Using Research to Build Better PreK Classroom Resources Guest blog by Heather Sherwood

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TEC Center’s director, Alexis Lauricella, PhD has established a TEC Center initiative to increase the early childhood technology research being conducted at Erikson and continue communication of research about children and technology. As part of this initiative, the TEC Center’s blog is welcoming guest writers to translate their academic research to practitioners, teachers, parents, and industry creators by blogging about their recent publications. This post is from Heather Sherwood and EDC’s Center for Children and Technology describing the efforts and processes for developing resources for early childhood educators.

The following was written by Heather Sherwood, Research Associate, EDC’s Center for Children and Technology
June 4, 2019

Educators have many digital devices and media resources at their fingertips, but many of these resources are not designed to meet the unique needs of young children and their teachers. Finding appropriate digital media and using them well requires educators to be thoughtful and informed when making decisions about which digital resources they will integrate into their classroom practice. Researchers spend a lot of time and effort thinking about the minutiae of the ever-growing educational technology landscape. However, educators must contend with many demands on their time and attention, so sifting through a large body of research on technology integration is not an option.  Furthermore, many educators may not have access to or the privileges to read academic research, especially if translated versions are needed. As a result, researchers must transform study findings into easily accessible strategies for educators. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, my colleagues at EDC’s Center for Children and Technology and I attempted to do just that. The result is a pair of digital and print materials called Integrating Technology into Early Learning Best Practices and Checklist.

Head Start Program
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Eyes on the Future Child Development Center, Chicago

Our goal was to provide educators with practical tools to make research-based and well-informed decisions when selecting and integrating media into their classrooms. We wanted to present information in a way that was easy to digest and practical to implement. To achieve this goal, our team scanned existing research on the use of media with early learners. We then used this information to develop resources that would highlight instructional strategies and include an actionable checklist to support teachers’ implementation in their classrooms. We shared early drafts with a variety of experts in the field, gathering their feedback through rounds of interviews. During these interviews, reviewers frequently requested more explicit examples to help users visualize the strategies. However, one persistent tension that the development team faced was the idea of creating a structured resource that included specific guidelines and examples but also had an evergreen quality, meaning that the suggestions presented would continue to be significant in years to come, regardless of the evolving edtech landscape. We decided to prioritize examples that were more closely tied to practice rather than to specific products, such as games and apps; we wanted to give educators guidance to support their decision-making process and to help them tailor media use to meet their unique classroom and student needs.

This spring, whave shared the Best Practices and Checklist  with educators at a variety of conferences and workshops, including Young Child Expo (New York, NY), California Association for the Education of Young Children (Santa Clara, CA), and the Infant and Early Childhood Conference (Tacoma, WA). This gave us the opportunity to have conversations with preschool teachers about their use of edtech in their classrooms.

While we’ve heard many excellent ideas, two were most compelling: (1) using technology aa creative tool, and (2) using technology in a way that supports collaboration and relationship-buildingBelow are some of our favorite examples of how to implement technology with these two best practices in mind. 

Use technology in such a way that children are creators, not just consumers.  

  • Portable devices allow for easy picture and video taking, enabling the manipulation and viewing of objects in a way the naked eye can’t.  
    • During STEM activities, such as rolling a ball down a ramp, have children video the process and play back the video using slow-motion, prompting children to look at the speed of the ball as it moves. Or, have children take photos of a local tree at the beginning of each month and create a class chart of printed photos to visually represent the changing seasons.  
  • Use audio recorders as a way for children to verbally express what they are learning.  
    • Pair children with partners and have them take turns retelling stories, the day’s events, or reciting nursery rhymes into the audio recorder. Once they are done, have them play recordings for a friend, taking turns recording their own stories and listening to their partners stories 

Use technology to encourage child-to-child collaboration and to bridge home-school relationships. 

  • Encourage child-to-child collaboration through assigning pairs or small groups of children to complete media activities to support language development. 
    • Many children speak a language other than English outside of schoolBoost these children’s ability to learn a new language by pairing children of mixed English levels to play a digital game jointly, and encourage them to talk with each other about what they are doing as they play 
  • Promote the home-school relationship with the families in your class through the use of technology. 
    • Many families speak a language other than English at home. Use translation apps/websites to translate class letters and other notices into the home languages of your children’s families. You also can ask parents to use audio recorders to record them retelling nursery rhymes or stories in their home language for their children to listen to in school 
    • Capture photoor videos of children during center times and share with families, giving families a sneak peek into their children’s day and providing opportunities for families to talk with their children about the day’s events.

The Integrating Technology Into Early Learning Best Practices and Checklist and other early education tools are available for no cost in English, Chinese, and Spanish, as well as in low-ink, printer-friendly versions at www.edc.org/early-ed-tools.

Please use the following citation for reference:
Sherwood, H. (2019, June 4). Using Research to Build Better PreK Classroom Resources. TEC Center at Erikson Institute. Retrieved from http://teccenter.erikson.edu/early_childhood_educators/buildbetterprek/

Heather Sherwood

Heather Sherwood is a Research Associate at EDC’s Center for Children and Technology, where she works on a variety of large-scale, national research, evaluation, and development projects. Her current work includes developing resources for early childhood educators, but her work primarily focuses on investigating the integration of Computational Thinking within elementary curricula.  Before her career in education research, she was an elementary grade teacher and taught Computer Science classes for after-school programs. Heather earned a Master of Arts in Digital Media Design for Learning at New York University, and received her Bachelor of Arts in Education and Communications from Monmouth University. 

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