apps

Storypark Documentation App

A few weeks ago, Drew Williams, a manager from Storypark came to my Children & Technology class and gave us a presentation on Storypark–a learning stories and e-portfolios app. While Storypark does share some characteristics of the HiMama app, it is still rather distinctive. Originating from New Zealand, Storypark is founded on the belief that it takes a community to raise a child, and this is reflected in the structure of the app.

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According their website, idea of Storypark is to create a secure online community to support children’s learning and development. Families and educators can privately document and share children’s growth and learning through photos, videos, stories, notes, and audio clips. Like most social media apps these days, Storypark comes with real time notifications so that users can instantly view and respond to new content.

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Parents can invite anyone they choose from anywhere in the world into their virtual communities (extended family, friends, loved ones, experts or specialists, etc)–all that is needed is the app and an internet connection! Anyone who is part of the community can comment on the posts in the portfolio and feel a part of the child’s life as they share in children’s adventures.

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Storypark is extremely affordable and accessible. The Family Plan (for parents and family members is absolutely free for life! The Education Plan (educators) is $0.99 per month per child, and educators can try Storypark first for a free thirty-day trial (no credit card info needed). Another small aspect that I really like is that parents can choose to keep their child’s portfolio from school or childcare once the child has left the centre, is not erased or deleted after a period of time like on most apps. Pictures from Storypark can also be used to create high-quality personalized photo books.

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As an educator, I really like Storypark it’s so easy to use and interact with! It would certainly make the documentation process a lot more enjoyable as there is so much interaction and involvement happening with the families, which can be much harder to achieve with traditional, non-digital methods of documentation. As an aunt to a preschooler living across the continent, I would absolutely love it if her family used Storypark–this is the app long distance relative have dreamed of.

(Image credits: Storypark)

apps

HiMama Childcare App

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A few weeks ago, Steven Bonnay, a representative from HiMama came to my Children & Technology course and introduced us to an app called HiMama. Now, I have been in many childcare centers – five out of my six field placement across George Brown College and Ryerson University took place in childcare and Early Learning centers all over Toronto – and not once was it suggested that there was another way to do the piles of necessary documentation any other way but the traditional paper and pencil method that just takes away so much time from interacting with the children. So to me, an app like HiMama is nothing short of revolutionary – a real game changer especially for the up and coming generation of ECEs that are already so used to using technology in almost every other aspect of our lives. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to bridge it into our professional world, it is 2017, after all.

What HiMama does is provide early childhood educators with a user-friendly and accessible app to share information and memories with parents and caregivers, as well as record observations and documentations. It works by linking parents and educators together in real-time so parents can receive pictures, videos, and updates on their digital devices about their children’s day as it happens (feeding, sleeping, diapering, activities, and more). HiMama was specifically designed with the unique needs of a childcare center in mind, and this is evident in the engaging and easy to navigate interface that allows educators to do their daily documentations and observations quickly and efficiently.

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This really helps bridge the gap between what happens at home and what happens in childcare, as well as foster stronger relationships between parents and educators. When there’s a lot of paperwork involved, some things can (and do) fall through the cracks sometimes in all the hectic hustle and bustle of pick-ups and drop-offs, but I think HiMama works to both empower educators and help them become more accountable at the same time.

For more information on how HiMama works, please see: https://www.himama.com/childcare/how-it-works

To schedule a free 15 minute demo for centers: https://www.himama.com/childcare/contact_us

(Image credits: HiMama)

Reflection

Tinkering!

What is tinkering?

According to The Tinkering Studio, “[Tinkering] is more of a perspective than a vocation. It’s fooling around directly with phenomena, tools, and materials. It’s thinking with your hands and learning through doing. It’s slowing down and getting curious about the mechanics and mysteries of the everyday stuff around you. It’s whimsical, enjoyable, fraught with dead ends, frustrating, and ultimately about inquiry.”

Examples of tinkering projects from The Tinkering Studio:

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Bevan, Petrich, and Wilkinson (2014) observed that learning in tinkering presents as engagement, initiative and intentional, social scaffolding, and developing understanding. I have had a few memorable experiences with tinkering in the past; both my Concept Development in Science and Concept Development in Math courses last semester presented many opportunities for tinkering and hands-on learning.

Most recently, in my Children & Technology course, my group was given the challenge to create a marble run! Scaffolding, innovation and intention, engagement and interaction, and developing our understanding  were all elements that were present when my group and I were creating our marble run. Our challenge was to create a marble run that would run all the way through the structure we created and come to a contained stop at the end so that the marble wouldn’t fall off the table. We went through several different designs and tried different configurations of materials before we found one that worked; at one point, we even used my cell phone to create the successful run.

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We went through several different designs and tried different configurations of materials before we found one that worked; at one point, we even used my cell phone to create the successful run. We were asked to reflect on our process of learning through tinkering and this is what we came up with:  

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We had to work together and collaborate, share our ideas, come up with creative uses for the materials we had, and make sure that we were giving one and another an equal amount of opportunity and support to test out our individual theories. There was a lot of trial and error and moments of excitement and frustration, but we had fun the whole time!

(Image credits: The Tinkering Studio; me)

TECH WITH KIDS

Social Robots for Educational Purposes

I was reading this article about how, in this digital day and age, social robots could be designed to be child-friendly with special functions to serve educational purposes. A social robot is a robot specifically designed to interact with humans. It got me thinking about how social robots work and the impacts of their interactions with children. In the article, Vogt, de Haas, de Jong, Baxter, and Krahmer (2017), emphasize that the robot is at its most effective when it is introduced as a peer and fellow learner, but having adult-like interaction strategies. It is important that the robot be adaptive to the needs of each individual child, thus staying within the Zone of Proximal Development (Vogt et al, 2017).

