How to reap the benefits of Technology in Early Childhood Education?

By Michael Hilkemeijer

Brian Puerling is an early childhood specialist for the Chicago Public Schools and author of books "Teaching in the Digital Age - for Preschool and Kindergarten", "Teaching in the Digital Age - Smart Tools for Age 3 to Grade 3" and "Children in the Digital Age - A Guide for Families". You can watch webinar replays like this in my ICT in Education Teacher Academy where there is 40 + online workshops for preschool teachers that focus on technology use in early childhood education. BECOME A MEMBER FOR JUST $50 PER MONTH (Cancel anytime!).


Video Transcript


- Well, good morning everybody, or good afternoon, or good evening. If you are listening to this webinar overseas, I'm with my special guest, Brian Puerling. Is that how you pronounce it, right?


- Got it.


- Is joining us today. It's my pleasure and privilege to have Brian with us today. He has done much research on digital technology in early childhood, and he has done webinars on that topic. He works for Early Childhood Webinars, is that correct? Currently?


- I work for Chicago Public Schools right now.


- Yep!


- Yep. And I've got a whole slide to kind of show the myriad background that I've got-


- Awesome.


- And for my perspective. Yep.


- Fantastic. Well, I'll leave it over to you, Brian. And if you have any questions, for any of those who are listening, I would encourage you to post them in the chat and then we'll go through them at the end to see if we can get them answered for you. But it's all yours, Brian!


- All right. Let's see here. Are you able to see it? Yes? Okay, great. So, our time together today is really to focus on, you know, what benefits there are in really looking at the opportunities that different educational technology tools can offer teachers and educators in the context of early childhood. To get to know me a little bit, I just kind of wanted to offer my kind of graffiti wall, if you will, of who I am and what I've done. I have worked in the Chicago Public Schools.


I'm back in the Chicago Public Schools. I'm an early childhood specialist working with administrators to make sure that they are maintaining high quality programming. I've worked with the Fred Rogers Center, which is Mister Rogers, if anyone knows who that is out there. I've also worked with children in foster care, I've worked with, you know, media in terms of, with young children, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, PBS, in terms of looking at what the essential curriculum underpinning should be for shows.


And then also, I'm an author as well. I have done some publications in terms of working with wider spans for, you know, children age three to grade three, but then also focused on a smaller span between preschool and kindergarten. Have been a keynote presenter for the New Zealand Early Childhood Council. Loved that work. So I bring a variety of perspectives.


I'm also a parent, that's my daughter, Lydia there. She's not that old, and she's much older now, she's in fourth grade. But like , you use your child as your laboratory, you know, for trying things out.


So just to kind of give you a little bit of a context for what I'm coming to you with today. I just kind of wanted to give us a little bit of a context and a mindset for where we're at today, and I have a little bit of a video just to kind of show you.


And then I'll explain how this video really kind of contextualizes, you know, our time together today. So really it's about, you know, trying to figure out what works, what doesn't work.


And when we look at this image here, which is a very essential toy for young children, but it's also kind of a good metaphor for our work as teachers and as educators, that things aren't always going to work the first time, and we need to try things multiple ways, and sometimes we need some help along the way.


And it's great to ask for help, and it's good to know who are the best people to ask for help. So I kind of have two parts to today's presentation. It's looking at, you know, some classroom practices, and then later on it's gonna be looking at what administrators, what leaders can do, what center directors can do to support the development and expansion of practices of their teachers.


I'm gonna speak to a variety of examples that are both traditional and modern kind of technologies. You know, the traditional, it could be a ruler, it could be, you know, something that doesn't plug in, that looks at making, tinkering, kind of looking at the essentials and foundations of designing and creating. And then the more modern technologies, the things that are plugged in, battery operated, that might be screen-based.


So there's gonna be an integration of those, but also kind of isolating them at the same time because they're all very essential. So looking inside the classroom, what could this possibly look like? One thing that I like to do is really think about what our collaborative approach can look like in a classroom. So at one of the schools that I used to work at, I created a tinker lab, a maker space for our youngest learners, three, four, and five-year-olds.


And this was kind of like our signature space for how we were going to approach our work together, as well as independently. And you'll see, this is a tiled wall with our kind of collaborative agreement in the center. Children this age aren't always able to actually create their own signature, which is what is typically done in older grades.


