Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Why I am not interested in “Tech in ECE.”

on 6 January, 2013

This post has been brewing for a long time, bubbling and simmering in my head and heart. Thanks to friends @learningmurd and @hechternacht, who read it in advance, and encouraged me to publish, even if it does ruffle a few feathers…

It has diminished somewhat, now, but for a while, on the Twitterz, I had something of a reputation as “She-Who-Tweets-With-Kindergarten” Thanks to some very positive media exposure, it was widely known that I tweet with my class. Then, my blog post about using Evernote for student portfolios got a fair amount of attention. In addition to that, I myself am very active on Twitter. I co-moderate the #kinderchat community. I run Kindergarten Around the World. I blog right here. Altogether, I manage 4 twitter accounts, 3 blogs, 2 facebook pages,  a pinterest account, and a partridge in a pear tree. I love my iPad and my shiny new iPhone 5 like nobody’s business. I lust after a new MacBook. I own (and proudly wear) an Evernote t-shirt.

OBVIOUSLY, then, I MUST be passionately interested in The Use of Technology In Early Childhood Classrooms, right?

Ehrm, actually, no.

I am very very ambivalent about being perceived as a “techie teacher.” To be utterly completely honest with you, the “tech in ECE” (and, by “ECE” I mean infants thru 3rd grade) conversation is BORING to me. It is tiring. It often feels faintly dirty, as, far too often, the people advocating FOR screen-based technology in ECE/primary classrooms,  turn out to have some personal or financial interest in putting  tech into those classrooms, while on the other end of the spectrum, the anti-tech people tend to deliberately misrepresent and misunderstand how tech is being used, and construct elaborate criticisms of tools that they themselves do not use and therefore do not understand.  I have often felt like I was being recruited by both sides of this conversation. I have deliberately been non-committal, even downright slippery and evasive, while secretly squirming in discomfort. So here, I’m throwing it all out there — all the random reasons why the “tech in ECE” conversation is not my thing. Maybe sharing them here will help me make sense of them. Maybe this will help move the conversation in a more compelling direction. Or maybe this will just help me feel a little lighter by getting things off my chest.

