Meaningful Technology and Curriculum
Mary-Ann Vardakas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
University of Ontario Institute of Technology
This chapter discusses the components of a meaningful curriculum as well as meaningful use of technology at the Kindergarten to Grade 2 level. The most common characteristics of meaningful curriculum and technology use in this chapter are derived from a variety of literature on the topic of curriculum and technology. Common understandings of what makes curriculum meaningful is connectedness, relevance, integration and engaging pedagogical approaches. Authentic technology use is use of technology that supports the development of 21st century skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation. The barriers associated with technology integration from K-2 is addressed. Pedagogical approaches, recommended applications and considerations when using technology to support learning in an early years context are discussed in this chapter and what should be emphasized (ex., greater focus on concrete learning and oral communication). How the various 21st century competencies can be developed using developmentally appropriate digital applications to support learning, assessment and skill development is discussed. A variety of apps for assessment practice, metacognition and 21st century competencies are recommended some that can be used both by the educator and the student.
Keywords: early primary, K-2, Kindergarten, meaningful curriculum, modern learning, technology integration, 21st century skills
Meaningful curriculum and technology use have a number of defining characteristics which are present across all learning contexts and divisions. This chapter will discuss what meaningful curriculum and technology use means at the early primary level (Kindergarten- Grade 2). There are a number of different considerations when planning, delivering and assessing meaningful curriculum through the use of technology for students in Kindergarten to Grade 2 as many are emergent literacy learners. This chapter discusses the shared understanding of what meaningful curriculum and meaningful use of technology as well as the barriers of technology integration found in the literature, and discusses the use of types of technology tools that will best support student learning in these grades with some specific examples of current digital tools that can be used to support the competencies and other components in the meaningful technology section.
In order for a curriculum to be relevant to young learners there must be a strong connection created between the child and the curriculum focus and they need to feel represented in what they are learning and understand how they fit into the big picture (OME, 2013). Educators need to “focus on the subjective experiences of students and engage them in new meaningful and exciting ways” (Fullan, 2013, p. 20). Some of the foundational pieces of emergent curriculum and curriculum in the early primary grades are “connecting deeply with nature: environmental stewardship, the environment as another teacher, and learning collaboratively as a community” (Elliot & Krusekopf, 2017, p. 383). In order to make connections, learners should find relevance in what they are learning with various aspects of their lives. Through connection and positive engagement with the world around them at an early age, students develop an appreciation for diversity, empathy skills and responsible citizenship skills in the future (Snape & Fox- Turnbul, 2013). Snape and Fox-Turnbul (2013) also explain that “there is a greater authenticity when there is connection to the larger social context of the students’ lives.” (p. 54). A curriculum which is designed in a way that allows the learner to connect with it can create an engaging learning experience and maintain motivation throughout the learning process.
Cross-curricular integration surfaced as a major characteristic of a meaningful curriculum in the literature. Integration of curriculum across a variety of subject areas can help create deeper learning experiences by avoiding fragmentation and isolation of skills, children can also make more connections and transfer of knowledge can take place as students are given many contexts and opportunities to practice skills and learn concepts (OME, 2013). Furthermore, a curriculum which can be integrated across a variety of curricula can be engaging to young students (ex., kindergarten aged learners) as they are naturally interested in a variety of subject areas such as science, math and engineering and have a natural understanding of mathematical thinking and scientific concepts before beginning a formal education (Clemens & Sarama, 2016). Educators should provide opportunities for mathematical and scientific learning during language instruction and throughout the school day.
Not only is curriculum design important, but also the way the educator teaches the curriculum. Pedagogical approaches and strategies are key to making learning meaningful. Social learning is the foundation of constructivism which includes social interaction, the more knowledgeable other (usually an educator but could also be a peer) and zone of proximal development (Kay, 2016). The teacher’s role is a guide who facilitates learning and this is a student-centred approach. Children in the early years of their education are naturally wired to partake in the inquiry process by asking questions about the happenings in their world (Clemens & Sarama, 2016), therefore teaching in a way and framing curriculum in a way which is aligned with children’s natural curiosity can make learning engaging and effective.
In inquiry-based learning, “students learn on their own, alone or in groups, by answering questions and solving problems with their teacher’s help, coaching and guidance (Prensky, 2010, p. 13). In order to foster young learner’s inquiry based learning skills, it can be helpful to organize the curriculum into key questions and big ideas. By nature, children in kindergarten to grade two are naturally questioning the world around them, big ideas are “enduring understandings” and through exploration of these key questions students are “encouraged to become creators of their understandings and not passive receivers of information” (OME, 2013).
A variety of formative assessment strategies (as learning) need to be implemented into the learning process over time in order for the educator to accurately see the learner’s unique strengths and needs and to allow students to self-monitor their own learning. Tests should not be used a metric for summative achievement but as one tool part of a wider repertoire of tools to assess student understanding, learning and to provide feedback throughout the process (Donovan et al., 2002). Feedback is a key component to effective assessment which will help keep the learner motivated and aid in the “reconceptualization of learning” (Peggy, 2009, p. 62). Teaching metacognitive strategies explicitly can improve student learning and help the learner take control of their own learning through these self-monitoring skills (Donovan et al, 2002).
