A place to share ideas about play in a Prep classroom

Archive for July, 2011

Technology in the Early Years – A Philosophical Discussion

We live in a digital age. An age in which information is rapidly changing and a society that is communication focussed. Our world is networked and whilst networks have always existed, they are now more prominent, as well as more global.  This connectedness, the shrinking half life of information and the challenge of keeping current, as well as the current social trends in the rise of the individual, immediacy and now, and the notion of internationalism all need to be considered by educators when planning for the children who live in, and are the future of, this rapidly changing information and communication focussed society. The new national curriculum also recognises these changes and whilst it’s focus is on content, this content includes multimodal texts and their analysis through the development of higher order thinking in all areas and subjects.

When I think back to when my current prep children were born, 5 or 6 years ago, many homes still had dial up internet connection, laptops were heavy and bulky, social networking sites were very new and and iPods were the latest thing on every teenagers wish list.  Now they have started school and “smart phones” are common, broadband and wireless internet is the norm; people communicate via email, texting, tweeting on twitter and/or posting on Facebook and the children can use an iPod/ iPad/iPhone as easily as they can build with blocks.  These children should they attend University will graduate in 2027. What will the world  look like then? What kind of technology will be the norm in society, at home and…… in education?

As far back as 1986, when computers and ICT were just beginning to  appear in homes, Bruner wrote we are living through bewildering times where the conduct of education is concerned. There are deep problems that stem from many origins-principally from a changing society whose future we cannot foresee and for which it is difficult to prepare a new generation (The Language of Education p.21). The idea that we as a society, and in particular as educators, need to prepare children for a future that we can only guess about, has made me think and reflect more deeply on my pedagogical practice than any other.

In the 30 plus years I have been an early childhood educator, my teaching and learning philosophy has been based primarily on the Constructivist Theory and the typical early childhood setting provided children with opportunities to participate in group and individual activities which were open to a variety of approaches. Children are able to experiment in an open ended manner, explore their ideas and experiment using  first-hand experiences, rather than relying on the teacher’s authority. The theorists upon whose work these ideas are  justified included Bruner and his work on inquiry and discovery learning; Ausabel- who highlighted the centrality of the learners existing knowledge structures in designing curriculum; and in particular Piaget and Vygotsky who believed that children “were not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge”. Constructivists believe that knowledge and learning are based on prior knowledge and learning, and the process of building upon prior knowledge is an active one, one in which the learner must be engaged. They believe that learners fit together new information based on what they already know. Piaget and Vygotsky emphasised the idea that ‘knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, not passively received from the environmentand defined the role of the teacher as facilitating the learners own activity. Constructivist learning experiences nurture curiosity and emphasise authentic tasks in a meaningful context, where these tasks are real-world learning situations and settings.(Jonassen,1994 p.34)

 Other researchers who have influenced my pedagogy include the brain researchers who believed that children take in information through all their senses and that early childhood is a critical period for brain development and Bronfenbrenner who believed that children live and learn within multiple social and cultural contexts and their development and learning is greatly influenced by their backgrounds, lifestyles, culture and prior knowledge. He also believed that learning is a reciprocal process and interactions with people, objects and symbols affect children’s understandings, capabilities and dispositions. I also believe that we need to give children agency and a voice, with “agency” being children having the power to make choices and decisions and “voice” defined as children having their ideas and opinions heard and their diverse experiences valued and responded to.(Early Years Curriculum Guidelines p.96)

Many of these educational theorists were working in a time when learning and society was not impacted through technology but now “including technology and connection making as learning activities begins to move learning theories into the digital age. Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the shifts in society and provides insights into learning skills needed for learners to flourish in a digital age.(George Siemens, 2005). Interestingly, these skills of making connections using technology, syhnthesising  information to make decisions and choices, and learning where to seek information are the kind of “learning to learn” skills and thinking that fit very well with the Constructivists theories and my play and enquiry based philosophy. 

With all of this in mind, for me it is not a question of do I use ICT in my classroom but how I use it.

My classroom is full of open ended resources and materials for everyone to use, many of which have been traditional components of an early childhood environment for a long time. They encourage children to be active participants in a variety of social contexts and are open to a variety of approaches, allowing for individual learning styles and stages of development and learning. They are all carefully selected and changed according to my children’s needs and interests and this is how I also use ICT. In my classroom the children have access to lots of different kinds of ICT including a digital camera, an iPod Touch, Talking books with stories written and illustrated by the children, 3 Bee Bots, a digital microscope, 2 computers, an Interactive Whiteboard and a laptop and they are all integrated into the curriculum and learning just like any other resource. They are not used in isolation and I make professional judgements about them just as I do anything else. Some things such as the iPod touch are used in similar ways to older technology such as tape players and listening posts (especially with the addition of a multi-plug head phone device) but we also embrace their additional capabilities for recording learning and ideas. Other ICT’s such as the IWB have opened up endless opportunities for co-constructing learning in an active and social way (whilst developing fine motor skills as the children use their finger on it as well as motor co-ordination as they move their arm across their midline when going from 1 side to another.)