While this was the first I had heard of “social robots”, apparently they have been around for at least a few years now. In 2011, BBC published an article about how researchers are finding that social robots are helping children with profound autism learn social and communication skills through games and interactive play. The social robots are a means for the children to explore, observe, and engage with their environment without any negative reactions or responses (BBC, 2014).

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I did some more researching and found Robots4Autism, a program that uses purpose-built humanoid robots to deliver curriculum using evidence-based best practices for building social and behavioral skill development in a 1:1 setting. The robot, Milo, can smile, laugh, walk, and speak, giving children the opportunity to practice and develop their socio-emotional and communication skills. I’m curious as to how using a robot would play out in an inclusive educational setting, and if use of the robot could be integrated into a constructivist curriculum.

However, humanoids are not the only kind of child-friendly robot out there. In the video below, we can see Tega, a squishy, cartoon-like, smart-phone based social robot, designed by MIT’s Personal Robotics Lab. Tega has already been put to work teaching Spanish to preschoolers!

What do you all think about using social robots in an early childhood educational context? Would you use robots like Milo and Tega in your work with young children? Do you think children would have a preference between the two robots?

I, myself would have loved having Tega as a tool when I was doing my literacy intervention placement with the Toronto District School Board. She seems adorably interactive!

(Image credit: BBC News)

Resources

Resources for Families

As an early childhood studies student, one thing that has always been emphasized throughout my courses and placements is the importance of including and supporting families in my practice. To that end, I thought I would share some of the websites and resources that I think parents might find helpful in understanding and navigating digital technology within the context of their children.

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  1. Raising Digital Natives: a website by Dr. Devorah Heitner especially focused on providing advice to parents and educators on how to help children thrive in a digital world. There are dozens of interesting and informative articles such as Technology as a Distraction: Raising Kids in the Digital Age, Conflict Resolution for Digital Natives, and Digital Citizenship for Kids Starts with Mentorship. Dr. Heitner has also done a TEDx Talk entitled The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native.
  2. Common Sense Media: Common Sense is an independent nonprofit organization with the aim of helping kids thrive in a world of media and digital technology. Highlights from Common Sense Media include Parent’s Corner, featuring answer guides to questions such as “How can I use media to teach my kid empathy?” and “What age should my kid be before I let them use social media?“. Other resources are the Reviews section for age-appropriate media, and the Family Guides to help understand the latest trends in schools.
  3. PBS Parents – Children and Media: a section of the PBS website devoted to providing parents with tips and strategies for raising children in a digital age. Sections include guides across different ages on television and movies, video games, computers, and even advertising. There is also a milestone section for age-by-age tips, starting from ages three to eighteen, to help children get the most out of digital technology usage.

This is just a starting point, and there is definitely more interactive ways educators can provide resources to parents and engage with them, such as after-school workshops, seminars, or even a newsletter.

What are some of your favorite resources for parents on digital technology?

(Image credit: Common Sense Media)

Resources, TECH WITH KIDS

Using digital technology with young children

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Digital technology is everywhere these days, in schools, in childcare settings, and especially at home. Laptops, cell phones, tablets are part of everyday life and made easily accessible to children. I have seen several strollers on the TTC (the subway) that come equipped with an attachment or media pocket, similar to this one sold on Amazon UK. I’ve known children younger than two years old that are able to recognize and select the Netflix app, scroll through the images, and select what they want to watch. Current research has shown that young children have an almost universal exposure to digital technology, with many having their own digital devices by the time that they are four years old (Kabali, Irigoyen, Nunez-Davis, Budacki, Mohanty, Leister, Bonner, 2015).

Most people have heard the saying, “everything in moderation,” which of course applies here as well. Haughton, Aiken, and Cheevers (2015) found that while passive screen time can have negative effects on children’s developing cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical abilities, interactive screen time can have a positive impact on older children (ages 3 and up). Digital devices and interactive technology are not going anywhere, so an important aspect to focus on is how parents and families can reap the best benefits from it.

3 Ways to Use Digital Technology in a Meaningful Way 

  1. Engaging with children through pictures and videos – there are many elements at play here; some children get excited just seeing themselves, whereas other children especially love to hear their voices and recording themselves singing. I know friends of mine with young children that enjoy using the animal filters on SnapChat to add another level of fantasy to the stories they come up for their little ones. Another idea is to give children the option to take their own photos and videos and see what they decide is worth capturing. It’s fascinating to see what they choose to focus on.
  2. Long distance communication – digital technology is an excellent way to foster relationships and keep in touch with family members who might be living far away. WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, and FaceTime are great apps for phone calls and video chats!
  3. Educational apps/websites that are actually educational – an app like Duolingo (comes in both app and website interface) is great for helping teach a second language; Meet the Insects: Forest Edition and Toca Nature are two apps that stimulate children’s curiosity and imagination; Hopscotch and Move the Turtle are specifically designed to help children develop coding skills. I would also like to make special mention of the PECS Phase III app for parents that may be interested. It’s an app designed to look like a PECS communication book for teaching picture discrimination; it does not replace the PECS book but serves as an aid to practice discrimination techniques and strategies within a single lesson.

(Image credit: me via Netflix)