But each child got their own tile, wooden tile, to then design and create and put their own signature touch on. And so their tiles were put in around the agreement that we had decided on. Also framed in a positive approach, not a do not, but this is what we do. And this is something that everyone sees as soon as you walk into the room. So that helps us kind of reorient ourselves, or orient ourselves, as we get into our work together.


So one of the first things I wanted to share was an example of working with four-year-olds. It was within construction or a building unit working with four-year-olds. In one of our maker spaces, we had 3D printers, and there were a variety of experiences within this unit, but one of 'em was looking at digital design alongside physical design.


So there was building with LEGOs, building with blocks, building with tree blocks, building with bricks, you know, all those essential materials that are necessary. But then also looking at what digital design can look like.


So there have been a variety of apps that were used to help them kind of explore a digital design that could be then exported to our coordinators in this space to then 3D print them, which could then be brought back to their classrooms, put into the dramatic play center, put into the block center, that could be then brought into their play. This is an example of one of their designs.


And just to kind of give you a size scale, this type of print would take about 20 minutes, just to kind of give you an idea, but also something that the kids can take home at the end of the year, which is kind of a small kind of fun trophy to be able to take at the end of the year. We also had an AV studio, and also value the idea of being able to capture moments in video within the units that we had.


So there are two units. One was on sea life, one was on animals. And so we used stop motion, Stop Motion Studio. It's a free app that we had used on our iPads. And we had created very, very short videos, but the videos were to look at character development, but also creating a plan within those. And a storyline, very, very brief, but also all those layers are extremely intentional, but also complex for a four-year-old to pull all together.


But we did a lot of pre-planning with that. So I'll show you the first one. So there were two groups of sea life that were chasing each other, but then kind of came together to exit the sea scene, as you can see. That was the first plan that they had created.


And then the other one is about animals. You're gonna see that there is a cat in the center, and then there are, I believe, dogs on the outside, if I remember right. So if you noticed there, the dogs were chasing the cats, but then the cat jumped off of the stage and then, I think, the dogs jumped off the stage.


And so, before we did our video, we looked around the classroom to decide what characters we were going to use. We were going to decide what the plan was going to be in terms of the snapshots that we were going to make.


And then added upon that, we talked about what sorts of sound effects and music, two different things, would help show and tell our story.


So all of those layers took time, even though it was a very short video, but really pulled together, you know, a story that's essential in terms of early literacy in a video editing context. Self-portraits are very, I don't wanna say popular, but essential, I would say, an assessment that at least we use in the U.S.


And I wanted to find a way to expand what the self-portrait can offer in terms of exhibiting or displaying a child's development over the course of the school year. So we used an app called Chatterpix, which is very simple to use. It's all, I think it's called, yeah, Chatterpix.


There's another one that's essentially the same, and I can't remember the title of it, but you can import a picture into the app, and then you can draw a line on it, and then it will animate it when you offer a recording. So I'm gonna show you what this one looks like. So this is earlier, early in the school year, I should say.


- Hi, my name is Gavin. I am five, and I like to build.


- So one reason why we decided to do this, other than using just the photo, or just the illustration, I should say, is because there is a biobehavioral shift that happens in young children at this age, where they don't just identify themselves as a, you know, a specific gender, or a brother, or a sister, or a preschooler.


They start to identify themselves as aspects of their interests. And we wanted to exhibit that and share that transition using this video. So we thought that this really was a successful way in doing that.


And then, in another way, more back to the making and tinkering, we offered in the tinker lab, an opportunity to design, like, a self-portrait sculpture, if you will. And so what they were able to do is look around the tinker lab and just observe the materials. We had a whole host of materials.


You'll see here, there are just random boxes, there are, you know, pieces of wood, there's markers, there's popsicle sticks, there is toilet paper tubes, there's paper towel tubes. And we had screws. We had, you know, just things that parents had donated.


We're always interested in parents donating things, kind of like a thoughtful and intentional recycling center, is exactly what we were.


But, you know, offered a way for our kids to reuse materials. So, in looking at how to design a self-portrait, we did it in various steps. And the first one you're gonna see here is the sculpture self-portrait plan. And so, having just looked around the room first, they did some sketches.


