Information Age Education
   Issue Number 205
March 15, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications. All of the IAE materials are free and can be accessed at

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Integrating the 4th R into the Curriculum

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

The Four Rs

The 4Rs of Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic (math), and Reasoning (computational thinking) form the foundation for a modern education. The 4th R of Reasoning (computational thinking) makes use of human and computer brains, working individually and together, to solve problems and accomplish tasks. The capabilities of computer brains are already large, and they are growing and improving rapidly. This is a major challenge to our educational systems.

If you have not already read my free short book, The Fourth R, I strongly recommend that you do so (Moursund, 12/23/201). I believe that in terms of curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment, the 4th R is one of the greatest educational opportunities and challenges of our current Information Age era (Moursund, 2016a).

Reading, writing, and arithmetic (math) first became available a little more than 5,000 years ago. So, we have had thousands of years to fully integrate the first 3Rs into school curriculum, instruction, and assessment—and into our everyday lives. Even with this long history, educational researchers are still making significant progress in improving the teaching and learning of the first three Rs.

Electronic digital computers first became commercially available less than 70 years ago. The technology has changed very rapidly over these intervening years, and the price to performance ratio has improved by a factor of more than a billion. This technology is now deeply embedded into the everyday lives of people like you, my readers. Our schools are just now beginning to face the difficult challenge of helping all students to gain contemporary levels of computer knowledge and skills.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

Most people find it difficult to comprehend the rapid pace of change in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The world’s fastest supercomputer in 1990, a room-sized device that cost over $10 million, was about as fast as my current cell phone! And, that computer could not take still and motion pictures, or use voice commands to find information online. It was not very “user friendly”.

The 4th R of Reasoning/computational thinking adds a very powerful aid to solving problems and accomplishing tasks in all areas of human intellectual endeavor. Think about the holdings of a typical school or home library of 50 years ago. Compare that with today’s Web that contains the equivalent of many tens of millions of books that you can access quickly and at your convenience.

And the change is not just in being able to “look up” information. I can also access programs that allow me to accomplish many different tasks that are personally important to me. A GPS (Global Positioning System) is an excellent example. I tell the GPS in my car or in my cellphone my destination, and it provides me with oral directions as I drive.

Hmm. It occurs to me to ask, “What do we want today’s students to learn about reading and using a map printed on paper?” This is a hard question, one that is representative of a much more general question. If a computer can solve or greatly help in solving a type of problem students currently learn to solve by hand, what changes (if any) do we want to make in this part of the school curriculum?

As you mull over this question, you might want to look for some analogies. After the microscope and telescope were invented, we eventually wanted students to learn “microscope and telescope thinking”. These tools changed our understanding and thinking about both the very small and the very far away.

When the telephone began to become widely available, we wanted people to learn “telephone communication thinking”. The telephone example is particularly important, because telephones were in peoples’ homes, and children could learn to use them by a type of at-home apprenticeship. This same type of learning occurs with many of today’s computerized tools. Our children gain considerable skill in using certain aspects of computers through an informal apprenticeship system run by their parents, siblings, and peers.

But wait! Social networking is one of today’s most popular uses of computers. It requires using texting and email, which require the ability to read and write. Reading and writing are not easily learned by a brief amount of instruction from a parent, sibling, or peer. Now we are getting to the heart of the purpose of this newsletter. We want people of all ages to learn to make effective use of ICT to help them solve the problems and accomplish the tasks they deem important to themselves and/or that others deem to be important (see levels 2 and 3 in Figure 1). We have thousands of years of experience in beginning instruction in the first 3Rs at home, and then continuing this instruction in year after year of schooling. Now, our educational systems face a brand new problem. What level of ICT expertise do we want students to achieve, and how do we go about helping them to reach this goal?

General Puirpose Expertise Scale in a Discipline

Figure 1: Expertise scale.

It is clear to me that a modern precollege education can and should help all students to achieve a level of ICT expertise some place between levels 2 and 3 on this scale.

