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May 14, 2018 |
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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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NCFL Partners

Toyota Family Learning Program

Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $35 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Go to Dollar General Literacy Foundation's website

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

PNC Grow Up Great

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

NCFL has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation since January 2016. The Foundation is currently supporting a dynamic two-generation family engagement initiative that expands NCFL's Family Learning model into select Head Start programs nationwide. NCFL's model presents an innovative way to support Head Start programs in meeting outcomes aligned with the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework.

Visit the Foundation website

Better World Books

Better World Books selected NCFL as its domestic literacy partner in 2005 and has raised more than $1 million to support NCFL’s work and donated more than $15 million to support literacy and education efforts worldwide. Better World Books is a triple-bottom-line online bookstore, working equally for people, planet and profit. Each book purchased powers literacy across the world.

Better World Books’ support of NCFL has provided books and workshops to families after Hurricane Katrina, donated large book donations to literacy programs and families nationwide and fueled innovative family literacy and learning programs and resources in libraries, schools and community-based organizations. In addition to their work for literacy and education, Better World Books diverts books from landfills and offers carbon-balanced shipping.

Better World Books

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2013, NCFL began a partnership with the Gates Foundation to ensure that our network of students, teachers, and families thrive among recent shifts in standards-based education. NCFL will leverage the unique strengths of our award-winning Wonderopolis® platform to build upon the growing teacher network that uses the resource for core daily instruction and as a basis for professional growth.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University