George Lucas Educational Foundation
Technology Integration

A Strategy to Help Young Students Learn to Use Technology

Adding icons to a rubric can help early elementary students as they learn how to use tech tools in the classroom.

February 21, 2024
Wavebreakmedia / iStock

As educators, we hear a lot about making sure our students are ready for the future ahead, but how can we truly prepare our students for a future that holds so many unknowns? We need to make sure that we provide our students a firm foundation in technological skills, and as an elementary school tech coach, I believe there is no better way to do that than to equip our students with the expertise they need to become digital learners.

Six years ago when I became an elementary school tech coach, I struggled as I worked with my young students to give them the skills they needed to become digital learners. I had great intentions—I would give my kindergarten students a set of directions for an activity, ask if there were any questions, and then tell them to get started.

Soon one hand would go up, and I would help that student. Then another hand would go up, and I would help that student. Hands kept going up, and no matter how many hands I got down, there was always another hand up. If you are grinning as you read this, you too have played kindergarten whack-a-mole.

By December of that first year, I was not only exhausted but frustrated—I knew that there was a better way, but I couldn’t find it. Then one day, I was listening to the Ten Minute Teacher Podcast on my way to work, and that all changed. Vicki Davis, the host, was interviewing Pana Asavavatana, a preschool teacher from Taiwan, who described similar struggles with her students using iPads. She shared that no matter how carefully she scaffolded a task for her students, she would find herself with iPads being thrown in her face—her learners were unable to grasp all the steps she was sharing. She realized that just like when she teaches students to read, starting with letters and sounds, we need to start tech lessons with icons, the basics for digital learning.

Icons are all around us. We see these images in our everyday lives but often do not realize their impact. The same is true when we use digital devices to learn. Think of all the icons that you encounter on a daily basis—image, text, undo, redo—the list is endless. So when I listened to Asavavatana’s interview, it hit me: What if I intentionally started to teach my students icons?


Last year, I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to get my ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) certification. While doing the coursework, I realized that I could take my ideas of icons and their impact to the next level if I added rubrics to them.

I named these rubrics edurubricons. Edurubricons are rubrics infused with icons. The idea behind them is simple. Rather than just use a rubric where my students are given the criteria for success, I strategically added icons to each criterion. Adding these icons was essential—it linked what my students needed to navigate these digital learning environments to what they needed to do to demonstrate understanding of the instructional content shared.

This is a free strategy. You simply create a table with icons that students need to navigate the digital learning environment on the left with the criteria for success on the right.

Two Edurubricon Examples

Story Problems (first grade): In this example, students work with a kid-friendly creation tool called Wixie to create a story problem by using a paintbrush to draw numbers. Then, they get to choose from a strategy toolbox to solve the problem that they created. They can choose from video, audio, drawing tools, or cloned images such as ten frames, dots, or visual representations of the topic.

Finally, the students write the number sentence with the paintbrush. Using the edurubricon, they are able to make direct connections between each part of the task and the digital tools they need to navigate.

Edurubricon Story Problems

Measurement Fliphunt (kindergarten): In this example, students are using a program called Microsoft Flip. Students begin by coloring two ways to make five with five frames on a piece of paper. Once they do that, they click the Flip icon on their iPads and scan the QR code on their log-in card. Then, they enter video mode using the white circle button. Much as with other tech tools we have used, students click the circle to start recording and the square to stop recording. As you can see, using an edurubricon works for this tech tool as well as empowers our students to not only self-monitor their work, but add to their own digital literacy toolbox.

Edurubricon Starting 5

Getting Started

Starting your own edurubricon journey is a simple process but requires you to drill down to what skills your students need in two areas:

  • What digital skills do they need to navigate the task (icons)?
  • What content skills will they be demonstrating (criteria for success)?

I advise that you stick to between three and five steps. This will help your learners better focus on the task. Part of the magic of the edurubricon is how students can see the connection between these two skill areas. When I create edurubricons, I use a table usually in a Google Slide, but it can be made in any program that has tables.

Next Steps

Now instead of playing whack-a-mole to rescue students, I find myself spending more time going from student to student giving them feedback, as they can’t wait to show off their creations.

If we can help our students to master digital learning skills at earlier ages, imagine what they can accomplish later. These skills will only empower and prepare our students for the future.

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  • Technology Integration
  • K-2 Primary

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