Learning the 4th R: ICTing across the Curriculum

We know that during a student’s years of schooling, it is very helpful if students make routine use of the various disciplines they are learning or have learned both in and outside of school. An important part of the joy of education is learning content that is meaningful and useful outside of a school setting (Sylwester & Moursund, 1/2/2017). Our schools struggle with this aspect of schooling—witness the continuing question, “Why do I have to learn this?”

One answer to the “Why” question is that the people who developed the curriculum (the “powers that be”) decided so. A variation on this is the answer, “It will be on the tests that I and others will give you.” While some students find these to be satisfactory answers, in my opinion they leave much to be desired.

We certainly can provide a different set of answers to the question, “Why do I need to learn to read and write?” Reading and writing empower learners, even novices who are just beginning to read and write. Learning empowers the learner. I believe this concept of empowerment should be thoroughly inculcated into the minds of students.

Here is an “empowerment” story. A great many years ago, my wife and I were visiting two of her fellow teachers. They had a six-year-old child who had already learned quite a bit about computers. He went off to show the home computer to a 12-year-old friend. A few minutes later he came running back to ask, “How do you spell print?” It was evident to me that he had learned to write simple programs in the BASIC programming language, and wanted to include a line of code telling the computer to PRINT something. His spelling skills were not yet up to his speaking and programming skills. (It never occurred to me to wonder why he did not ask his friend. Perhaps he thought this was a special computer word, and his friend would not know about it?)

Unfortunately, many students find that parts of today’s school curriculum do not seem to be beneficial to themselves. And this brings us back to ICT. At every grade level and in every school discipline, ICT can be immediately useful and empowering to students. Take learning to read as an example. We now have interactive books with sound and graphics, offering students the ability to clarify an unfamiliar word by hearing both its pronunciation and a definition. Stories can be interactive. For many students, this ICT-based learning environment is more fun than learning to read from a static print book, and can facilitate faster learning.

Or, take writing. With a keyboard, young children can produce written words before they have developed and mastered the muscle control and manual skills used in hand printing and hand writing. I find it interesting that many schools today have stopped teaching cursive writing. Perhaps over the long run we will find that keyboarding, voice input, and hand printing suffice to meet the needs of most people.

Music provides another excellent example. Here is another story from my distant past. I attended a talk by a grade school music teacher who was “into” computers. For a year, he was a teacher on special assignment, teaching 4th grade students to compose computer music. It turns out that his students learned to compose and edit music that the computer then played for them.

What do you think, should we teach music composition in grade school? And what about three-dimensional printing (the Maker Movement) —providing students with “maker” tools and a “create your own” curriculum (Sylvia & Stager, 11/13/2013)? ICT is opening up a number of possible changes in our current school curriculum.

The 4th R: A Separate Course, Integrated into Other Courses, or Both?

Each of the first three Rs is typically taught during an assigned time block in elementary schools or as a self-contained course in secondary schools. This leaves it up to teachers of other disciplines to integrate reading, writing, and arithmetic (math) into the content they teach.

Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum

In terms of reading, all teachers of reading are expected to teach reading across the curriculum (Hunter, n.d.). In the U. S., students are expected to read well enough by the end of the third grade so that “reading to learn” in all disciplines can begin to receive considerable emphasis. By the seventh grade, typically more than half of the curriculum is based on “reading to learn”.

Writing across the curriculum is much more successful in some course areas than in others. In the social sciences, for example, students are expected to write papers, and tests may include essay questions. Teachers in the social sciences are expected to be skilled in helping students to improve their writing skills. The Writing Across the Curriculum Clearinghouse is an excellent source of information on this topic (The WAC Clearinghouse, 2017).

Note that many students who complete high school and proceed on to college do not meet contemporary standards in writing. Colleges and universities in the U. S. often find that many incoming freshmen must take a remedial composition course, which may not carry credit toward a degree.

The discipline of math presents a major challenge in learning to read and write across the curriculum. Math has an extensive vocabulary that includes a number of special symbols. The vocabulary and symbols are very carefully defined, and this supports the very precise communication that is an essential aspect of mathematics (Moursund, 2016b).