  • I guess the very word “technology” is a good place to start. The word “technology,” in this conversation, is really just a cover for “screen-based technology.” The conversations and debates are never about whether we should use CD players or listening centres or digital cameras or tape recorders or or even electric pencil sharpeners (all of which are “technology”). The discussion is ALWAYS about: iPads, iPods, computers, smartboards. Let’s make no mistake: this is about screens.
  • And THEN, because the “tech” conversation is really the “screen-based tech” conversation, the “anti-tech” people get to start talking about the evils of “screen time” as if there is no difference between a 2 year old parked in front of ScoobyDoo for 8 hours a day while the babysitter does her nails, and a 5 year old dictating a tweet that will be sent to (and replied to by) another 5 year old on the other side of the world. And any conversation that requires that many sets of quotation marks to describe is ALREADY exhausting. And boring. And probably futile. I have experienced first-hand how the anti-screentime people don’t want to hear about how an inner city classroom uses a smartboard to go on virtual fieldtrips to the rainforest, or how tweeting with friends in Indonesia brought empathy to a whole new level in my classroom. If it happened using a screen, it apparently… doesn’t count? Really?
  • All of that being said, if pushed on it, I have to say: I’m just not sure that handheld screen-based tech has a place in classrooms for children under 5. There. I said it. I said “no, thanks” to iPads in the Preschool and Junior Kindergarten classes at my school. Those kiddos have too many things to do with their brains and their bodies and each other to be spending time on a screen while they are at school. I’m also really not sure that putting a device worth several hundred dollars in the hands of 3 year olds is the world’s soundest decision. There, I said it.
  • I think that screen-based versions of real-life things are rarely the better option.  The people who sing the praises of these sorts of apps seem to be inordinately focused on the “easy and convenient” factor: No cleanup! Less noise! Easy and convenient is for 7-11, not kindergarten teachers. Maybe I will someday encounter a situation where virtual pattern blocks provide more learning opportunities than the real thing, but until then I prefer real, three-dimensional blocks that kids can touch and move and feel and manipulate.
  • As it says in my bio, I believe tech is a tool. Nothing less and nothing more. What’s more, “tech” is a category of tools. Asking “what do you think of technology in ECE?” is like asking “What do you think about writing utensils in ECE?” Well, um… they are definitely good to have. I like some better than others. Different utensils are better suited to some tasks/age groups/goals than others. Some require adult supervision. Some require specific instruction to use them properly and safely. Some are really not my favourite in kindergarten, but may be great for other age groups. I think there are teachers who are not very thoughtful about which writing utensils are most appropriate/provide the most learning opportunities for their students. Even the ones I don’t LOVE may have their place for a specific child trying to master a specific skill or complete a specific task…  You see? All of these things are true about technology, too. And yet, we do not devote hours of debate to the question of writing utensils. (Sidebar: I can actually get quite worked up about writing utensils in kindergarten, and WHY CRAYONS ARE BETTER THAN MARKERS, but that is another post…) We don’t have conferences about writing utensils. We don’t get pressure from admin to better integrate writing utensils. We don’t have to apply for grants to GET writing utensils. We don’t have to prove why we need them or how they will benefit our students. Writing utensils are not that interesting. To me, tech isn’t, either.
  • Also in my bio “if you don’t have a sandbox, you don’t need an iPad.” We have so many bigger fish to fry in this field right now. There are teachers who have had their dolls, blocks, sandboxes, sensory tubs, housekeeping centres, ripped out of their classrooms and replaced by desks and worksheets. There are schools without recess, without daily PE, without any fine arts programs. When and if you are confident that your students are getting adequate play time, exercise, fresh air, interaction, exploration, creative expression, time in nature, sensory stimulation, and rest time, THEN let’s talk about careful, thoughtful, use of screen-based tech. What would happen if, when an administrator offered an iPad to a kindergarten teacher, that teacher asked for $500 worth of toys and books and puppets and puzzles? Or even… a sandbox? $500 will buy A LOT of paint and playdough and dolls and blocks. It will even buy a sandbox.
  • And, on the other hand, to borrow from a comment I made earlier today on my friend Matt Gomez’s blog: in a program where “play” has been systematically eliminated (and those programs and settings DO exist, let’s make no mistake here), an app or software package that feels like a game to a child might help create some positive associations about school.  Even if that app is “worksheety.” (That is SO my new favourite adjective.) Even if it is dressed up drill & kill. A child who looks forward to SOMETHING about school is always going to be a better learner…. right?
  • A lot of the praise-singing for tech in the classroom talks about “sharing with an authentic audience.” I’m really not sure about this one.  I’m not sure that this sharing is truly motivating for kindergarten students. Often, they are far more interested in the process of creating something than they are in the finished product, and I WANT IT THIS WAY. The learning is in THE PROCESS, right? Once the goal becomes the sharing of the product, what happens to the process? When my students DO take an interest in the product, their first question is “Can I take it home?” They want to show Mom and Dad, Sister and Brother, MAYBE Grandma and Grandpa. Sharing students’ work with a global audience is undeniably exciting for teachers, but is it interesting to 5, 6, 7 year olds? Do they even care? Are they more excited by seeing it posted in the classroom or the hallway? By inviting the principal or librarian to come see it? By taking it home and put it on the fridge? Who is the sharing really for? When we ask for #comments4kids, how authentic IS it?
  • A global audience is not the same as building global relationships, and we need to be careful not to confuse the two, or to treat them interchangeably. If screen-based technology is helping kids build relationships with others (especially other CHILDREN), and those relationships motivate our students to share their work and learning, I am all on board. Heck, I am more than On Board. I will captain the ship and take Kindergarten all the way Around the World.

