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Technology and Early Learning: Part Four Grey Matter: Child Development and Technology

Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH). She is a member of the Educational Advisory Board for The Goddard School and senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
This piece was originally published on 02/25/2015 on the 
HMH blog.

At the beginning of this year, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center published Ten for ’15: Education Reform for a Shared Promethean BoardFuture, a list of ten takeaways and resolutions designed to give educators inspiration as they plan for a successful 2015.

Number five on that list is a call to rethink the brain. It may sound like a strange concept, but new, cutting-edge research on early brain development can help us gain a deeper understanding of early literacy and related behaviors.

So, let’s rethink the brain today.

First, some brain basics: Beginning in the prenatal period, the brain develops in a predictable sequence, accommodating a range of functions from the most basic to the most complex, from the birth of new nerve cells to the formation of intricate networks of transmitters that allow those cells to communicate.

The brain undergoes astonishing growth during early life. In fact, it doubles in size during a child’s first year, and by age three, the brain reaches 80 percent of its adult volume. We also know that genetic inheritance and interaction with the environment, including human interactions with family and others, profoundly impact the wiring of the brain. This, in turn, impacts a child’s developing sense of resilience and his or her cognitive abilities, achievements, health and happiness.

Dr. Patricia Kuhl, Co-Director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Science at the University of Washington, is currently expanding our knowledge about how young brains develop. She has been studying the period between eight and ten months of age — a critical time for early brain development — focusing specifically on language acquisition.

Her research confirms that by the time that babies are eight months old, they can discriminate all sounds of all languages. They are truly “citizens of the world.” Then, at around ten months of age, there is an important shift. They start to become “culture bound” listeners.

In a TED talk on the subject, Dr. Kuhl explains that as babies are busy collecting information about the world, human contact is essential for translating that data into language. Put simply, human interaction — the social brain function — plays a dramatic role in language acquisition. Very young children need human contact for learning and communicating. They won’t learn from a screen.

The research leads us to important questions: How exactly does technology impact developing brains, especially in the earliest years? What are the long-term implications as children grow? Is it too soon to tell?

Gary Small, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UCLA has noted that the brains of digital natives are “wired to use [technology] elegantly.”  But he also cautions that young people between the ages of eight and 18, many of whom spend 11.5 hours a day on digital devices, are lacking in ability to use human technology.  They may struggle with face to face conversations, non-verbal cues and eye contact – the same type of human interactions that are so critical for initial language acquisition.

Technology isn’t going anywhere. To ensure healthy developmental growth for little ones, balance is key. Here are a few tips to help families find that equilibrium:

  • Seek Expert Advice: The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests avoiding television and other forms of electronic entertainment for infants and children under the age of two.
  • Go Screen-Free: Create screen-free zones in your home, and use them! Create areas to read books, draw, play board games, dance and perform plays and music, and schedule time outside for physical activities.
  • Make Family Time Count: Avoid using digital devices during family meals, especially dinner; use family time for real-time, face-to-face communication.
  • Maintain a Digital Diet: Be thoughtful about the digital content your children consume. Check out our previously recommended resources to help select quality digital content.
  • Be a Role Model: Remember that children model YOUR behavior. Are you distracted by digital devices when you’re with your children? Do the majority of your family interactions include a screen? Plan an unplugged weekend! Be aware if you are using technology as a babysitter — such habits can creep in quickly.

When it comes to screen-time for kids, the choice of apps, games and films may seem endless. But just a little knowledge about the developing brain provides a golden rule – above all, human interaction and connection are the greatest learning tools we have.

Technology and Early Learning: Part Three Bridging the Digital Divide
Practical Resources for Educators

Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH). She is a member of the Educational Advisory Board for The Goddard School and senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
This piece was originally published on 02/05/2015 on the HMH blog.

Just over 30 years ago, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates shared a vision for a society with “a computer on every desk and in every Girl at computerhome.” We’ve made great progress since then – over 80% of the American population now has a home computer and more people than ever now use the internet. From smartphones to Skype, digital resources shape much of our daily lives.

Today’s edtech landscape is exciting, with adaptive technology, learning management tools and interactive content designed for students on-the-go. However, we still have work to do when it comes to digital equity and closing the digital divide — the Pew Research Center reports that digital access varies drastically by state and geography.

