Technology plays a key role in the classroom today. Gone are the days when teachers used only flash cards and writing worksheets to teach alphabets, numbers and other basics to students. Interactive single touch and multi-touch screens, interactive white boards, tablets and a wide variety of educational applications on mobile devices are now available to the early educator.
A paper published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in 2012 pointed out that computer use supported and increased the social, cognitive, literacy, language, writing and mathematical skills of young children. Children learned collaboration and problem solving as they shared information with each other while exploring technology in groups. There was an increase in their visual memory, visual motor coordination and mathematical concepts like number recognition, sorting and counting.
However, it is important to note that technology can be useful only when:
• It is developmentally appropriate for children
• It includes tools to help teachers implement the technology successfully
• It is integrated into the classroom and curriculum
Developmentally appropriate software has content based on research standards. For example, it aligns with the early learning standards used in the state. It also follows an appropriate teaching path – for example it will introduce the names of shapes before asking students to identify them. Moreover, high quality software engages children in a play-like fashion – allowing them to make choices, explore scenarios and be imaginative.
Useful technology that is child friendly enables children to operate easily, with minimal assistance, after one time adult modeling. It encourages learning by allowing a child to feel successful and gives positive feedback at every step. Good technology is also flexible. For example, teachers can set predetermined difficulty levels, based on the progress of the child. Effective technology also allows teachers to generate customized reports for each child.
An easy way to introduce technology in the classroom is through technology centers. A few learning devices can be set up on a table. Five to six children can be allowed to explore the devices – with teachers ensuring that every child gets sufficient time to directly work with the technology. Cooperative learning activities can be developed with teachers acting as facilitators instead of direct instructors. Teachers can also incorporate technology to meet specific learning goals of the curriculum. For example, learning goals of sentence structure and spelling can be met by asking children to write a book about themselves. Technology could then be used to integrate the child’s photos with his/her writing samples.
Technology in the early childhood years is harmful only if it replaces key activities like physical play, outdoor exploration and development of social skills. When the right software is used in the right context, supported by encouraging and creative teachers – it can lead to great success!