Earlier this fall, third-grade students walked into their classroom after recess to find a computer cart, stacked with laptops. The atmosphere was electric: they had been told by their teachers that they would receive their Nueva emails that day. It’s a hallmark of the third-grade experience.
“It’s grown-up, it’s real, it’s a rite of passage of being able to have the freedom and power to email us if they have a question, to reach out to a partner about a project,” said third-grade teacher Erin Metcalf, who is in her sixth year of teaching at Nueva. “They see their adults checking their email all the time. They see us, they see their parents. They’re no longer babies.”
“I just feel more responsible. I feel like now that I have an email, my parents can tell me if I get picked up early or stuff,” Karsh N. explained. “I’m excited to email my teachers if I have to miss school so that my parents don’t have to do all the hard work.”
Empowering Nueva students to go confidently into this networked and digital world—so that they can blog, animate, code programs, make robots, design publications, edit movies—is a multiyear approach that starts in Lower School. Faculty work with the social-emotional learning team to develop a curriculum that is age-appropriate, while teaching students online etiquette and safety. The ultimate goal is for students to develop as knowledgeable and discerning digital citizens.
Third grade is the first year where students really start to see the computer as a tool, one that they will use on a weekly basis. They get to perform online research about ancient Egypt and landforms and the benefits of volcanoes. They get introduced to Google Classroom and email, receive typing training, and get access to Piktochart accounts later in the year.
“The fundamental goals of third grade are to develop independence and foster confidence—that’s the baseline of what we’re doing,” Erin said. “They’re taking ownership of their own learning and materials. They can be the owners of their own interest—find out what they’re interested in and dive deeper into their research.”
To that end, the third graders are encouraged to email their teachers themselves if they will miss class. And when the day they get their emails arrives, they begin with a discussion of the difference between “right” and “privilege.” Their understanding of these terms sets the basis for all their conversations with their teachers about technology, Erin said. They are taught to learn that their school email is not for social purposes. Their teachers will email them directly but also cc: their parents/guardians.
The students were enthusiastic about having the ability to communicate with their teachers. Reed C. described it as a “big privilege” to be able to communicate with his teachers over email.
Even for students who already had personal email accounts, like Channing L., a Nueva email is something special.
"I was excited because sometimes I really have questions about homework, and sometimes I have questions to ask my friends if they're working with me on a group project,” said Channing, who is looking forward to using her email to plan the Third Grade Farmers Market.
In SEL, Lisa Hinshelwood led the third graders through a class discussion of online etiquette, the difference between face-to-face communication and online interactions, and protecting their online accounts. Lisa also guided them through conversations about lasting digital footprints. The third graders brought up issues about ergonomics and hackers.
“We realize that many of our digital citizens have been online for a long time or may even have texting and email ability in their personal lives. Others do not have a large presence online or with digital devices,” Lisa said. “Nevertheless, it's a key time in their learning for them to take advantage of using technology responsibly. We talked about how fortunate we are to understand more about technology in order to teach them at a young age about appropriate usage.”
Teachers help their students moderate their computer usage by trying to limit classes using computers to no more than once a day. Students don’t need to check their emails outside of class time. And while teachers do not actively monitor the student emails, the third graders understand that their passwords are kept private between student/parent/teacher.
“Everyone is so intentional about how we use technology, and how we incorporate it. In homeroom, in SEL, then later in science they have another conversation,” Erin said. “We’re really developing a way to share and talk about these students are digital natives. They were born into this world, and we’re really trying to be proactive in trying to respond to the times—how should they read online articles, think critically.”