TECH WITH KIDS

What do children think about digital technology?

Up until now, the way I have talked (typed) about digital technology has been from the perspective of a twenty-something-year-old educator, and the views I have mostly considered are those of parents and my peers. However, I realized that for a blog that’s dedicated to a class called Children & Technology, there is one point-of-view I have not yet covered in detail: the children’s.

What do children think about digital technology? How do children see digital technology as integrating with other aspects of their lives? I believe there is a misconception that because children are digital natives, they do not think twice about the way they use digital technology in their everyday lives. Yet they do!

A study showed that when children ages twelve and under were asked to draw a picture of how they would adapt digital technology, they came up with many interesting answers. One child wanted to be able to touch, feel, and move things on a screen; another child wished for a platform that could search and provide results for things not by using text, but drawings. Many themes and concepts included virtual realities and simulations, and human-like robots and virtual companions. The researchers noted that children see digital technology as an extension of themselves, not as an add-on in the way I think of it.

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In 2015, BBC Newsround sought out comments from children and young teens online regarding whether or not they thought [digital] technology helped them learn better. Surprisingly, there was a range of responses across the board, such as technology can be a distraction and encourages laziness and cheating; technology is good because it’ll be the way of the future, and technology can help improve concentration and makes knowledge more accessible. The Hechinger Report got similar responses when they conducted interviews with older children from middle-class rural backgrounds–in their opinion, while digital technology can be more fun and interactive to learn with, it can also lead to more distractions and temptations.

But what about children’s perceptions of cyber-safety?

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During a pilot-study project, researchers at the Learning Science Institute Australia found that 73% of the young children interviewed said that they would tell their names and addresses to someone they knew online (i.e., a player in a game). In my experience, children consider a stranger to be a random person on the street that they have never met. However, children feel a sense of familiarity with the people they’re interacting with in their virtual worlds.

As children explore and use new technologies and apps, parents and educators should be checking in and initiating dialogues to understand how children are thinking about digital technology. Every child is unique, and every child will have their own individual opinions and needs when it comes to using digital technology.

(Image credits: Latitude and the Learning Science Institute Australia)

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Resources, TECH WITH KIDS

Educational Games Roundup

For a reading reflection assignment for my Children & Technology course, I had to read two articles discussing the importance and benefits of digital game-based learning (DGBL). According to Shapiro, SalenTekinbas, Schwartz, and Darvasi (2014), using game-based learning as an educational tool encourages collaboration, problem solving, understanding of relationships, and mastery of concepts.

I found the idea of digital game-based learning all rather new and intriguing, so I decided to compile a few games and resources that can be used as educational and constructive tools, in either school or home settings. I sifted through some of the sites Shapiro et al. (2014) had recommended in the article and this what I came up with!

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  1. DreamBox features over 2, 300 game lessons that are designed to develop problem solving skills, critical thinking strategies, and math fluency. Educators can track students progress and make the lessons accessible in either English or Spanish. For one child at home, pricing is $12.95 per month; school pricing varies according to the number of children and comes in bundles.
  2. DragonBox 5+ is an app that’s designed to keep children the rules of algebra in a creative and learn-directed way. DragonBox 5+ first uses pictures rather than numbers or variables to make the concepts easier to understand. Children use the rules to solve puzzles and learn through trial and error. DragonBox 5+ is accessible on mobiles, tablets, and computers for $4.99.
  3. World of Goo is a Nintendo Switch game that’s focused on physics-based puzzle and construction. Globs of live goo are used to build bridges and structures. World of Goo is $9.99 on Nintendo.
  4. Bugs and Bubbles is a wonderful app for young children that helps develop their knowledge of colors, balance, letters, counting, shapes, patterns, sorting, and more. Detailed graphics, calming music, and advanced interactivity appeals to children’s senses and imaginative play. Bugs and Bubbles is available on the iTunes store for $3.99.
  5. Tell About This is a platform to inspire and capture children’s stories through word and photo prompts promotes children’s re-telling and imaginative skills. It’s easy to use and easy to share children’s thoughts and voices. Tell About This is available on the iTunes store for $3.99.

(Image credit: DreamBox)

Reflection

Playshops – an emerging curriculum model

What is a playshop?

According to Wohlwend and Peppler (2015), playshops are a curricular model that was developed to encourage playful and collaborative learning as well as rigorous learning as; each playshop features various combinations of literacy, arts, sciences, or technology. The playshop model is intended to bring together and combine children’s strengths with the school curriculum (Wohlwend & Peppler, 2015).

On March 15, in my second-to-last Children & Technology class, my group and I had the opportunity to design, create, and represent our very own playshop! Our professor provided us with a wide array of random (to us) materials to choose from, and we had to think of a theme or idea we wanted to center our playshop around, taking on the roles of children within a playshop experience. In anticipation of the season, we decided on creating a nature/garden theme scene–combining arts and science. We used play-doh, chenille sticks, water bottles, poms poms, and other every day materials.

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For a lot of parents and educators today, there is still a huge dichotomy between play and learning; however, in actuality, play can be the key to deepening learning and tapping into children’s interests and strengths (Wohlwend & Peppler, 2015). The playshop model enriches learning across technologies and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts, inventive and creative thinking, design and creative learning, collaborative experiences, and sustaining participation (Wohlwend & Peppler, 2015).

Each playshop experience is unique and individual to the children participating and their environment. Wohlwend and Peppler (2015) provide an example of a Grade 1 child who would typically only write a few words at a time transform into a screen-writer able to produce fifteen minutes of dramatic dialog within the context of a flim-making playshop. In the playshop model, children are active leaders in their own learning as they are given the freedom to create personal, meaningful experiences, take on different roles of their choosing, and scaffold on their previous knowledge.

I would love to see more of this model at work in school settings, considering there is so many socio-emotional and academic benefits to such a curriculum design that really taps into children’s interests and developmental needs.

Happy playing!

(Image credit: me)

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)