Tag Archives: early childhood

Helping Others Hack Learning (and Coding)

Last week (#TeachTheWeb week 4), I had an opportunity to build a new Thimble project outlining my goals for teaching coding in kindergarten. Some of you might be surprised to hear kindergarten at the end of that sentence. I’ve heard some people say it’s way too young for kids to have to learn something like coding and I’ve heard others say that there’s no way such young children can grasp the concepts.

Code in K

My response is that, like everything else in early childhood, the key comes back to developmentally appropriate practice, which involves respecting the child’s interests and curiosities as well as her or his individual abilities and limits. Luckily, more and more resources are being developed that are developmentally appropriate for young children. For many years, Scratch has been a go-to resource for educators working with young children who wanted to be makers and creators of technology (and art, stories, music, and more!). Unfortunately, Scratch is specifically built for children age eight an older, although much younger students have used it (check out these examples).

While Scratch Jr. is in the works, other developers have been working hard to create games and tools to scaffold children’s learning of computer programming logic and problem solving, the true foundation of coding (see the resources embedded here). The DevTech group is even working on a coding language that can be constructed with physical, wooden blocks and read by a camera. Once students are exposed to these (potentially literal) building blocks, they can begin to work off of that foundation and create their own programs and games.

Tangible Coding Blocks using CHER-P.
Image credit: DevTech TangibleK

I built my Thimble project to help raise awareness about the fact that resources do currently exist for young children to learn the logic of programming and the basics concepts (e.g., what is a function, how to make an object/sprite move). I also wanted to share the tools I’ve found to support this learning so that others could use them as well and my hope was to then connect with other people who are doing similar work.

Over the summer, I plan to spend more time creating plans, finding resources, and talking with others interested in introducing coding to young children. Being part of Teach the Web has also inspired me to try and create more Thimble resources and maybe even an entire Hackable Kit that others can build off of and remix to work with different ages and groups. I realized that if I want my students (and colleagues) to be creating and remixing the web, I need to be modeling that work by constantly interacting and exploring hacker tools, coding the web myself, and sharing my work openly with a larger community. 

How Bitty Baby Began my Focus on Early Childhood Learning

After reading Gears of My Childhood by Seymour Papert for the MIT Learning Creative Learning MOOC I’m participating in, I started think reflect on: What object from my childhood interested and influenced me?

"Duckie" - My favorite childhood stuffed animal

Me and “Duckie” – my favorite childhood stuffed animal

As I considered this question, my first thought was that I wished I had access to all of the pictures that were taken during my childhood so I could literally see them to recall my memories. I pulled out a few that I had and as I thought some more, I considered my favorite stuffed animal, which traveled with me everywhere and is in probably almost every photo of me as a child. Ultimately, I decided that while well-loved, my stuffed animal wasn’t really an object that pushed me to think differently. I continued to reflect on the question and I realized that one of the most influential objects from my childhood was probably my American Girl Bitty Baby doll.

That might sound like a pretty generic choice but thinking back, I think my interest in the doll was an indicator of my current passions and an interests in early childhood learning that continues to exist today. I don’t remember exactly when I first received the doll, or Caitlin, as I named her, but I think it was probably around my 6th birthday. For the next few years, I spent hours and hours playing with her, dressing her in different outfits, having her interact with her accessories and playing out different scenarios of early childhood play. As I grew older, I became frustrated that there weren’t more accessories and began designing my own furniture and toys (I even submitted my ideas to American Girl!). I’m not sure if they were ever received but I felt better knowing I was doing something that would hopefully contribute to other children’s play by letting the company know about things I felt were missing.

Caitlin in a crib I constructed for her, with her accesseries underneath

Caitlin in a crib I constructed for her, with her accessories underneath

Even as I grew older and other toys became more popular with my friends, I still held on to Bitty Baby as one of my favorite childhood objects. I was completely intrigued with the early childhood stage in a person’s life, a period where so much care taking is necessary but yet there is also so much play and exploration. I remember vividly reading to my doll the board books that came with each new set and testing out each of the related toys (the beach and garden sets were some of my favorites) and considering whether they were good and would engage my doll.

Although Bitty Baby has now been put away in a box to save for my own children one day, I am still essentially doing very similar work. I am constantly thinking about how young children learn and what toys (learning tools) would be best suited for different areas of classroom study or learning goals. Of course today, many of the tools I am examining involve technology (e.g., a Toca Boca app or a Voicethread presentation) which were certainly not part of the American Girl line when I was little. But like Papert, I think the same three factors: having a feeling of love towards my doll, not being told to learn about or play with her, and being young when I was first introduced to it, all affected my interest in early childhood learning. I’m intrigued to think more about the value of love and relationships with an object like a doll or gears. I want to consider how these relationships can affect a child’s learning or interest in a subject and how vital it is to expose children to a variety of objects at a young age (including ones that might seem beyond their understanding).