Math teachers face the challenge of helping students learn to read and write math well enough to communicate precisely and effectively in the language of mathematics. The “show your work” aspect of math education is a critical aspect of this endeavor. Having students show and explain their solution to a problem to the whole class is a commonly used teaching technique.

But, that raises an interesting question. What if a student in a math class has poor writing skills? Should the math teacher take off points when a student who is expected to “show your work” makes many errors in spelling, grammar, sentence construction, and so on? Many math teachers are uncomfortable with providing useful feedback on their students’ writing and do not want to “grade” their written communications.

“Mathing” Across the Curriculum

Schools accept the importance of reading and writing across the curriculum. But, what about “mathing” across the curriculum? The third R of arithmetic (math) presents a challenge to many non-math teachers.

It is quite generally agreed that reading and writing are essential aspects of every discipline of study, including mathematics. However, developers of curriculum in disciplines outside the math and science areas tend to place little emphasis on using math to help represent and solve the problems of these various disciplines. This also is true of teachers outside of the math and science areas who often tend to place little emphasis on helping students to learn appropriate uses of math in their own discipline.

Thus, we have a three major problems in math education. Many students:
  1. Do not learn to make use of math to represent and solve problems in a number of the courses they take, even though math is very useful in doing so.

  2. Do not learn to read math well enough to be able to learn math by reading a math book. We still have a very strong oral tradition of “show and tell by the teacher” as a methodology for teaching math. Much of the current teacher-presented show and tell might better be replaced by modern computer-assisted learning systems.

  3. Find it is difficult to transfer their math learning to the other courses they are taking and to problems they encounter outside of school. Even if they want to make use of their math knowledge and skills in their various courses, they may find that some teachers do not understand what the students are trying to do and cannot provide effective feedback.
Final Remarks

Here is another story from my distant past. About 35 years ago, I visited a summer camp where primary school children were learning to program in the Logo programming language (Wikipedia, n.d.). Three different models of personal computers, each with a slightly different version of Logo, were available. From time to time, the teacher/leader would say “switch” and the children would switch to a different model of computer and version of Logo. The entire focus was on learning to write simple programs in Logo, and to learn to deal with differences in computers and in versions of Logo. I was very impressed!

But, when these students returned to their regular schools, they did not have adequate computer facilities and most of their teachers knew nothing about Logo or other computer languages. Much of the great learning opportunity provided by the camp was lost because the schools and teachers of these students were not ready for students with this level of ICT knowledge and skill.

My conclusion is that instruction in the 4th R of ICT needs to make use of both blocks of time starting at the earliest grade levels and self-contained courses in the upper grades. We also need a substantial and sustained effort to integrate ICT across the curriculum.
We have ample evidence that students of all ages can learn to make use of computers as an aid to solving problems and accomplishing tasks—be they of an academic or entertainment nature. In terms of hardware, software, connectivity, and computer-based instructional materials, cost is no longer the major deterrent. Instead, the major challenges are:
  • Implementing major changes in both preservice teacher education and inservice staff development.

  • Developing the necessary additions to and modifications of the curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment in all of schooling to appropriately reflect the 4th R.

  • Convincing educators, parents, and the “powers that be” that the 4th R should now be a full-blown component of schooling.
References and Resources

Hunter, S. (n.d.). Reading across the curriculum. Parents (Scholastic). Retrieved 2/23/2017 from

Lent, R. (2/23/2017). Disciplinary literacy: A shift that makes sense. ASCD Express. Retrieved 2/23/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2016a). Information Age. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 2/26/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2016b). Communicating in the language of mathematics. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 2/23/2017 from

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The Fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from Access the book online at

Sylvia, L.M., & Stager, G.S. (11/13/2013). How the Maker Movement is transforming education. We are Teachers. Retrieved 2/25/2017 from

Sylwester, R., & Moursund, D., eds. (1/2/2017). The joy of learning. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the PDF file from Download the Microsoft Word file from

The WAC Clearinghouse (2017). An introduction to writing across the curriculum. Retrieved 2/23/2017 from

Wikipedia (n.d.) Logo (programming language). Retrieved 2/23/2017 from language).

Free Educational Resources from IAE

IAE publishes and makes available four free online resources:

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.


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