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February 26, 2010

Does learning on a computer in pre-k qualify as hands-on learning?

"That is so cool." That is what you want to hear when kids are learning. This article from Tennessee about a pre-k classroom integrating iPod touch into the curriculum got me thinking. The experimental approach is designed and implemented by Shelley Herzke a pre-k teacher and Sheri Burkeen, the school's early childhood technology coordinator. The project has kids excited. Students are able to interact with "Apps" designed for young children, such as interactive audio books and math games. 
"This is teaching them to take risks with technology," Herzke said. "It helps with their self-confidence with technology. They can get on (an iPod Touch) and figure it out themselves."

The small, portable, and fairly inexpensive touch screen iPod allows for the entire classroom to use them at the same time.

I have mixed feelings about this idea. As a tech person, I get really excited by technology that is used well in teaching. In my classroom I have used digital cameras, online games, and a classroom blog for learning.  I have always felt that my students were getting a lot out of the technology because I was there to guide, present, and qualify the experiences they were having. I have also seen computer games and interactive toys used to pacify children, especially boys who won't behave. When computers first entered pre-k classrooms in the 1990's, they were much more of a plug-and-play tool. Turn on a game, plug the kids into it with the head phone jack, and let them click away. Since Web 2.0 has come around that has changed. Technology even for young kids  is more about interaction. There are entire worlds designed around children interacting with each other online.

Recently, my five year old my son went to a friend's house. While he was there, he played a Wii for the first time. When the boy's mom first asked my son if he wanted to play, he asked her, in all seriousness, "Is that one of those games that keeps you from going outside?" A little embarrassing for me, but at least I know he has understood what we have taught him: playing outside is fun, and usually better than a video game. He still likes to use my iPhone, but I am not sure I would want him using one in school. What do you think? Does learning on a computer and new interactive technology qualify as hands on learning? What should be the focus of pre-k classrooms?


I think computers have their place, but pre-schoolers need to develop their fine motor skills and should be using their hands to manipulate objects, paint, color, put pegs in a peg board, etc... to develop all those connections they will need to eventually write well and do fine work with their hands. Of course, computer literacy is essential and video games do help hand-eye coordination (ask any surgeon who operates laproscopically), but they should not replace the "hands-on" work that preschoolers need.

I wonder if when we bend to student standard "modes of operation" we short circuit development that may have come from their engaging with less familiar materials. To put it more simply... If kids like legos so we decide they should be able to use legos for learning to read, do they lose out on experiencing learning to read in other ways. Just becuase kids are familiar with and like ipods does that mean we should use them for everything or even most things? What types of learning are best supported by the processes of using an ipod in pre-k?

Children should be learning about their own spatial motor skills and how those relate to the real world. Exposure to nature, the outdoors, activity, excessive and an understanding of the physical world and how it relates to humans intrinsic relationship with nature, promotes higher test scores, better social interaction and lessens lower self confidence in later life.

Lets leave the computer stuff till the kids know their freakin ABC's.

I wonder if in this instance, the tool is so exciting for kids that it makes learning exciting, making the hard work of abstraction and the ABCs even easier. What do you think? I have used technology, including computers, for years successfully. I know they are beneficial. Maybe it comes down to practice.

John, I am the teacher to whom you refer in your blog post about the iPod Touch in the kindergarten classroom. I would have to agree that using technology in lieu of interacting with students would be unacceptable. I don't want you to misunderstand the iPod Touch's purpose in my classroom. Just this week we finished a math lesson on "half" being two equal parts. I introduced the lesson by having the students manipulate objects to illustrate halves. We further used glue, scissors, and crayons as part of the lesson. Sheri Burkeen used the interactive SmartBoard to reinforce the concept. To conclude the unit I used the iPod Touches which allowed me to differentiate the lesson, addressing various need and abilities of my students. So when you ask if learning on a computer qualifies as hands-on learning to a kindergarten student, my answer would have to be "yes". I invite you to visit our school to see how we use technology to teach the 21st Century Learner.

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