Technology for Tots

From the Virginia Society for Technology in Education conference, December 4, 2011 in Roanoke, VA Technology for tots
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We use a lot of tools in our classroom – including paper, pens, colored pencils, scissors, chairs, magnifying glasses, binoculars, blocks, glue, screwdrivers, and pliers. For each task we have to choose the best tool for the job and that is true for technology as well.

With all tools, one critical piece is that I get the tools into the hands of the learners. They aren’t nearly as useful if I’m the only one controlling them. One of the first tools I hand over to the kids are cameras. The pictures and video they take we will use to create other projects. I do keep one digital camera and one flip camera in my pocket throughout the day to capture pictures anytime I want. I have several digital cameras for the kids to use (donated from friends, donated through Donor’s Choose, or bought on the cheap whenever I can) and flip videos all on lanyards. I work closely with small groups the first time they use them but after that they don’t need much support from me. They turn to each other to figure things out.

One place I start is with Pixie. This is a software program from Tech4Learning. It allows students to draw, write, and record. We use it to create avatars, as above, for use in online activities, to illustrate our learning, and to explore new ideas.

Recently we used Pixie and PhotoStory to create a movie about things we are thankful for.
We have also used our cameras to take pictures or video and created movies. Early in the year I take the pictures. Some movies are made because of the learning and processing we are doing as we make the movie, such as this one about our home-school compact for learning. 

Sometimes the movie is made simply so that we can share something we created with a wider audience, as was true for this movie of a book we wrote together. 

Other times the students are using the cameras to take the pictures as was true for these two math videos. We used their pictures in MovieMaker to sort by shapes or by number and recorded our learning.

VoiceThread is a free application we use quite often. Students have recorded their own writing in VoiceThread and then listened to themselves and their classmates. We have documented an activity and our learning in VoiceThread. We have also used VoiceThread to share what we have learned, here about shapes in math.

Animationish is another piece of software. It is from FableVision Learning. We use it to practice writing our high frequency words (something which would otherwise quickly become quite dull) and to explore content (this is about change seen through the life of a frog).

We have a class blog. It's main purpose is to share our learning with our families but it also serves the purpose of giving students a wider audience for their writing and an opportunity to synthesize their thinking about what we've been doing. In the beginning of the year I do the writing but as soon as possible I turn that job over to the students. They choose what they want to write about (hopefully something I have managed to capture in photographs) and dictate to me as I type. I use Google Translate to share our blog in both English and Spanish.

We have also used Primary Wall to record quick thoughts together.

One of my favorite tools is Turtle Art. (Email the contact at that link and they will send you a free download.) This is a logo based programming program in which students can create art. It is really geared at 3rd graders on up, but my first graders loved it and learning a lot about programming, sequencing, problem solving, and math through it.

Lastly, we have a document camera in our classroom which we use almost constantly. It is wonderful for sharing books, student writing, and other student work. All the things that you might have used an overheard for years ago can be done immediately with a document camera. Putting student writing up when they share has meant that we get much deeper comments from their classmates.