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Something Old, Something New: Integrating Meaningful Digital Technology Using the Interactive Whiteboard in the Early Childhood Classroom

 Everyone is in a hurry to buy the latest technology for their classrooms, but what if the technology you already have can do the job?


You know the saying Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater? Well, it can be applied to the use of technology in the early childhood classroom. With all the fancy, new-fangled gadgets available to us, we often swiftly toss the old tried-and-true technologies to the side. We can apply another common idiom to this train of thought. It goes: All that glitters is not gold.

Filling the classroom with technological tools seems to be primarily an American preoccupation. Lines of yearly classroom budgets are dedicated solely to adding newer and better tech toys and gizmos to the classroom. Ripley (2013) found that Americans waste an extraordinary amount of tax money on high-tech toys for teachers and students, most of which have no proven learning value whatsoever. Strangely enough, the countries that rank the highest in education, which greatly outrank the United States,  tend to have less technology in their classrooms. “In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms...but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets” (Ripley, 2013). In the United States, very few schools do not integrate some sort of technology. However, according to an article in the New York Times, a school in Silicon Valley, the very birthplace of most things high-tech, does not use computers, or any screen time for that matter. The educators at this particular school, the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, call into question the developmental appropriateness of technology in the classroom (Richtel, 2011), especially at the elementary level.


 You can imagine that educators and parents at the early childhood level wonder if digital technology is developmentally appropriate for the classroom. “K-12 teachers seem to embrace technology and digital resources, but preschool teachers use such technology and digital resources less often, (McManis & Gunnewig, 2012). At the early childhood level, at all levels, in fact, the most appropriate use of technology is to expand, enrich, implement, individualize, differentiate, and extend the overall curriculum (Wardle). We must ensure that technology is used purposefully (Simon et al., 2013). It cannot simply be for fun and games because, without an educational component, technology cannot fully support children’s learning and development. We have to establish learning goals for the children. These goals might include but are not limited to fostering children’s literacy and math or social-emotional development (McManis & Gunnewig, 2012). Technological tools can support a learner-centered and play-oriented early childhood curriculum and promote relationship-building among children, families, and the wider community (Wang et al.,2008). Using technology, early childhood instructors can encourage cooperation among their young charges (Cicconi, 2014).


Something Old

If you must have at least one piece of meaningful technology in your classroom, it should be the interactive whiteboard. The interactive whiteboard is a digital whiteboard, which looks similar to a dry-erase board,  that gives you all the capabilities of your computer on a large digital touch screen (Dvorak, 2012, Wang et al., 2008). By no means a new technology, the interactive whiteboard was created by SMART Technologies in 1991 (Dvorak, 2012). With or without internet access, many educational possibilities will be realized with this one tool. If your technology use aims to promote social and cognitive skill development, then an old technology such as PowerPoint presentation software can help meet those needs. Something new, like the ScratchJr programming software, can also help. 


PowerPoint

Integrating old technologies can offer affordable options for classrooms on a shoestring-budget. An overlooked or passe technology for the classroom is Microsoft’s PowerPoint. Outside of presentations, PowerPoint can be very useful in the classroom. When paired with an interactive whiteboard, PowerPoint presentation software has many capabilities. In the wrong hands, PowerPoint is a one-way, very passive activity. The traditional PowerPoint presentation relies on seeing and hearing, with its interactive potential rarely revealed (Finkelstein & Samsonov, 2008). Most do not know that PowerPoint is a powerful multimedia tool incorporating imagery, sound, and text in one project, using very simple techniques, that it can include powerful animation capabilities that let you visually communicate processes, cycles, evolution--anything that changes (Finkelstein & Samsonov, 2008). Most importantly, however, PowerPoint enables you to create problem- and project-based activities with your students participating in games, interactive activities, and quizzes (Finkelstein & Samsonov, 2008). So, by carefully planning and crafting a presentation that includes media and hyperlinks, you can create a resource or activity specifically tailored to your classroom needs. Using an interactive whiteboard, students can collaborate to create presentations.


Something New

Some argue that part of being digitally literate means being able to program or code computers. In a multicultural society, it helps to be multilingual. Likewise, in an increasingly digital world, speaking the various languages of computer programming is beneficial. In fact, code literacy is a requirement for participation in a digital world. If we are not code literate, we must accept the devices and software we use with whatever limitations and agendas their creators have built into them (Rushkoff, 2012).


Scratch, Jr. Coding Program

An introduction to computer programming, or coding, at the early childhood level, is ScratchJr. ScratchJr is a graphical programming language created at MIT and designed for children's unique developmental and learning needs in kindergarten to second grade. The creation of ScratchJr addresses the relative lack of powerful technologies for digital creation and computer programming in early childhood education. The ScratchJr project rests on the premise that kindergarten to second grade children can learn and apply programming and problem-solving concepts to create interactive animations and stories (Flannery et al., 2013). ScratchJr empowers young children to take on a more active role by freeing them from being passive consumers of technology. Used on an interactive whiteboard, ScratchJr can be a small group or whole group activity.


The tech tools and toys we already have at our disposal are enough to get the job done. The only thing we need to figure out is what exactly is the job we want done. Is our goal to teach our students the social skills, such as collaboration and problem-solving, that they will need to be competent 21st-century citizens, or is it to ensure certain academic skills are taught? Once we have our goals in place, it should be easy to find ways to align what technology you already have with what you want to accomplish.



References:

Cicconi, M. (2014). Vygotsky meets technology: A reinvention of collaboration in the early childhood mathematics classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 42, 57-65.


Dvorak, R. (2012). SMART board interactive whiteboard for dummies. Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.


Finkelstein, E., Samsonov, P. (2008). PowerPoint for teachers: Dynamic presentations and interactive classroom projects. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Flannery, L.P., Kazakoff, E.R., Bonta, P., Silverman, B., Bers, M.U., Resnick, M. (2013). Designing ScratchJr: Support for early childhood learning through computer programming. IDC, 1-10.


McManis, L.D., Gunnewig, S.B. (2012). Finding the education in educational technology with early learners. Young Children 5, 14-24.


Richtel, M. (2011). A Silicon Valley school that doesn’t compute. The New York Times, retrieved 4/15/15 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?ref=gradingthedigitalschool&_r=1 


Ripley, A. (2013). The smartest kids in the world: And how they got that way. New York: Simon & Schuster.


Rushkoff, D. (2012). Code literacy: A 21st century requirement. Edutopia, retrieved 4/26/15 from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/code-literacy-requirement-douglas-rushkoff


Simon, F., Nemeth, K., McManis, L.D. (2013). Technology in ECE classrooms: Results of a new survey and implications for the field. Exchange Press, Inc.


Wang, X. C. (2008). Meaningful technology integration in early learning environments. Beyond the Journal, NAEYC.


Wardle, F. (?). The role of technology in early childhood programs. Earlychildhood News, retrieved 4/20/15 from http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_print.aspx?Articleid=302 


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