There. It’s out there. Part of me is worried that I may have offended some of you with this post. Another part of me says that at least I was pretty even-handed in distributing potentially offensive comments; people on BOTH sides of this conversation could (and likely will) take issue with some of my points. But that’s exactly the thing, isn’t it? There shouldn’t be a question of “sides.” Somehow, on this issue, we hear every question as a criticism. Every mention of a useful app becomes an Endorsement for iPads in All Kindergartens. Jebus Crisco. Just because I like a new kind of Sharpie doesn’t mean I think all teachers everywhere should scrap the crayons.

So, let’s stop. Let’s stop talking about “tech.” Let’s talk about the children we love and ALL the tools we use to reach and teach them.

       Because that conversation? Now THAT is interesting.



23 Responses to “Why I am not interested in “Tech in ECE.””

  1. I LOVE this. I think you should publish this on a teacher website or as an article with a Teacher zine or Education Company. I think you have SO many good points – esp about how grade levels and student needs to be considered when considering any kind of supplement to Education, especially technology. People tend to see “differentiation” as something done in a classroom with different ability levels. I think your point is completely valid, tech needs to be differentiated according to grade level, and it sounds like for the under 5 age group – manipulatives are more impt than tech. I also really liked how you explained the two camps: tech & anti-tech. I think there is so much truth in your analysis and people should see your perspective.

  2. 1 year later…After exploring several hashtags on twitter (#ecechat, #kinderchat) I came up on this incredibly inspiring post! I don’t teach ECE but feel a lot of these points can be applied to upper primary as well. I particularly appreciated your argument about the process being more important than the product. Often my Grade 4 students are more excited to work on the project, fiddle with it and improve/add to it rather than finish it. After identifying certain outcomes from IT-based projects/assessments (using checklists, rubrics etc), I’ve learned to allow students to share where they are in the process, rather than focus on having everyone finish at the same time with identical results. This has also enabled more natural differentiation in the screen-based tools they choose to share their understandings, as well as how in depth they go with the applications. Thanks again for starting this conversation..I will be following your blog now and look forward to reading more brave and honest posts like this!

  3. Favorite part is the difference between global audience and global relationships. You’ll know when your students are fostering relationships and it will be magical.

    Yes, the teachers need to be transparent with the tools before they try and get the students using it. It’s the only way to be successful!

  4. Amy says:

    How is it that you are always able to post the things I’m thinking…..I am really impressed and agree wholeheartedly. Well done. 🙂

  5. mcgomez13 says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I don’t think there will be many issues with using any tool as long as teachers are being as thoughtful as you have been in this post.

    One area I really feel that technology has been extra beneficial for my class is by giving them a voice. Pictures, tweets, blogs, etc. have given them an opportunity to share learning. They are proud of this and that is a big win. Young kids often do not have a voice and I see this as a powerful way to use technology tools regardless if it is local or global.
    Your distinction between a global audience and global relationships is something I had not considered before and I think it is a valid point.

    Lastly, crayons are much better than markers (#kindertwin)

  6. When I taught elementary school we always had a computer in class and it was primarily used for word processing and the occasional math drill game. The best thing I loved about tech in the classroom was the ELMO. (Sadly I’ve never had a smart board.) Now the ELMO’s a device that enables everyone to see something well! You can model how to work out a long division problem and draw pictures as well as show the numbers. You can let Joey share his marble collection where everyone can see it immediately, and be more patient when it gets passed around. And I could go on. When I left traditional education to work in alternative education venues tech equipment was virtually non existent. ( All the years I taught preschool we also opted not to have a computer for student use.) And you know….when I’m working with my students it’s so much fun to converse and get our hands dirty with all those hands on projects. This fall I got an IPad and I’ve used it a bit to show photos I’ve selected from the internet of things like architectural features or artworks. I could use it for recording dictation. I could use it for taking photos (but I use my camera instead). But really….the majority of kids have plenty of chances to explore screens outside of school. And the great social skill building and direct learning experiences with peers are far more important to their intellectual development than any device ever could be.