They came together in pairs and talked about what they had seen, and what materials could be used in different ways. And then started to think about how they could use some of those materials more intentionally to create a self-portrait sculpture.


And so, in this one here, you're gonna see the illustration, but then we were also trying to pull in the literacy at the same time, the labeling, and their invented spelling, to label the different materials that they had observed, and the materials that we had already introduced to them, or that they had perhaps donated or had seen, to begin really thinking about how these materials were gonna come together to create the self-portrait sculpture that they wanted.


So the design plan is on the left, and on the right you have it in progress, as he's pulling the pieces together, and you can see that there are some pieces coming together; the toilet paper rolls, or, sorry, the paper towel rolls, there's the foam, and there are, I think there are some materials that had been abandoned, you know, that happens naturally.


And then, bringing it all together, you can see it all in here. And you can see his plan, you know, was right next to him. He's using that as his roadmap for the whole way, the whole time.


And, as an educator and as a teacher, we were always there checking in with them; "How is it going? How has your plan been working for you? Have you had to make changes?


Have you had to add new materials? Have you had to abandon materials? And if they haven't worked, how come?" Because all of that is very insightful for them to realize how materials can work, and, how well they can work together, and how they don't necessarily always work together.


And this whole idea of the tinkering and making, I'm gonna address later on in another example. But this was one of our really big success stories, because, I don't know if you can see, but right next to Brayden on the table there, is a wooden base.


The initial idea was for their sculpture to fit on that base . Clearly we noticed that right from the get-go that his plan was not going to be able to fit on that base.


So that was feedback for me in the future, you know, when, as a teacher, don't plan so small, because their ideas are much larger and bigger, and be prepared and ready for that, and embrace it.


We also, you know, had lots of conversations about how we can learn about electronics, and how we can be helpful around our classrooms, but around our houses and our homes.


We're always looking for ways to make connections between the house, the home, the community. I feel like sometimes those become isolated. And so we were trying to help them see how they could be helpful around their house, but first being helpful in our space when we recognized opportunities.


So, if you remember from the first slide, or one of the first slides, there was the lights that were on the wall with the tiles around it, the signature tiles, those batteries would go out every once in a while.


So we would look for helpers to try and replace the batteries. So we just gave them tools, and we gave them batteries, and just invited them to explore them to figure out how to replace those batteries and how to get into it, how to figure out how they turned on and off. So I've got a little video to show their exploration and navigation of this.


- Yeah.


- Yes, I did it!


- You certainly did, let's take a look. You did it! How can you turn it off? How do you think you can turn it off? Table? Now press down on it. There you go! So, sometimes there's some scaffolding necessary, but what I really loved about this clip, or what I love about it, is the phrase, "I did it." 'Cause we're always trying to provide children with some agency, self-agency, in what they're able to do on their own, and then move them forward with what else they can do, building on top of that.


And so, that was really a big underpinning, you know, in all the experiences we were trying to provide in this space. So I feel like this video kind of captured that. And it was always interesting to hear the stories about when parents would come in and say, "Oh yeah, they noticed that the batteries were out in the flashlight at home, and we needed to replace them, and they knew how to do that."


So it was exciting to hear and see, you know, the connections that they were making. Kind of going back to a making and tinkering space, this is actually something that my, so my daughter, Lydia, went to the school that I had worked at.


And she was, you know, she was able to come into the tinker space when she was younger. And there was one , this was pre-COVID, but I had a horrible fever and I was feeling terrible, and I had a substitute for me a particular day, and they had an open creation day.


Those were very intentional days that we had where it wasn't a focused creation, it wasn't a focused tinkering and making day, where they could just kind of explore and create something new.


She knew I was home sick, and I had actually gone to Target. You guys have, is there a Target in Australia? I think there is, there might be something similar. Yep!


So, I went to the minute clinic, 'cause I was just feeling terrible. And I had, like, a 103 temperature, and they're like, "Oh no, we can't handle you. We need to call you an ambulance right now." And they brought in a stretcher and they wanted to carry me out on a stretcher. I'm like, "I am not gonna go out of Target on a stretcher. Like, I don't feel that bad."


