Technology in Early Childhood Education: Tools and Languages

digital-map-fullIf we are to develop new pedagogical approaches that value digital and technological ‘tools’ as capable of expressive and creative potential then we must look to the digital landscape as a range of possible languages rather than ‘tools’.  In this, I mean, how can we view digital languages as poetic and aesthetic, as a means of narrating stories of life and the world and constructing new ways of knowing and knowledge. 

If we consider clay, we can view this substance as both a material/tool and language.  It can be used as a material/tool in which to develop fine motor skills through exploration of its properties, or it can be used in a context of ideas and thinking, where it is used to narrate and communicate meaning.  It is the latter context in which myself and a group of UK and Swedish early childhood centres (see below) are currently researching.

Certainly, when I began working in ECE 20 years ago, where computers were present they were often used to develop skills in mouse control and page navigation.   I remember then testing the boundaries of possibility by taking in my then huge laptop and being surprised at how 3 year olds were capable of exploring image manipulation in early versions of Adobe Photoshop.  I could see the shift happening from the “What if” exploration of the material (in this instance, laptop and Photoshop) to the emergence of ideas of expression that communicated a thought about something within a realm of what Anna Craft would call  “Possibility Thinking”.

As a network of researchers we are particularly interested in those types of apps, their usage and modalities that Howard Gardener discusses that can promote a strong sense of identity, allow deep relationships, and stimulate creativity. Our challenge is to go beyond the ways that apps are designed to be used so they can make visible the diversity of children’s experiences and thinking, and become capable of narrating and expressing new ideas.  This is not easy as many children’s app developers create apps, for example animation apps, but with pre-loaded characters and backgrounds that children can use.  These apps, although intuitive for children to use are creatively constrained already in the use of templates and pre-loaded material. They are easy to make a simple animation with but often without the depth of thinking that children are capable of.

Other digital modalities such as digital projection and green screen can be as playful in nature as role play and open ended materials and these form a great potential for multi-modal expression with children.   Also, the ways in which digital endoscopes and microscopes can enable the re-proposal of the familiar world of nature in unexpected and complex ways that offer curious new worlds and environments to explore to generate new, imaginative ideas and questions.

As a research group we are interested in Gregory Bateson’s ideas of cybernetics, of systems, patterns and relationships, and will look for those connective patterns generated in the in-between spaces between children, digital languages and the natural world.  Children already have a wealth of knowledge and an openness to ideas, we are interested in these new patterns of thinking that digital languages propose to children as we suspect that these will transform our pedagogy and approaches to learning.

In a weeks time, 10 educators and myself travel to Stockholm, Sweden for our first exchange in this research project.  It is a blended approach that uses social media networks as well as offline, realtime exchanges together with digital and non digital materials.   We are exchanging learning stories and reflecting on each others work in a process of active professional learning about children’s relationship to the digital and natural world.  We are seeking and exploring ways for young children to connect across classrooms and across verbal and non-verbal languages.  We aim to create a body of research in the form of case studies, publications, a conference and a range of online resources.  It’s a very exciting time!

A possibility of a beginning…

“It’s starting to grow…slowly…it’s not growing yet, no not yet because the leaves haven’t come out.” 
“It growed by itself because it’s invisible.”
 Dancing with beans that grow. Ashmore Park Nursery, Wolverhampton

Dancing with beans that grow. Ashmore Park Nursery, Wolverhampton

Two children are interacting with a  full screen moving time-lapse projection of a growing bean.  Their own projected shadows become as one with the projected image, both projections combining as a single image.  As children discuss their movements and the beans moments they consider what growing is, both in language and through movement.  It is this coming together, this blending of modalities that we are most interested in.