Meaningful use of Technology in the Early Primary Grades
Kermani and Aldemir (2015) write “discussion of technology integration should move beyond whether technology use is appropriate, and rather focus on how to integrate this medium in early childhood education classroom in a developmentally appropriate manner” (p. 1505). It is not meaningful if educators are using technology tools just for the sake of using technology in the classroom. The tools used in a primary classroom need to be chosen carefully to ensure developmental appropriateness, to ensure there is a specific intent and that they are supporting and fostering 21st century skills. In order for technology and digital tools to be deemed as meaningfully used they must support the development of the following competencies.
Critical thinking involves project management skills, problem solving skills and informed decision making based on detailed analysis of large amounts of information (OME, 2016). Educators need to create authentic learning experiences in real life context in order to develop critical thinking skills. Collaboration requires teamwork, sharing and building upon each other’s ideas, co-constructing knowledge, showing empathy and networking in person and online (OME, 2016). In order for true collaboration to happen, the digital environment and physical environment conducive to learning and successfully teach students to collaborate there must be a digital and physical sense of community (Donovan et al., 2002). Mastering different forms of rhetoric and communicating effectively through listening speaking and writing through many modes and digital tools is a 21st century competency (OME, 2016). Young learners from Kindergarten to grade 2 communicate mostly through oral communication. This needs to be carefully considered when selecting digital tools to help students explain their thinking and how to best honour their voice. Creativity is when learners search for solutions or ideas to fill a gap or solve a problem, while innovation builds on concepts and ideas that contribute to or improve an already existing area or solution (OME, 2016).
Barriers Associated with Technology Integration in the Early Grades
According to Preito et al., (2014), researching the factors which lead to adoption of technology by teachers is crucial to the success of tech integration and for this reason the authors regard the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) as an effective model to be applied in an educational context to analyze teachers’ and students’ attitudes of technology adoption. There is limited research of technology adoption and integration at the kindergarten to grade 2 level, but in the few articles found which address technology use in kindergarten, and one of which has specifically applied the TAM, the factors which hinder teachers from authentically integrating technology into their kindergarten programs in different parts of the world are perceived lack of tech skills, training, and lack of guidance with a kindergarten focus which influence their perception of usefulness of a technology and ease of use (Ihmeideh & Al Maadadi, 2018). Lin (2011) describes some other factors that impact success of tech integration in the classroom some of which include adequacy of technology being used, policy support but most importantly the frequency and efficiency of how the technology is being used.
Apps Which can Contribute to Making Curriculum Meaningful
Authentically embedded technology use and digital tools should support the competencies of the 21st century. Apps such as Evernote support authentic assessment practice and self-assessment skill development. Teachers can take videos, photos and anecdotal notes of their young learners and organize the evidence into portfolios to be used to communicate their learning with parents or to be used by students to self-reflect on their learning. By using VoiceThread, primary level teachers can create digital portfolios for their students. Students can annotate their thinking orally throughout a project or unit of study. This is suitable for very young learners whose writing skills are still in the emergent stages and can be used both by the educator and the student. Using Pic Collage EDU, in early primary classrooms can create many authentic assessment opportunities for students and is easy for emergent learners to use independently and thus allowing them to take ownership of their learning for goal setting and developing self- assessment skills (Schmidt, 2013).
Below are apps suitable for teachers to use to help young learners develop the skills needed for the 21st century competencies. Young learners need concrete representations of concepts in order to learn best and for this reason Augthat is a suitable tool used by educators to apply augmented reality to concepts across many subject areas. FlipGrid can help develop children’s oral communication skills at a time in their learning when they are still developing their writing skills. This app allows young children to explain their thinking orally through video. Parents can support students in the primary grades with using Google Classroom instead of a classroom website as a way to interact and collaborate with their classmates and teachers and provides young learners with access to an online learning community. Digital storytelling apps such as Lipa Theatre can be used by students to create original stories through voice, animations and video can support the development of creativity and innovation. Students can also build upon stories or videos that their peers, or teacher has created.
There are different ways of delivering the curriculum in a relevant way to learners in the early primary years. At the K-2 level greater emphasis should be made on tools that develop oral communication skills to help accommodate the emergent readers and writers. In order for students to be successful in their learning they must be taught the curriculum through pedagogical approaches which are engaging and emphasize the relevance of the curriculum to their lives. Furthermore, the technology used to facilitate learning needs to support and develop 21st century skills in a developmentally appropriate way. Technology which can be used independently by young learners to represent their thinking and be used by educators to monitor and assess student learning through many forms of documentation should be a priority when creating learning environments which use technology authentically.
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