As you have read this discussion you will probably have noticed that I haven’t mentioned play. Vygotsky states that play is of critical importance in children’s cognitive development (Early Years Curriculum Guidelines p.95) As an early childhood educator, I believe that play is, for young children, the most important context for learning as it provides opportunities to organise and make sense of the social world, actively engage with people, objects and representations, problem solve and experiment, and involves pleasure and imagination. This kind of play can be supported through the use of the wonderful resources available on the internet and other interactive technologies and activities. ICT’s can help children make connections between what they know and new knowledge. ICT’s  provide them with opportunities to develop higher order thinking as they play and experiment with them, just as they would play and experiment with anything else. This learning through experimentation and problem solving can also be related to adults who, if asked about how they learnt to use their new iPad or phone will usually tell you that they just played around with it. I don’t think many adults read the manual, although they might search the internet for video tutorials, often made by a tween or teenager.

Over the last twenty years, technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn. Learning needs and theories that describe learning principles and processes, should be reflective of underlying social environments.(George Siemens 2004)

 So can Constructivism and Connectivism work together? I think they can, because a 21st classroom that nurtures children’s innate curiosity and ability to play, is supportive and flexible, embraces it’s traditional components as well as ICT’s, and integrates them both into the curriculum wherever possible,  will provide children with the opportunity to make connections and to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes for being lifelong learners – essential for living in our rapidly changing world.

Domino Fall Down

After watching some Youtube videos of the domino effect in our Virtual Classroom, we were inspired to try it for ourselves.

We started by lining our dominoes up in a single line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next we tried doubling up some of the dominoes in the line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It requires a lot of mathematical understandings, fine motor coordination, thinking and problem solving skills to place the dominoes in “just the right spot.” Success was always short but sweet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I really liked about this whole experience was how self motivating and engaging it was. With each success the children set themselves a more difficult challenge. They experimented with using different shapes and lines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They explored their creations from all kinds of perspectives.

 

 

 

 

Their persistence was amazing. When something didn’t work, they discussed and problem solved solutions………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tested their theories……….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

until successful, and whilst the success was sweet, the process was better.

Messy Monday and Dinosaurs

Today’s Messy Monday had an extra twist due to the children’s current interest in all things dinosaur. We read and acted out the story Bumpus Jumpus Dinosaurumpus by Tony Mitton to get us in a “dinosaurumpusy” mood and afterwards talked about looking for dinosaurs. We told the children that there were dinosaurs ready to be discovered in a variety of places in the playground  including a swamp and some polar ice caps and sent them on a journey of discovery.

Hmmmm, puzzled at first, it wasn’t long before some children found a green goopy swamp with a variety of dinosaurs ready to be dug out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other dinosaur detectives went in search of polar ice caps and what was hidden inside them. They were a bit hard to find but once located, our intrepid paelentologists found it requires lots of patience and fine motor strength to dig dinosaurs out of the ice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Success at last!

 

 

 

 

 

 

To make the ice, some coffee and sugar were dissolved in water and a thin layer of this mixture was frozen.  Next the dinosaurs were added with another layer of the coffee and sugar mixture poured on top. We used spoons and paddle pop sticks as tools.

Under the trees, dinosaurs were being pressed into playdough to create fossil stamps for printing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On top of the climbing frame a dinosaurumpus was happening, with the children stomping and clomping the dinosaur feet, claws and horns they had made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ice, paint, goop and masking tape, along with our usual bubbles etc. make for another Messy Monday full of fun and learning.

Learning Statements –

Social and Personal Learning

Fine Motor Skills

Imagining and Responding

Investigating Environments

Thinking

Bubble Painting

My preppies love to blow bubbles and to enhance the fun we did some bubble painting. We poured some bubble mixture into 3 different containers. (Recycled margarine containers are good but we used some containers with lids, as we had soooo much mixture left over from Under 8’s Day, we thought we could store it in these as well.) We added some powder paint to the containers, stirred it gently to dissolve and……… there we have it- coloured bubble mixture.

From past experiences with this activity there needs to be some organisational structure ( and with younger children, a lot of supervision.) Firstly, to catch any spillage each container was put on a tray and the children moved to the colour they wanted rather than moving the bubble container to them. Each child used their own straw, rinsed it in the water prior to using another colour and when they were finished, they put their straw in a small bin. (We washed these and will use them later for threading.) Finally and most importantly, we practiced BLOWING slowly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the bubbles are over the rim of the container, the children placed their paper over the bubbles and created a bubble print. When their paintings were dry, we cut out the bubble prints and laminated them to make them shiney.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hung some of these above our reading area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hanging from a piece of  blue patterned fabric, they look like they are floating in the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going with the flow and where it can lead you.

