Learning to use technology through play

As part of my research I am interested in how technology can be used to support teaching and learning in early years education. This week I have been reading an article by Jo Bird and Susan Edwards which looks at how children can use play to learn about technology.

The abstract describes their study:

Digital technologies are increasingly acknowledged as an important aspect of early
childhood education. A significant problem for early childhood education has been how
to understand the pedagogical use of technologies in a sector that values play-based
learning. This paper presents a new framework to understand how children learn to use
technologies through play. The Digital Play Framework is based on the sociocultural
concept of tool mediation and Corrine Hutt’s work regarding epistemic and ludic activity
as basis for understanding play. The Digital Play Framework presents a series of indicators for how children learn to use technologies as cultural tools, first by exploring the functionality of technologies through epistemic activity, and second by generating new content through ludic activity.

The authors identify play as the basis of early years pedagogy and recognise that technology is being used more and more in these settings. They suggest that a common concern is that play can be displaced by technology which can prevent children from using their imagination

One of the areas of the article I found most interesting was an examination of Hutt’s work which identifies two types of play. These are linked to how children use technology:

  • epistemic – exploratory activity, for example, exploring the device and working out what it does and how to use the different functions.
  • ludic – once the child has mastered how to use the device they can then use it in more imaginative ways by focusing on what they can do with it.

Their research produced a Digital Play Framework which identifies behaviours associated with the different stages.  The Epistemic first stage may start with “seemingly random use of a device”. This will then progress to finding out how to do specific things with the device. For example, knowing how to take a picture with a camera, or how to playback a video on an iPad.

At the Ludic stage, children will know how to operate the device and will use their knowledge to use it for a specific purpose. For example, taking photos a model they have built, or using an iPad to film of their pretend play to share with others.

I like the distinction between the different types of play and the importance of recognising the different types of experiences children need when using technology. It is not enough to put out a new device and expect them to start using it purposefully straightaway. However, as I was reading I was thinking about whether all of the different activities they described were in fact play. This is probably due to my perception of play and is an area I need to look at further, I know there are many different types of play.

I did not get a clear sense of what the adult role was during the activities described and to be fair this is identified as an area that needs to be considered in future research. Some of the activities seemed to require adult direction or at least would require an adult to encourage children to focus their attention on specific aspects of a device. This did not fit will my perception that play is child led. I need to spend some time thinking more about this as it may be that the adult’s role could be more subtle that I first thought.

The adult role is a theme that has recurred during my research and I will blog about it again soon.

The full reference for the article is:

Bird, J., & Edwards, S. (2014). Children learning to use technologies through play: A Digital Play Framework. British Journal of Educational Technology, n/a-n/a. doi:10.1111/bjet.12191

It includes these references to Hutt’s work:

Hutt, C. (1966). Exploration and play in children. Paper presented at the Symposia of the Zoological Society of London, London, England.
Hutt, S., Tyler, C., Hutt, C. & Christopherson, H. (1989). Play, exploration and learning. A natural history of the preschool. London, England: Routledge.

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More edtech resources to support early years

Resources

Carol Allen at North Tyneside LA talked to the action research group about  resources  that could be used to support teaching and learning in the early years.

There are some resources that are specially designed for early years education, like the  mobile phones or metal detectors. Carol had a fishing game that she had bought from a charity shop, this had letter cards with magnets on that could be found using the detectors.But other toys that are not specifically designed for education can be just as good.She talked about voice activated toys like the puppies in the pictures above. These can encourage children to speak clearly as they will want to make the toys respond. Another voice activated toy is Talking Tom . The toy allows children to play with something concrete, before moving on to the more abstract app.

Books

Carol shared a couple of useful books The Finger Sports Game that could be used to strengthen fine motor control and The Game of Shadows that could be used with torches to create shadow stories. She suggested providing children with a range of different torches – different sizes, wind up torches, battery operated.Children could then compare the different torches to see which ones work best, and if some don’t work they can discuss why this might be.

MadeBooks

 

Practitioners and children can make their own books and using Velcro can make them interactive. Clicker is a great way of making electronic books really easily. These can be printed out and both real and electronic books can be shared with other classes,

 

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Computational Thinking in the Early Years

 

barefoot-ct-poster-for-website

It can be useful for early years practitioners to know about Computational Thinking and the language that will be used in computing  at Key Stage 1 . Computational thinking is not about technology but about problem solving. The above image comes from Barefoot Computing.

The key concepts match much of what already happens in early years and can be useful when explaining to other staff, and especially those that were not early years specialists, what their children were learning.

The key concepts are:

  • Logic – building on what children know, asking what do you know, what can you tell me about?
  • Algorithms – doing anything step by step to get to an end point, learning routines and systems, following instructions, creating a flow chart to follow
  • Decomposition – big problem solving, break it down into little steps
  • Pattern recognition – repeating patterns, spotting patterns
  • Abstraction – getting rid of details that you don’t need, focus on what’s important
  • Evaluation – reflect on what they have done, how to make it better, how to change it for some people to make sure they can do it too

 

Thanks to  Claire Graham from North Tyneside who talked about this at the Action Research group meeting in April

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Squishy Circuits

Squishy Circuits are made from play dough and allow children to explore electronic circuits.Special recipes for the play dough and more information can be found on the Squishy Circuits project page 

The video above explains some of the things that Squishy Circuits can be used for.

Squishy Circuits can be a teacher led activity or a more open ended exploratory activity. An initial activity could be making a model do something, e.g. children could create a junk model with a light or a buzzer on. Another possible activity is to put out different types of batteries or blocks of batteries of different sizes, explore what affect this has on bulbs, see how many things (bulbs, buzzers, motors) you can get working at the same time.

These are activities that all children will enjoy. It will give purpose to children who may spend a lot of time with play dough but who always make the same things. It can also encourage children who may never use play dough to do so.

 

Thanks to  Claire Graham from North Tyneside who talked about this at the Action Research group meeting in April

 

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Exploration versus direct teaching

I was talking with a group of teachers a few days ago about introducing new technology to early years children. While it is sometimes important to demonstrate new technology and talk about how to use it (and to establish rules about how not to use it), the group agreed that it was sometimes just as important to give children the chance to find out how a resource worked for themselves. Our discussion reminded me of some research I saw a while ago which suggests than showing children how to use something might result limiting what they do with it.

Don’t show, don’t tell?

In this study researchers from MIT looked at the responses of children when they were given a new toy. The children were split into four different groups: One group were shown one of the things the toy could do.  In the second group the researcher demonstrated this one thing before going away. In the third group the researcher “accidentally” discovered one of the things the toy could do. For the final group the researcher simply showed the children the toy without demonstrating any of the things it could do.

Children from the first group spent less time playing with the toy and did not find any of the other things it could do. Other children played with it for longer and discovered what else it could do. The conclusion is that while direct instruction is appropriate it some circumstances teachers should be willing to point out what they don’t know and encourage children to think for themselves.

 

The full reference for the MIT research is:

Bonawitz, E., , P. S., Spelke, E., e, & , L. S. The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery. Cognition, 120.

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