What Does the Future Hold?

Innovative & Developmentally Appropriate Tech Integration Ideas

After four days at the annual National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference, where the theme was Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) in the 21st Century, I have a number of questions bouncing around in my head.

Most of the sessions I attended centered around technology and young children. There were discussions about how to integrate tech into the classroom in developmentally appropriate ways; people sharing apps and tools teachers are using; presenters giving ideas for how pre-service teachers can use tech effectively; and a number of questions from attendees about whether tech was worth integrating at all. I have seen the level of tech integration that is being discussed change and grow significantly over the past few years. Just visiting the exhibit hall makes it clear how pervasive technology has become, with booths for new apps, SMART Board programs, and ways to assess children or update parents via technology.

And yet, I worry about our pacing. Technology is ever changing and transforming as new codes are written and new technologies created. Education is changing too but it seems education is simply reacting, instead of proactively working to shift and adapt in ways that allow technology to be integrated in new and meaningful ways. The field of early childhood education is conflicted as to when, how, where, and why to use technology, with some educators filling their classrooms with every tech tool available (e.g., SMART boards and pens, augmented reality cameras, and multi-touch devices) while others are fighting to keep all technology out in the name of play or tradition.

In one of my sessions this week, the presenters discussed the idea of the tortoise and the hare and the fact that each person moves at her or his own pace along their educational technology journey … and that’s okay! But I wonder if that works as well for the field of early childhood as a whole as it does for individual educators and the children we teach? I agree wholeheartedly that pushing technology into the hands of young children and forcing teachers to use it in their classrooms before they are ready is not the best approach. We need to meet teachers (and children) where they are at to allow them to truly explore and experiment with technology at a pace that allows for discovery, wonder and learning.

Yet, if our children are being bombarded by tech devices at home or expected to walk into older grades competent in using multi-touch devices for research, curation, and creation, it seems like we cannot let tech integration in the field of early childhood education progress at the pace of the tortoise. By integration, I mean everything relating to it, such as training, funding, and classroom resources. If we wait to provide  professional development on technology and only slowly develop rubrics and tools to assess whether technologies are developmentally appropriate, then the technology will continue to be used without an educational lens and integration in DAP. There are teachers who want to move faster and students who have already moved ahead, frustrated by the lack of learning they’re experiencing in school.

One of the repeated messages at the conference was that technology is not going away and we can’t play “keep away” from children (or teachers!) with technology without doing an injustice to education. Instead, we need to be scaffolding students’ understanding of digital media literacy and ways to use technology for creation, communication, and collaboration.

As we enter into the Maker age (such as the use of bananas for piano keys, as seen above) where 3D printers can print out a child’s invention, programing systems are developed for early childhood, and multi-touch devices may be obliterating the need for a mouse, we need to consider what tools and practices will soon be considered “out-of-date” and how we will be prepared for all of the tools and technologies that come next.

So I come back to the question of where our responsibility lies regarding tech integration, as educators, policymakers, developers and administrators, in the field of Early Childhood Education.

  • How can we share resources, develop professional development communities and trainings, and invite others to watch our practices so that we can all grow together?

Our children are waiting for us to be ready. They are more often moving at the pace of the hare instead of the tortoise and I think it’s time for departments, agencies, ministries, organizations, and individuals to come together and make the developmentally appropriate use of technology by educators and with children a priority. As Warren Buckleitner said at the end of the featured NAEYC session on technology, “we all need to figure this out together” because many hands make light work.

Everyone Working Together:
A Collection of Images from Tech on Deck by Giovanni Arroyo

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Apps in Early Education – The Big Questions

With the start of the school year right around the corner, I wanted to take some time to explore the use of apps in PreK through 2nd grade. I realized that a number of my thoughts about apps for this age level focused on questions. Such as:

  • How are educators currently using apps?
  • How are young learners using apps (at home and/or school)?
  • What are the best review sites for educational apps?
  • What rubrics exist for evaluating apps for this age group?
  • How can app devices (e.g., tablets & smartphones) be used to connect with other tech tools (e.g., interactive whiteboards)?
  • What type of teacher PD resources exist for new app users?
  • What resources exist for young children learning how to use apps?
  • How can apps best be used when you only have one device?

