiteboards, and wireless devices improve classroom management. Teachers and parents can monitor and guide students with a digital portfolio based on multiple resources or applications. Teachers may personalize these portfolios based on each student's level.
High School: Grades 9-12 (ages 13-18)
Secondary students spend most of their time cultivating college- and career-readiness skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication, creativity, and innovation. As technology innovation transforms the classroom, teachers and students can significantly redesign their learning activities and will require high-end computing power for STEM, parallel program operations, and design curriculum.
By this age, students should have developed firm technology skills and the ability to choose which technologies they need for required tasks. They gain familiarity with online resources and begin to use technology outside of the classroom for managing their personal and professional lives. With a connected classroom, students can more easily find their assignments and start working at their own pace, encouraging the personalization of their learning experience and opening them to more opportunities beyond the basic curriculum.
- Student device choices: The best device for this age group is a 2-in-1 or laptop that provides desktop-like performance with mobile flexibility, a full-sized keyboard, and an active stylus for easy annotating, drawing, or note taking. These devices are lightweight, with flexible connectivity, and a long battery life, and they have processor power for audio, video, graphics, and data processing.
- Educator device choices: Laptops and integrated technologies such as an ecosystem of interactive whiteboards, virtual learning platforms, and wireless connectivity help teachers with classroom management. With a virtual learning platform, teachers can personalize the learning environment support students at an individualized level.
Maker education—closely associated with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math) learning—is a way for children of all ages to tinker, construct, and create together while solving problems through real experiences. With increased accessibility to open-source software and hardware as well as other tools, educators, and students find it easier to take part in the maker movement.
Maker spaces are creating new learning environments in schools, taking the place of these more traditional programs such as metalworking, woodworking, home economics, and art, which have all but vanished from formal education. The maker space enables independent and group-based creativity and exploration, fueled by access to technology. Collaboration through video conferencing, text messaging, communities of practice, or social media helps students learn from and interact with experts beyond the classroom.
Maker education is not something set in stone by grade level or age. For students, it is more about building foundational skills and expanding on these skills over time as they master different techniques. For teachers, the biggest factor is safety—making sure students at specific ages understand what they are doing and why, all in safe yet constructive ways. Teachers of any subject or grade level can integrate maker concepts and activities and maker spaces into their classrooms and schools just as students at any age—as long as they have the correct skills—can be innovative makers.
Beginners (early elementary, ages 5-8)
Maker education for elementary school students focuses on foundational reasoning and computational skills gained through basic, hands-on activities. Students learn to use the physical tools needed to build, design, and innovate in the coming years while teachers focus on helping them understand the process for why and how to do things with the correct tools and strategy. Building support for future exploration, students engage in hands on activities such as how to complete a circuit or logic-building games to build reasoning insights. They may also build with construction toys or sculpt with clay or paper supplies to learn more about how things fit and work together. Additionally, they may begin to thread in artistic skills through sketching, coloring, and designing and explore math concepts of angles and numbers through coding and design.
Intermediate (upper elementary and middle school, ages 8-13)
Once students have a firm foundation, these intermediate makers are now ready to further develop diagnostic and problem-solving skills and engage in more complex activities. Intermediate maker students will begin to learn how to use and integrate digital software programs such as Scratch*, Blockly*, Turtle Art*, Inkscape*, and Tinker Cad* to enhance their innovations. They will also use additional hardware tools such as laser cutters, 3D printers, digital cameras, vinyl cutters, and needle and thread to explore many new projects that enhance their creativity. Finally, students can begin to integrate electronics such as microcontrollers, resistors, and small motors along with more analog materials like PVC pipe, wood, metal, fabric, yarn, and cardboard to build skills in electronics, conductive textiles and fabrication, design, and construction.
Advanced (middle and high school, ages 13-18)
Advanced makers have mastered the skills and have the agency and confidence to apply their innovative process and skills to enhance their own learning. These students are ready to build, create, hack, and innovate to address real-world problems. They can increase their skill sets by using more complex software and hardware and running it by themselves or teaching it to others.
A successful maker teacher needs to be able to help students understand a problem so that the student can create a solution. As there is no way that any one teacher can be a subject matter expert in everything a maker student might need or want to know, teachers should immerse themselves in the maker movement and attend professional development opportunities and maker events to stay up to date and learn how to drive a creative and innovative mindset. As their students gain maker skills, teachers will also need to keep up with programming languages and programs like AutoCad*. With ongoing development, teachers can integrate maker activities into their classrooms and curricula and build the skills to advocate for more dedicated maker, innovation, and creativity spaces within the school.