When seventh grader Gitanjali Rao heard about the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, she was troubled to learn that 5,000 U.S. water systems have problems with lead contamination. Living near Denver where thousands of homes still receive water through lead pipes, she’s watched her parents check for lead in their home’s tap water using simple but inaccurate test strips. She decided families need a better way to ensure their drinking water is safe. So she invented one. “I wanted to do something to change this, not only for my parents, but for the residents of Flint and places like Flint around the world,” she says.

Gitanjali used an online simulator to experiment with nanotube technology and used a 3D printer at her school to build the casing for her device that beams the results to a smartphone app. Her computer science teacher helped her refine the user interface. The completed invention won her a $25,000 award she plans to use to continue developing her device for market.

“Educators are charged with preparing our youth to take on a new and vital role -- becoming empowered digital citizens.”

Admittedly, Gitanjali is not your average seventh grader. But students across the country have access to these types of powerful digital tools in their schools, and it's up to us to build them into innovators. Teachers, community leaders and parents nationwide are embracing the notion that, no matter what a child may aspire to become, they will be steps ahead if they master digital tools now.

In the past, technology in schools may have been considered a nice to have; something that existed in a computer lab down the hall. But as broadband in classrooms has become the norm, and as connected devices have multiplied in school settings, trailblazing educators have taken the initiative to harness technology to enhance their practice. And to ensure each student meets their full potential, we need to push for systemwide transformation.

Technology will never replace effective teachers, but it can multiply their impact. Our work at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is focused on ensuring educators have the professional learning experiences they need to take full advantage of what technology has to offer. The educator-created ISTE Standards provide a road map to help teachers master these new competencies.

“Imagine a world where our youth are abuzz with excitement and have opportunities to lead real change.”

Educators are charged with preparing our youth to take on a new and vital role -- becoming empowered digital citizens. This includes helping them understand how to be safe online, protect their privacy and recognize and resist cyberbullying and other destructive behaviors. And, equally important, is helping them recognize fake news and be critical consumers of what they see online. Finally, it gives them the skills needed to use the connecting and organizing power of the internet to create a shared sense of what matters most to them and take active steps to engage and improve their communities and lives. 

Imagine a world where our youth are abuzz with excitement and have opportunities to lead real change. For some, that future is already here. For the rest, it’s up to us to guide them there. There’s no question that kids are capable of it. But are we prepared to give them the tools and knowledge to do so?