High Tech – High Touch

Hedda SharapanThe new technology position statement has just been released by NAEYC (the National Association for the Education of Young Children), and it’s creating a lot of discussion. I’ve had some interesting talks with directors and teachers who are trying to find appropriate ways to bring technology into the classroom. Of course the key word is appropriate.

When you think about it, that’s how Fred Rogers approached television. He set out to use the new technology of his day – television – to communicate with children, because he felt that when used appropriately, it could be a great tool for their learning in all domains – cognitively, emotionally, socially and physically.

The position statement is full of information, but there’s one key point that stood out for me because it’s so closely aligned with an essential element in our work: Using technology to foster communication and relationships.

Fred felt strongly that “screens” should not be used as a substitute for human communication. He originally named our production company Family Communications, because his goal was to create experiences that parents and children would watch together and talk about. He firmly believed the best technology connects children with others and the world around them in positive ways.

Whatever level of technology is appropriate or available in your setting, I thought you might be interested to know about some ideas I’ve heard from teachers who are connecting “screen” time and human interaction in these ways:

To encourage conversation

Let’s ask children to talk about how they solved a problem in a computer activity or how they created something on the screen. When we listen to children talk with us about how they’re using the technology, we have another opportunity to show we care about their ideas, thoughts and feelings. And we might be surprised to know how much they’re learning as they work with the new technology.

To build cooperation

Help the children use the technology to work together -- in pairs or in small groups -- to encourage cooperation and conversation. In the latest technology-focused Young Children Journal from NAEYC, there’s an important observation that children tend to work together when they’re using electronic tablets – even when they’re working on separate tablets…even when they’re drawing pictures on them! Teachers are amazed to find how much more collaborative that drawing experience is than the individual work at an easel where one child creates his or her own artwork.

To expand learning experiences

I heard about a teacher who searched for online animal photos to prepare children for their trip to the zoo. She felt the zoo trip was much more meaningful because the children had a better understanding of the animals and their habitat beforehand. Another teacher told me that the children were asking how bears hibernate, so she found an online video to show them.

While I’m struggling along with everyone else to find ways to use technology appropriately, I try to keep in mind something I learned from Fred: Let’s not get so fascinated by what the technology can do that we forget what it can’t do. As he always reminded us, “It’s through relationships that we grow best and learn best.”

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