Furthermore, educators report a number of barriers to smooth tech integration in the classroom, from budget challenges to low-bandwidth internet connections to lack of professional development, and many have also observed that their classroom’s use of technology remains basic – word processing, video projection or simple research.

We’ve explored the concept of “too much” tech and the importance of a digital diet in the last post, but what’s at stake when learners do not have access to digital learning resources?

Here’s some food for thought about the digital divide and education:

  • 72% of public K-12 schools and the majority of public libraries do not have sufficient broadband to support 21st century learning.
  • 30% of households do not have high-speed internet, making it difficult for students to benefit from digital learning tools at home.
  • Teachers and students in underserved areas disproportionately carry the burden of these access issues.
  • 85% of teachers surveyed by the Pew Research Center seek out their own opportunities for professional development around effective use of tech; 75% say digital tools have added new demands to their lives.
  • 84% of teachers worry that access to new technology is leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and districts.

Comprehensive digital literacy and advanced technology training has become more essential than ever to career development and college-readiness. We can’t afford to have some students using microblogs, creating podcasts and communicating with instructors via social networks, while others struggle with outdated hardware and limited internet connections. Without holistic action to bridge this access gap, many young people (and educators) will be left behind. 

Digital equity is a complex systemic issue that stretches beyond the education space, but it is not insurmountable and individual actions will make a difference. So, what can educators looking to increase access and sharpen skills within their own classrooms and communities do to move forward? There’s plenty:

Look To Your Greater Community

  • Explore creating technology alliances with civic organizations such as the YMCARotary, and Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Local community colleges, colleges and universities have some of the best technology resource centers around. They also often have services for the greater community, like volunteer mentoring programs and free or inexpensive workshops.
  • Children’s museums offer age-appropriate technology centers for teachers, parents and kids. See if there is an Intel Computer Clubhouse in your community and encourage students to join.
  • Create relationships with local businesses. Many are interested in community investment and can offer professional development for teachers and/or resources for students.

Utilize Complimentary Tech Support 

  • Stores that sell computers often hold workshops for people that have recently purchased equipment. Sales people can be very knowledgeable and eager to help you better understand the technology landscape.
  • All tech companies provide tutorials, videos and product information for their products. Increasingly, customer service support is available by online chat in addition to toll-free phone calls and is reliable and real-time.
  • Internet and telecommunications providers routinely have school and at-home programs available for communities and families that do not regular have internet access. 

Visit Your Local Library Network

  • Make a standing appointment with a local resource librarian. Libraries often offer free courses or seminars. You could even provide questions prior to your appointment to maximize learning time.
  • Most public libraries now offer computer and internet access. Don’t be afraid to ask the librarians for information about access – what are the rules or guidelines for young users? Are there times when the computer stations are used for classes, or are very busy? Are there branches of your local library network that are especially well-equipped?
  • Check out a book! There are many great print resources on technology for beginners looking to enhance their digital skills and expertise.

Technology is best learned through practice. If one thing is certain about the tech boom, it is that the digital landscape is constantly evolving. It is easier to gain confidence when you understand that learning new things is an inherent part of using and benefitting from technology. And don’t be scared to learn from your students – they make great teachers, too!

Technology

As we know, technology is changing at an unbelievable rate. When we were little, modern devices were just a dream.Smart Table Now, technology makes more inventions possible, and it is constantly changing. Technology is very exciting, but have you ever asked what it is?

According to Merriam-Webster, technology is the “practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area.” (“Technology,” 2015) Technology makes things so much easier and more convenient. Think of the items that have been created in science to make life easier and better. Devices, such as pacemakers and bionic legs, have been invented to improve our quality of life. Devices can also help make car rides with children more pleasurable or calmer, and other devices can make cooking easier. As technology improves, schools will include more technology at every level of education. These may include interactive boards, computers, digital cameras and tablets just to name a few.

However, remember that even though technology makes things easier, real hands-on experiences cannot be replaced. Technology cannot replace the feel of hugs, dirty hands, paint, and the wind in your hair; the sights of the brightness of the sun or a child’s smile; or the smell of hot dogs cooking on the grill. Therefore, remember to use technology to enhance learning at home, not to replace real-life experiences.

Technology [Def. 1a]. (2015).  In Merriam-Webster., Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/technology.