 

“You pull this lever and this lever and this lever and then it will be grown… and then it lifts up.” 
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Experimenting with wire levers to make the plant grow. Ashmore Park Nursery School, Wolverhampton

Alongside of these children, and interweaving amongst all the languages available for the children to express their ideas were others generating ideas of germination through drawing and clay.  The clay offered opportunity for mechanical and physical expression of showing how the bean might grow.  The drawing offered opportunity for visualising the ideas through imagery and ‘talk and draw’.  All of these interweaving languages lend themselves to future ideas of stop motion animation (amongst others). Therefore we can begin to see where a traditional material such as clay may begin a dialogue with a digital language rather than concentrate solely on the app, the pre-loaded story characters and pre-generated backgrounds.  In this way, children’s own creative and critical thinking creates both the context and the content.

 

 

The Schools involved in this research are:

Ashmore Park Nursery School, Wolverhampton, UK

Hillfields Nursery School and Children’s Centre, Coventry, UK

Madeley Nursery School, Telford & Wrekin, UK

Phoenix Nursery School, Wolverhampton, UK

Woodlands Primary and Nursery School, Telford & Wrekin, UK

Lange Erik Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

Barnasinnet Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

Vintergatan Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

Sma Vänner Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

With thanks to Ashmore Park Nursery School for enabling me to share this material.

 

 

EU flag-Erasmus+_vect_POSWe are very happy to be funded by Erasmus Plus in our shared research into new digital pedagogies with young children.

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Meaning-Making and Digital Languages. Technology as a Creative and Expressive Language: New Research

Creative-Technology2The digital environment is often offered to children as a tool to find and consume information and as a fun and interactive way to develop skills and techniques though games.  Often, iPads are used by teachers in increasing ways for assessment systems and record keeping – a one stop shop for teaching and measuring.  For young children, the dominant discourses focus on limiting screen time and the effects of devices on children’s communication, social skills and language development.  

 

I am working with 5 Early Childhood settings in the West Midlands in the UK and 5 Pre-Schools in Stockholm, Sweden on a collaborative research project funded through Erasmus Plus to approach the use of digital technologies in different ways.   We are choosing to research how digital technology can be used with young children through creative and expressive approaches in an enquiry based approach to learning.  We are focusing our research around a meta project that is researching children’s relationship with the natural world of growing, sustainability and ecology.  We are focusing on the close connection between materials of the world, the world of the digital and traditional languages/materials that we use with young children.  Therefore this is not a project that separates out ICT from other areas of learning but rather one that connects it to a creative and reflective pedagogy facilitated through active exploration, within a culture of hypotheses and experimentation.  We feel that this approach is active in its choices to propose poetic contexts, where everyone is a co-protagonist that can investigate the relationships of the world through multiple points of view, sensorial sensibilities and playful, curious interests.

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The research, with its tools and languages will explore areas of real/virtual/ imaginary contexts, 2D and 3D dimensionality, graphics, sounds, musicality, dance, drama, storytelling, seeking always the unexpected and diverse ways of children’s meaning making.  We aim to look for relationships, patterns, between the subject under investigation that challenges traditional categorisation.  We welcome the idea that there are many multiple and simultaneous ways of seeing and thinking.  We see uncertainty as a place of possibility and knowledge as a fluid and ever evolving state open to variation, diversity and change.

The digital space and the technological tools available are an invitation to explore these just as one might research the children’s approaches to clay or drawing as a way of making and expressing meaning, as a language of finding out about the world, of constructing together a narrative of learning.  We hope therefore to challenge the dominant methodologies and discourses and propose new pedagogies of the digital.

 

The Schools involved are:

Ashmore Park Nursery School, Wolverhampton, UK

Hillfields Nursery School and Children’s Centre, Coventry, UK

Madeley Nursery School, Telford & Wrekin, UK

Phoenix Nursery School, Wolverhampton, UK

Woodlands Primary and Nursery School, Telford & Wrekin, UK

Lange Erik Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

Barnasinnet Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

Vintergatan Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

Smh Vänner Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

 
EU flag-Erasmus+_vect_POS

We are very happy to be funded by Erasmus Plus in our shared research into new digital pedagogies with young children.