Is It Really OK to put Technology in an Early Childhood Classroom?

Is Technology In Early Childhood OK

That’s the unspoken question I’m sensing from other Early Childhood educators. Is it really OK to give ipads to four and five year olds? When you’ve got the American Academy of Pediatrics making fairly strict recommendations about screen time for children under two, it makes sense to consider the question for young children as well. It’s definitely a question I considered before writing a proposal to request the ipads that we received.

I remember a teacher I met early in my teaching career.  She taught kindergarten and was adamant that no technology would cross her threshold. There was no TV in her room and computers were relegated to the hallway. I admired her for taking that stand. Even in those days, so many children were spending far too much time in front of  television, computers and video games. She wanted to make sure her students were doing the things that are so important for development: playing outside, interacting with peers, building sand castles and climbing jungle gyms.

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I don’t think the situation has improved in the last 15 years. Children of all ages in this country are still spending far too much time in front of screens. At the same time, I do believe that our country has evolved. Like it or not, we live in a digital age.  It is almost impossible to exist without at least a computer, if not also a smartphone, laptop and tablet. There comes a time when it is foolish to pretend that the world has not changed. The children that enter our classroom today have had their mom or dad’s smartphone at their disposal to entertain them during downtime probably since birth. They were practically born into an ipad age. Technology is a language that some of them speak quite fluently.  If we really want to reach them and meet their needs, we may need to start speaking their language, and that means using technology in their classrooms.

As I started to consider ipads in our classroom, I was pleased to find that the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) had examined the issue of using technology with young children.  I was even more pleased to discover that they saw a place for technology in early childhood classrooms.  In January 2012, NAEYC, in conjunction with  Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College issued this position statement on the role of Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs.  This position statement makes a couple of points that I think are essential to keep in mind whenever one is using technology in an early childhood classroom. 

One of the first points they make is with regard to intentionality. Teachers who plan to include technology in their classrooms must be thoughtful and deliberate in the ways that they invite children to engage with these digital devices. Open access to ipads, while fun and exciting, will not necessarily benefit our students any more than their ability to pick up their Nintendo DS, Nook or ipod touch at home and start playing.  As I stated earlier, children in this day and age are already getting plenty of screen time. If we’re going to invite technology into our classrooms,  we need to consider how we are going to ensure that this is not just more of what our students are already spending far too much time doing at home.

NAEYC also addresses the fact that limits should be put into place with technology in early childhood classrooms. Currently our students have an opportunity to use the ipad twice a week, for up to 20 minutes at a time. It is one of our stations for our learning centers. Those 20 minutes have so far proven to be very rich in learning for the children. They are working at a “just right” level for each of them and getting very targeted instruction. While we may increase the amount of time children are spending with the ipad, we in no way intend to replace our entire curriculum and rely only on digital sources. Our children are still spending the majority of their time at school each week engaged in meaningful, hands-on play and learning. They’re still building those sand castles and climbing those jungle gyms that my colleague believed in so many years ago.

So is it OK to put technology in an Early Childhood classroom? I think that it is, so long as we’re taking the time to make sure that we’re using technology in a way that will actually be helpful for our students. I recommend that anyone planning to use technology with young children consider giving the NAEYC document a quick look, if not a thorough read. It’s tempting to simply grab a few educational apps and throw these amazing, engaging devices at our eager students. They’d certainly be willing to use them, and probably be quite entertained.  But it’s not entertainment we’re looking for.  It’s learning, and learning in a classroom takes careful planning. Whether we’re planning lessons from textbooks or from technology we need to devote some energy to making sure we’re doing it right.

Smart Apps For Kids with Free App Friday

I made a great discovery today! It’s a website called Smart Apps For Kids and each Friday they offer “Free App Friday” where they give away a select number of educational apps for free! Today, they’re giving away Montessori Letter Sounds HD, which I’ve been wanting to try for quite some time. I keep seeing it recommended on some of the different blogs I read, but it’s usually $4.99. Today, it’s FREE! They’ve got 11 other free apps today, and you can even sign up for their free app alert so that you’ll know about any of the free apps they are offering.20130215-103505.jpg

 

Why Blog?

pencils found.  ransom sought.

So yesterday was the first day that I really started  telling people about this new endeavor of mine, blogging.  For someone who is somewhat private and reserved, opening myself up like this made for a rather overwhelming day.  This is all a bit of a stretch for me, even if it is more of a professional endeavor more than a personal one.  As I shared my plans with different people, I got a lot of different responses and affirmations.  One of the best questions I got though, was “Why?”  “Why are you starting a blog?”  So as I sit here a day or so after telling all the world (or at least what feels like all the world!) about my blog and I am feeling just a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, it seems a good time to examine the question of “Why?”

*I want to dialogue with other educators. I know there are other people out there that are trying to use technology with young children, particularly ipads, but they are hard to come by with just a quick internet search.  There’s a lot of trial and error involved in this whole process and I think it is helpful to figure this out with others who are experimenting in the same realm.  I know that if I get involved with the educational blogging community,  it will be easier to find those people that are trying to accomplish the same goals as we are in our program.

