While schools often make headlines for tablet initiatives involving grades 3-12, young learners do not always have the same access to tablets. Laptops and desktops can be hard for young students to navigate using a mouse, a touch pad, and dealing with large keyboards.
Children are usually familiar with tablets’ touch-screen technology early in their lives, and a growing group of companies and education leaders are creating tablets targeted toward early childhood education in an effort to engage them and form solid base skills that will carry them through elementary school and beyond.
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, educators should make sure that when choosing a tablet, they understand:
- How the tool can meet educational and life goals for their group of young children
- How the tool functions
- How to monitor young children’s engagement and progress and how to adjust tasks accordingly
- How to account for the children’s interests and preferences
In a joint statement between NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, the groups noted that “When used appropriately, technology and media can enhance children’s cognitive and social abilities,” “technology tools can help educators make and strengthen home–school connections,” and “technology and media can enhance early childhood practice when integrated into the environment, curriculum, and daily routines.”
In March 2013, EnCompass Academy procured 54 VINCI tablets that came pre-loaded with math programming mapped to the school’s existing curriculum. After 12 weeks, teachers reported observing significant changes in their young students’ behavior and learning habits, including a positive change and increase in students’ ability to focus, and offered anecdotal evidence that students understand their math lessons more easily. Teachers also said they were able to differentiate teaching and learning more.
“We need to truly live in the 21st century so that our kids aren’t just playing catch-up,” said Minh-Tram Nguyen, founding principal at EnCompass Academy. EnCompass Academy faces a number of challenges, including having resources and infrastructure to meet the technology needs of its students, as well as its location in a large, urban, high-poverty area.
“I can’t increase the budget,” Nguyen said, “but I can figure out ways [to make teachers’] unit of time more impactful.”
This includes “using technology to synthesize and integrate learning,” she added. “It’s much more at their developmental level, so they’re able to learn at their own rate.”
Using VINCI’s blended model, Nguyen said she is able to make sure that teachers’ classroom instruction is more effective for young students. The tablets are targeted directly to a pre-k and kindergarten developmental level, and students learn at their own pace, moving forward to more advanced content when they are ready.
The choice of games and other activities help young students take ownership of their learning, said Malayphet Insixiengmay, a kindergarten teacher at EnCompass. Math comprehension is much quicker and students are more confident in their math learning, she added.
“We can’t avoid technology in our daily lives, so I don’t see why we should avoid technology in education,” said Dan Yang, VINCI creator. “Children are probably more capable than we think they are. We need to trust them; we need to give them the tools to help them learn, but we don’t want to control their learning.”
iStartSmart Mobile, from Hatch, is an early learning tablet that comes pre-loaded with Hatch’s early learning software and apps. It monitors child progress as they play, showing teachers exactly what each child knows.
Teachers can view 18 core skill areas and see how students, individually or as a class, are learning. Progress monitoring reports help teachers identify areas where children need additional reinforcement.
Schools in the Chicago area have implemented the iStartSmart Mobile to help benefit at-risk children. At Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School, pre-k teacher Fontane Thomas has used the tablet since October of 2012.
The tablets are particularly helpful with ELL students. “I am able…to walk them through a series of activities to see if they are gaining the skills I want them to learn,” Thomas said. “This is important to reducing the technology gap and the achievement gap because it actually supplements what is happening in the classroom.
“Pre-k students often feed on the excitement of their facilitator, so when they see my excitement about technology, it’s going to transfer to them,” he said. The tablets engage students and make it easier for Thomas to sit one-on-one and move through activities with his students.
And using the Report Management System, Thomas can view a list of his students and how their skill levels are developing. The system gives him information about what each student worked on, how much time the student spent on the skill, and whether or not the student needs additional reinforcement. If additional work is needed, Thomas instructs the software to refocus the student on a particular area to help the student improve those specified skills.
The West Aurora School District also is using the iStartSmart Mobile tablets. Laurie Klomhaus, principal at Todd Early Childhood Center, is in charge of 11 classrooms with many students who are English Language learners or who have special needs.
The tablets, she said, are beneficial because they offer “insight into what is happening in the classroom,” which Klomhaus said “helps to guide my decisions about the professional development needs of my staff.”
Read the full story on eSchool News here.