Senior kindergarten student Braydon Whitehorn takes a photo of friends.The introduction of full-day kindergarten (FDK) was one significant recent change at Prince of Wales Elementary School. Now, POW’s youngest learners are breaking new ground with classroom technology.
Kindergarten teacher Kristina Thiessen’s students will be experimenting this year with iPod Touches, a laptop, a digital camera, a remote multi-directional microphone and more.
“Last year was the first year of FDK and we took pictures and parents loved the program,” says Thiessen, part of an FDK team that includes early childhood educator Jaclyn Secore. “But parents wanted to know more about what was happening during the day.”
POW is among several HWDSB schools using technology to help capture and enhance the learning of FDK students. All FDK schools are documenting their experience with digital cameras.
But POW, along with Pauline Johnson, Bennetto and Roxborough Park, are going tapping deeper into the 21st-century fluencies, a set of thinking skills and abilities that learners will need in the future.
“We wanted to engage students in full-day kindergarten, and asked, ‘How can we engage them and be responsive to their learning needs in a way that is play-based?’” explains Aaron Puley, an engagement consultant who oversaw the initial technology rollout.
POW and the other involved schools are equipped with Smart Boards, projectors, laptops, iPod Touches, Livescribe pens, scanners, omni-directional microphones and more. Staff received training on the technology.
“It’s very responsive. If there are a lot of butterflies or an accident outside, that can become a topic for students to explore as a class,” Puley says.
“At the individual student level, not everybody needs to be on the same page, and not everyone wants to be. This way, they can customize their own learning because you have given them some new tools.”
For example, POW’s students can play reporter, taking photos of the classroom and their friends. Then they can write short stories documenting ‘Things We Do in our Day.’
Thiessen’s boys last year loved monster trucks, so the class used the Internet and Smart board to create their own shared reading material. Custom-made stories allowed students to understand sequences of events, and to describe what will happen next. She says it encouraged the boys to do authentic writing, and she was thrilled with the results.
“We can really pursue an interest or an idea, as we did with volcanoes,” Thiessen says. “We looked at YouTube volcanoes, and the students were soon using words like ‘magma,’ which was great.”
Another day, students learned about how birds make their homes, and then created their own. “I did the same thing as birds,” senior kindergarten student Braydon Whitehorn says. He still remembers using “mud and woodchips.”
It is just one more way that Internet access can offer digital resources and tools, through educational websites, authentic teaching and learning moments, and opportunities to produce interactive media products. Technology, however, is just a tool; much of the classroom work relates to a new approach to kindergarten. FDK learning is child-centred and play-based.
Teachers with a Snowball microphone in the classroom can record audio from every direction, allowing them to monitor learning that is occurring beyond her view. This can help to build a student’s learning portfolio, using multimedia. It also helps record learning in a way that is easy to share, and review.
Puley says technology can also challenge basic concepts in literacy: when a five-year-old can narrate a story using a microphone, are they an author? Does ‘writing’ mean something different in the 21st century, especially when oral language skills is considered an early step toward other forms of literacy.
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