*I want to grow as an educator and the kind of self reflection that happens with blogging encourages that. One of the first people I told about this blogging experiment was our technology coordinator.  When I asked for her advice she sent me several articles about blogging in education. They expressed something that I hadn’t really considered before: writing is a form of self reflection, and self reflection leads to growth. I was only a few posts into this blog when I realized that indeed, writing about which apps we’d used or what our management strategies had been, had caused me to consider them more carefully and then find ways to improve them.  Even if no one ends up reading what I write, I think the way that we use technology in our classroom will still be better because of the time I’ll have spent writing about what we’re doing.

*I want to help other people who find computers confusing and overwhelming to perhaps understand them a bit better.  I consider myself lucky to have grown up with computers. I can not remember a time when our family was without one. I started watching my dad build them when I was a toddler and still enjoy helping him when “we” (really he) replace a motherboard or get my wi-fi situated. Technology has always been such a big part of my life that I forget that it’s still very new and intimidating to some people. I like helping people make sense of technology. It is fun for me to find ways to simplify seemingly complicated programs so that technology novices can master them.  Of course there’s still plenty for me to learn too. I’d be hard put to replace a hard drive, and am quite the novice when it comes to blogging, but I do know more than some and I like to help.

So I think those are the main reasons I’ve started this blog. And I think they are good reasons. Reflecting on them has helped me feel a little less anxious about the fact that I am sharing so much with potentially so many. So hopefully now I’ll experience a little bit of that growth I mentioned above.

We’re gonna need headphones.

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So here’s the thing about working with young children: you can’t depend on them being able to read directions to complete a task, even with a fancy schmancy device like an ipad. The majority of four and five year olds need verbal instruction to succeed. One of the things I’ve been looking for is an app that will offer that verbal guidance and instruction. Another of our hopes in using ipads in the classroom was that it would help us individualize our instruction so that we could better meet each students specific learning needs. We used an app today that I think will really help us meet both goals. Teach Me Toddler allows each kid to progress at their own pace, which is fantastic. Additionally, it is really good at giving verbal instruction to students, also fantastic. Where we ran into trouble was when we had 3 different ipads talking to three different students about three different tasks. No one could hear a thing. I turned around to find one student with both his hands over his ears. Another student had his eyes glued to his neighbor’s ipad, not his own. Unless we made some quick changes, the ipads were not going to be the engaging instructional tool that they had been yesterday.

As a quick fix for today, we moved one of the three students to an empty table across the room and moved the other two to opposite ends of the table. Honestly, they were still sometimes distracted, but they were better able to maintain their focus. As we move forward in this ipad project, we’re going to have to think about what kind of headphones will be most practical as well as whether we want kids to use headphones all of the time, or just some of the time.  Despite the fact that there were three ipads going at once, I was getting useful information from listening. I could tell when a student got off track and found his way to the app store and I could hear when another student was struggling with the content.

Using the ipad at Centers for the First Time

DSCN6909Today we officially used our ipads as a part of our Learning Centers. I chose two math apps that I thought would be challenging, but not too hard.  I picked Hungry Fish and Math Is Fun 4-5.  I had noticed that a lot of the apps were full of ads or opportunities to upgrade. These two seemed free of ads and the material seemed appropriate.  Math is Fun was perfect for my pre-k kids. I plan to review both apps in a later post.

I tried to think ahead a little in how I was going to manage the ipads. Last time we’d used them informally, I’d had a student ready to download Angry Birds from the app store within 30 seconds. He was just waiting for my password! I wanted to avoid that this time so I put the two apps I wanted to use into a separate folder and told the children that they could only use the apps that were in that folder. My Angry Birds fan still managed to find his way to the app store, but I think it was a function of pushing the home button too many times. (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt! 😉  ) I’m realizing that for children this young, I’m going to need to find a way to either limit their access to parts of the ipad, or teach them to only use certain parts of the device at certain times. I’m wondering if I can dedicate one of the home screens to apps we use in the classroom and keep the rest of the apps on another page to help simplify things a little.

We had two ipads in our center groups today.  Right now, we have 2-3 kids in each group so it was perfect for one group, but for the second group, a couple of children had to take turns. A 1:1 ipad ratio definitely works better.  The children who were working independently were able to get more practice time in. I had the children who were sharing an ipad take turns. One would play the game while the other watched.  After one “round” they would switch.  This really wasn’t ideal. The two boys working together had different skill levels, both in terms of math and technology. One boy was feeding math answers to the other. At the same time, the boy with the  technology skills (my angry bird fan) was able to help his friend navigate the app when it was time to change games. I am looking forward to next year when we’ll have one ipad for each child.

Over all, I think the ipads were a success. The was lots of individualized learning and the children were really motivated by the opportunity to work on the ipad.

New ipads

In January, our school’s technology coordinator knocked on our door with two brand new ipads.  The idea was for my teaching partner and I to become comfortable with them so that we could find the best way to integrate them into our Junior Kindergarten curriculum.  Honestly, while I have always loved technology, I’m not an Apple person,  so I knew that learning to use this new system would involve a bit of a learning curve for me.  I decided to start this blog to record my experiences as I unlock the mysteries of Apple and its ipad, explore new apps and figure out how to introduce them to my four and five year old students.Image