Educator Mark Baley, Director of the Pacific University Child Learning and Development Center, describes how two kindergarten teachers Aja Appel and Katie Furgison provided a five-year-old child, who was fascinated with the Titanic, materials to explore and express his interests, which also helped him develop his small motor and social skills.
A five-year-old kindergartner focused most of his daily classroom time on working through various scenarios that involved the Titanic. Whenever he could – when using manipulates, building materials, or at free play - he created models of the ship. He attempted to talk to other children about the Titanic, but was not making successful connections with his peers. His teachers also noticed through his drawings and use of manipulates, that his small muscles were somewhat undeveloped for a kindergartener.
His teachers discussed ways to support his individual needs. This included supporting his exploration of the Titanic, which he was passionate about, but also ways to help him interact with other children and develop his fine motor skills.
His teachers continued to support his use of building materials, art materials, and free play to work through his fascination with the Titanic, and at the same time they offered him a book and interactive CD-ROM of the Titanic with a large screen desktop computer, which allowed him to explore the ship. Using a mouse, he navigated the virtual ship and narrated what was happening: “That’s the engine room!” “Those are the lifeboats!” The other children became intrigued. They approached him, asked him questions and learned about the Titanic from him as he narrated, described and explained what was happening on screen.
In addition to offering him a way to connect with his peers, he navigated the virtual ship using a mouse, which helped him improve his small motor skills.
How This Approach Worked
As he piloted this virtual tour of the Titanic, friends who wanted to hear the story and see the pictures surrounded him. He had to use the mouse carefully and precisely to navigate this tour. His social skills and small motor skills began to show improvement over a couple of weeks. The CD also put him (virtually) on the bridge of the titanic. It gave him access to her lifeboats, to her boiler rooms and swimming pool and the steerage and the cabins and everyplace else. He was now experiencing the Titanic on a different cognitive level, and this time with social and small motor supports.
Although this kindergartener continues to explore the Titanic months later he has also moved on to other topics and has expanded his explorations into a wide range of vehicles and scenarios. This exploration provided a catalyst that allowed him to deeply work through something important to him, and at the same time he was able to expand his social connections and develop his fine motor skills.
This example describes a transmedia exploration of a topic that involved technology but was not about the technology. There was a careful and intentional selection of the digital and other materials that allowed him to go deep into the concepts that he was exploring, and that empowered new ways of learning.
Examples of Technology That Supports Early Learning:
Parent educators in Maine integrate iPads into a curriculum that provides parents of migrant preschoolers with early literacy and math activities to help their children get ready for school.
A 4-year-old boy, who speaks only Chinese, uses an iPad to write a digital story that allows him to share details about his home life with the other children in his preschool classroom.