Clearly, there is a lot to consider when examining how and why to use apps with young learners. I decided to start with some of the key questions above and did some web searching. Here’s what I found:

How are educators currently using apps?

out a bout app

Out-A-Bout App by Fred Rogers Center

To start, I reviewed the initial survey results from the Early Childhood Technology Collaborative, which show that only 35% of surveyed teachers of young children are even using tablets. So I realized I needed to narrow my focus to my #ECETech PLN to get information about how teachers who are actually using these tools in their practice work with apps. From there, I discovered a great post by @mattgomez detailing the apps he uses with his kindergarteners and links to how he uses many of them. I also checked out the Fred Rogers apps, which provide suggestions for how to use them and reviewed some other app collections, such as these two pinboards, iPad Apps for Early Childhood and Early Childhood/Preschool Apps, with suggestions for how to use each app. I also found a helpful post of how apps are being used in a 1st grade class and overall,  teacher blog posts seemed to be the most informative to learn not just what, but how teachers are using apps with this age range.  How are you using apps for education? 

How are young learners using apps (at home and/or school)?

Aside from teacher blog posts about how they are using apps with their students, this question was hard to answer through general online research. I did find a very cute video of kindergarten children talking about how they used iPads in a butterfly study in their classrooms. I would love to see more of these types of active examples of technology used as a tool to support or enhance a project/learning from the child’s perspective. How are your young learners using apps? 

What are the best review sites for educational apps?

My go-to sites (in no particular order) are:

kindertown logo

Where do you go for trusted reviews of apps to use in school with early learners?

What rubrics exist for evaluating apps for this age group?

Some rubrics that I’ve found recently (and I hope more and more will be created to meet different needs!):

Do you have other ways of assessing educational apps? What criteria do you use?

How can app devices (e.g., tablets & smartphones) be used to connect with other tech tools (e.g., smartboards)

Apple VGA Adapter

Apple VGA Adapter

It can be helpful to display apps on a larger screen, such as a SMART Board, so large groups can share ideas and see content at the same time. To display your iPad/iPhone screen on a SMART Board or other large screen, you need either a VGA adapter or an HDMI /Digital AV Adapter if you want to connect to an Apple TV/HD TV.

If you want to actually control what’s displayed on your screen from your iPad instead of just mirroring the image on your mobile device, then you’ll need an additional application, such as Doceri or Splashtop. These are helpful if you want to access your computer programs on your iPad.

I want to continue investigating these options because it seems like one of the best uses of the an interactive whiteboard (IWB) and a mobile device  - using the IWB to control your device (e.g., interact with an iPad app on a SMART Board) – isn’t currently possible. This combo could be especially helpful for early learner’s fine motor skills and large group collaboration so hopefully it will be available in the future.

What tips do you have for connecting app devices to other tech tools?

What type of teacher PD resources exist for new app users?

This is one area where the Internet provides a rich treasure trove of resources! In addition to Twitter and a PLN full of other educators who are experimenting and playing with various apps and sharing their tips and tricks, there are numerous articles written on this topic. For example, this site is full of professional development resources  for teaching using iPads in the Classroom. Apple provides a page of resources, as well as ongoing webinars for educators using their mobile products and Android4Schools is a good resource for those with Android devices. 

Successfully finding professional development resources is connected to creativity. Be creative in selecting platforms to search. When looking for resources, include wikis, Pinterest boards, LiveBinders, Twitter, and other networks, as well as news sites, video-tutorials, and of course, colleagues!

What resources exist for young children learning how to use apps?

Although I feel like any technology should be used as a tool to enhance learning and simply another language kids can use to express their creativity, there are still some basics that can be helpful to review before handing a mobile device to a child. For example, how to: turn it on, control the sound, understand when it needs to be plugged in, swipe, click, and so forth.

It was tough to find resources to help with this but I do like the suggestions in the book Teaching in the Digital Age, by Brian Puerling, about how to introduce an iPad to young learners.

I also found these colorful posters about acceptable use, which could be helpful reminders for older children who can read and serve as a good reminder about building in time to discuss digital citizenship and acceptable use with even very young learners.

How do you introduce apps to early learners? What resources have you found?

How can apps best be used when you only have one device?

Finally, working in an environment where children may have access to app-filled devices at home and teachers often have them for personal use but there are no classrooms full of mobile devices, I wanted to consider this question. Luckily, this  has been a popular topic lately and there are many resources online for working in a “one tablet/iPad classroom.” Some only include app suggestions, others take the form of podcasts, blog posts, articles or collections of project ideas and links to explore in more depth.

Do you have suggestions for using only one mobile device in the classroom? 

My head is filled with many additional questions, such as how to use mobile devices to facilitate global collaboration, creative expression, and documentation but those might have to wait for later in the year. I’m excited to keep exploring and to hear from others about their experiences and ideas!