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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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)

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)

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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)