Young kids can do it too!

Written by Alfina Jackson

The students were glued to the screen with questioning looks upon their faces. They listened to the voice teaching them about bees and paused the video to write down facts in their retrieval chart.  

One of them suddenly looked up with a look of surprise on his face.  

“Miss, that is YOU!” he cried and immediately his peers looked up with the same lightbulb moment. “I want to be a YouTube star like you!” 

This Year 1 child was a reading recovery student who hated writing. Yet, after 3 weeks of guidance, he proudly researched, wrote and published his own one-minute YouTube video about bees.  

People underestimate the ability of younger children when it comes to technology. We all hear the same excuses…”they can’t log on”…”it’s too hard for them”…”it takes them too long to do it”… Yet, in this example, with guidance in a class of 20-something children, a child was able to demonstrate his learning in a creative way. The task was to write an informative text with correct structural and language features. Creating the video was the motivator for him to ensure he was able to successfully complete the writing task.  

In restaurants, parks and public locations, children are often glued to screens. They are engaged in content consumption of some form: playing games, watching videos, viewing photos. When students are given a device in school, they have grown up with the knowledge that their tablet or PC is a leisure device. The challenge of a teacher is to change that mindset in order to educate these digital natives that technology can go beyond that concept. Teaching children about content creation in the guise of play can help them learn the skills needed to use technology as an educational tool.  

One common dissent is the often-cumbersome logging on process put in place by schools. There are 22 characters after the @ symbol that students need to type in often a multi-step authentication process. BYOD situations are easier, especially with the introduction of biometrics in some devices, but in shared technology classrooms teachers need to think creatively on how they support young students, who are often learning the alphabet themselves, with the logging on process. Rainbow keyboard stickers are an easy solution to helping students navigate a confusing keyboard that is, as described by one of my students, ‘all mixed up’. Log-on cards can be created in the same colours as the letters of students’ names to help them locate the letters they need. Also remember, most keyboards are uppercase letters, so when little John is trying to find the ‘h’ in his name, he may not know that ‘H’ is the same letter. I also like to set the weekly homework task of typing their username into a word processing document to help them with letter recognition as well. Spending a term persevering to teach students how to log onto a device gives you three terms of amazing creativity, rather than wait to Term 4 ‘when they are old enough’ as I usually hear.

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Once students are beyond the logging-in processes, tasks they complete are only limited to the imagination of the teacher. However, sometimes starting off with lower-order playful tasks to teach students the software can maximise your teaching time in the long-run. Creating simple alphabet or sight word books using presentation software (MS PowerPoint, Apple Keynote, Google Slides, Explain Everything) or book creation or poster software (Book Creator, PicCollage, Google Draw, MS Publisher) can help students learn about the software in an easy and fun way.

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When ready to move onto higher-order tasks, like any other task, activities need to be scaffolded and explicitly taught to ensure the students can be successful. In the bee video example, the steps to create the video were introduced with scaffolds, conferencing and guidance, together with a rationale as to why a film maker would not just start filming (as many of the students wanted to jump straight to that!). Due to the availability of technology in the classroom, all students did not use the same identical hardware and software to create their videos. Students used ipads, PCs and EasySpeak Mics as hardware with students creating in the web-based PowToons, iMovie or MS MovieMaker. By the end of the process, these Year 1 students were very proud of the videos they created.

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As students progress through their school journey, teachers with high expectations encourage students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways. Having high expectations of how technology is used is no exception. Allowing students to show their learning using apps that appeal best to them is part of the creative learning process. Students need to judge whether or not an app is the best tool to demonstrate their knowledge. In addition, students can start ‘app smashing’ or using multiple technological tools to create a final product. Explicitly teaching students how to have the stamina to work on a project over several lessons marries with the high expectations of what students can achieve. Just like a musical instrument made of recycled materials may take several lessons, it may take students several lessons to create a final demonstration of their learning.

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This Year 4 student created this educational resource to teach others about 2D Space. She used the iPad app Skitch to annotate her photograph then recorded herself further annotating the image in Explain Everything.

My three-year old sits with me while I create interactive books in Book Creator on the iPad based on experiences we have shared together. He now helps me select the photos he wishes to include. With correct modelling, I wonder what he will be able to create once he in 5, 10 or 15? With time, scaffolding and high expectations, teachers of young students can set children up with the tools they need to be fabulous content creators rather than content consumers. These teachers set the foundations for reading, writing and arithmetic, and without these sound foundations there are dire repercussions for the older years of schooling. The same applies for technology – with the proper foundations, students can blow our minds with what they can create – they just need the opportunities and foundations to get them started.

Please come and join me at the National Education Summit Brisbane on 31 May and 1 June 2019 - Digital Classrooms conference where I will present a keynote and workshop around this topic.

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