  7. Mandy says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and writing them with such pose and grace. I often feel the same way and think you hit the nail on the head with it’s a tool, not a substitute. I find on the tech journey the tool needs to create things and not be an app – worksheet substitute. It’s another language, if you have read anything or study the Reggio Emelia Schools in Italy. Thank you for sharing, it was needed.

  8. I enjoyed reading this article over my breakfast. In my school (England) we have much less focus in the early years on ‘screen’ technology than it appears is often the case in USA. By highlighting the issue as being about the ‘best way to help children learn’ you hit the nail on the head. Far too often the teacher is the most excited person in the room when it comes to technology. You are right to make the point it is not a question of either / or , just what is best for children. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    • Miss Night says:

      Thanks for reading, David. It’s good to know the state of things in other countries. I also think that the ideal order of things is for teachers to get to use tech for THEMSELVES before they use it with students. This might help curb some of the overzealousness that comes with the latest shiny thing is handed to a classrom – the only way for the teacher to explore it is to create ways for kids to use it… Just thinking this through now, but there may be something to it?

  9. K. Lirenman says:

    Amy I take no personal offence in this blog post if I was one person you thought you might offend. While some may view me as a teacher all about technology, if you’ve ever been in my classroom or have seen how I teach you’ll see that EVERYTHING, like absolutely EVERYTHING I do, I do because of and for my students. The ONLY THING that matters to me is finding the best ways to meet each and every one of my students individual needs. Period, end of story case closed. When I have concerns you’ll see that my concerns always stem back to my students, and what they need. Always.

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Karen.
      I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind when I wrote this, just sort of a general sense of this conversation and the trends I have seen, heard, felt. I hope it didn’t feel personal to you – it was not intended that way. Thanks for reading, and for commenting.

  10. Faige says:

    As always something to think about in your blogs. Don’t think sharing apps is the culprit. But eliminating the arts, PE, block and dramatic play, recess and Developmentally Appropriate curriculum in ece is. Screen time/devices has impacted how we all look at schooling now.

    • If there was a like button for your response I would press it enthusiastically!!!

      • Miss Night says:

        Thank you so much! I agree wholeheartedly with your longer comment, as well. If we want our students to be well-rounded learners and human beings, we need to provide with with well-rounded selection of opportunities, experiences, and tools. Thank you for reading.

  11. You pose excellent questions. The focus should be on the conversation–all tools and venues that will promote a child-friendly, engaging and successful education for children should be on the table with regard to teaching teams’ discussions and conversation. Then teams in each school need to do the research, collaborate and make decisions about the best ways to teach each child–there won’t be one tool, one way or one path, instead there will be multiple, ever-changing avenues including paper/pencil, play, outdoor exploration, conversation, drama and more. Without debate and questions, we won’t grow, and without growth, our programs won’t evolve and serve children well. Thanks.

  12. Chris Wejr says:

    I, too, get frustrated with the “screen time” discussion and I love the examples you have shared about Scooby Doo vs dictating a tweet. Too often in education we dichotimize issues to the point that you are good if you do it and bad if you don’t (or visa versa – and I have done this and had this done to me). Do I think there are some things that we should avoid? Absolutely. But for the most part… your last statement sums it up: “Let’s stop talking about “tech.” Let’s talk about the children we love and ALL the tools we use to reach and teach them.”

    Thanks for taking the risk to share this.

    • Miss Night says:

      Thanks so much, Chris. I really feel like we need to change how we talk about this, and maybe this is a start. Rather than talking about what great new tech we are using, let’s talk about ANY great new tool we discover. Let’s stop this from feeling like a club (or rather, like 2 clubs – the pro-tech and the anti-tech). It seems teachers are so willing to listen to each other on other issues, but tech is such a loaded topic…

      • Chris Wejr says:

        Yeah, you are right that tech is a loaded topic with so many unknowns but I see this a lot (and as I said, I have done this and wish I knew better before) with topics such as tests, multiple choice, worksheets, homework… although I have my strong views on this, I am not sold that these should be all or none discussions. Much easier to “market” an idea when it is controversial and strong.

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