Over a day or two last week, my preppies would enthusiastically show me all the natural materials they had found and collected in the playground during their break times.  This was obviously something they were very interested in so on the second day, I threw out the plans I had made for the day and we all went on a hunt together to collect natural materials for the classroom. I use the word together loosely as some of the children had favourite places to find things and immediately set off with their friends to collect more objects. As a teacher this presents a challenge in terms of supervision but sometimes you just have to go with the flow and trust the children to stay within the parameters discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My teacher aide remained  within the vicinity of our meeting point with containers for the children to sort and share their finds. Here are some of the things we found.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we returned to the classroom some of  the children decided to make a large nature collage using the materials gathered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other children got out our caterpillar hole punches and made nature threadings.

 

 

 Other children used some of the materials to make a small dinosaur environment.

 When the large nature collage had dried the children used this to make a dinosaur playground for the dinosaur museum they are

currently constructing.

 

 

 One child used the materials to make a space rocket.

 A child negotiated curriculum means you sometimes just have to throw all your careful planning out the window and follow where the children lead.

 Learning Statements –

Investigating the Natural Environment

Imagining & Responding

Sense of Self and Others

Thinking

“I did it all by myself!” he said proudly……….

Today was enormous, to say the least, because today was Under 8’s Day at our school. Under 8’s Day is all about celebrating being a young child. Every child and teacher from Prep to Year 3 were involved as well as parents, our specialist teachers and our local police, fire and ambulance officers. We also had some very cool companions such as snakes and lizards, some very cute and cuddly baby barnyard animals and tennis time with free coaching clinics.

Every teacher organised an activity and these ranged from the basics such as painting, play dough, bubbles and clay to face painting, treasure hunts, goop, masks and crowns. Kites were very popular as well, particularly as it was such a very windy day. Anyone who has worked with young children knows how wind can effect them, and after doing play ground duty during the morning tea break, I was a little apprehensive about how the children’s behaviour would be once back inside the classroom.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were quite settled and ready to chat about their morning. We talked about all the things they had done and looked at all the things they had made. I asked them to choose their favourite memory from the morning and draw a picture of it. They asked if they could have some special paper, meaning a page with a border. After printing off 3 different pages to choose from (because they couldn’t decide which one they all wanted) the children happily began to draw. When a task/activity is valid and meaningful to children they are far more engaged and this was demonstrated when I saw the amount of detail and care they put into their memory drawing. This engagement continued into their “have a go writing” about their drawing.

In my class I have a child who is not a risk taker when it comes to drawing about a topic such as a memory and is very reluctant to have a go at writing. He appears to think he can’t do it unless it is exactly right. Over the last few months one of my goals for this child has been to provide him with support and encouragement to enhance his self confidence so he would have a go, particularly with his writing. He is able to identify and write down sounds he hears in words when I am with him one on one. His favourite memory of today was having his fingerprints taken by the visiting police officers and sitting in their police car.

After choosing the paper he wanted, he quickly began to draw the police car. This was something in his comfort zone as he loves cars and draws them a lot. The children wanted to display their drawings for all the parents to see and as the children finished them, I was putting them on the wall. When this boy brought me his drawing to look at and display he said “I did some writing”. I was absolutely thrilled and told him so, after which he showed me where, on the wall, he wanted it displayed.

This little boy’s mother rarely picks him up from school but it just so happened that today she did. He took her by the hand and walked her over to his drawing and said “look what I did today” She asked him about the drawing and the other things he and his friends had done today. Just as they appeared to be finished I asked her if she had read the writing he had done on his drawing. She looked again and her son said proudly “I did it all by myself”. His Mum looked at me and I asked him to tell her what he had written. He said “I really liked the policeman’s car.”  – PLESM 

It was a very proud moment for all of us.

Butterfly Reading

Our school is focussing on reading this year and one of the ways we are encouraging our preppies to read and share books is through our Butterfly Reading each morning. In all our prep classrooms we have an open door policy which means that the children and parents are welcome to come into the room prior to the start of the day. Once their bag etc. has been put away, the children and parents can read a book together. Every morning that the children read/share a book they are rewarded with a spot on their Reading  Caterpillar.

 

 

 

 

Once there are 5 dots on a segment of the caterpillar the children move on to the next until the caterpillar is full and the children choose a butterfly. In order to receive a Butterfly Reading certificate each part of their butterfly needs 10 dots. (Lots of counting to 5 and 10 happens each morning as the children count how many dots they have to see if they are going to move  to another segment.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To encourage conversations and thinking about books, every child brings in a favourite book from home to keep in our Butterfly Reading box for the term. This  provides the classroom with an extra 25 books as well as giving the children an opportunity to share their favourite stories with their friends. It is wonderful to listen to the children as they discuss their favourite pictures and retell the stories in their own words.

Every morning it is also wonderful  to see the classroom  full of parents, caregivers and children looking at, discussing and reading books together. 

   What a great way to start the day!