And so Lydia had found out about this and knew I was feeling bad, and she knew that I needed some soup, so she wanted to make me, and build me, a lap table to have my soup on. So this is what she had created.


She had, you know, looked around the room and found these different pieces of cardboard. We had used golf tees as nails, you know, to kind of secure pieces together.


And so in this situation, she had recognized a problem, or an opportunity to address a problem or a need. And I think need, in terms of the design thinking approach, need is always something to be looking at, to address and to look at and to help address.


So, she brought this home, and this was fantastic. And so this is kind of the foundations that I was speaking to earlier that are really essential, and don't always require something that's plugged in to help kind of cultivate that approach, that framework.


So, I was excited about that. And then, but when we move on to, or when we cultivate that, that transforms as kids learn and teenagers learn different things.


This Natalie Hampton, who was in high school at one point, this is a U.S. citizen, she had noticed that, not at my school, but this is just an example of what this can transform into, cultivating this mindset, that kids were having a hard time finding kids to sit with at the lunch table.


You know, if we all think back to what it's like in the cafeteria, those who don't have a lot of friends, who are not popular, have a hard time figuring out who they're gonna sit with, where they're gonna sit, without risk.


And so she recognized that and created an app where kids could organize tables or groups to sit with before it was their lunch period. So that they knew when they sat at that table, they were gonna be welcome.


They knew that they were gonna be there with a group of individuals that were inviting, and excited for their presence.


So again, that's just kind of the mindset that, you know, where you want to try and cultivate, you know, in the idea of EdTech, what we can kind of be doing and cultivating in terms of problem solving, addressing needs, and opportunities.


So when we look at leadership and administrative support, so we're making a shift right now a little bit, a lot of it was previously kind of focused on what teachers can do, what parents can do, partnerships. It's really important for our leadership and administrative and our center directors to be on board and be supportive as well.


And so there's various ways that we can do that and kind of think about that, and be in the interest of just time management, because that's always something that teachers, parents, and administrators and center directors are up against every single day.


So one of the things is, we're all guilty of these emails that we send out, you know, that have lots of information, and I have, TLDR, which stands for, too long, didn't read, you know?


So we need to be thinking about, are there other creative ways that we can get information to our teachers that invite them into what we're trying to get them to see, understand, and get excited about.


So, thinking outside of the emails, one thing that I started doing were these Two Tips Tuesdays. And so, every Tuesday I would give two tips, the text was extremely minimal, but there was a visual aspect to it. And so, the text would give just a brief description of what it's trying to convey to the teacher.


And I did this for parents as well, and I've done this, yeah, I've done this for parents. But I feel like the visual piece is much more inviting and it is easier to digest the information and what information is trying to be conveyed.


And so I've gotten a lot of positive response to this approach in the past, and just doing two. I have created a map for myself in the past for, depending on what is going to be encountered throughout the school calendar, perhaps it's holidays, perhaps it's vacations coming up, perhaps it's, you know, a season's changing, and really thinking and being very intentional about what these tips are going to be for different parts throughout the year.


And also inviting teacher feedback; what are some tips that you think might be helpful for us to be offering you, and for the other teachers? Again, very succinct. Always keeping it to one page. Very easy, you know, very digestible.


And then kind of digging a little bit deeper, Padlet is a resource that I've used as well. This one was focusing on just for teachers and classroom management strategies. Teachers are always looking for more ideas for classroom management, especially now, coming out of the pandemic.


I don't know how expansive it was in Australia, but in the U.S., it wreaked havoc for sure.


So, we're seeing various responses in, you know, kids haven't had a school experience, so being part of a larger group or a class, is a transition for them, and something that they need some support on.


And sometimes the teachers are gonna be looking for some support for a larger group of kids who need that support. So, I tried to provide, like, a menu of options for some things that they could do, that they could look at.


Padlet offers, you can just, it's basically a virtual bulletin board really, and it can include images, it can include links to documents, links to videos, just notes. If you look closely, there's an add a comment feature.


So if I'm facilitating this and hosting this and a teacher has a question about it, like, "This is great, however I'm experiencing this," I could reply with something that's a little bit more specific, you know, to what their needs are.


So, it's a great space for dialogue. It's a great space for offering very specific support. And it's something that's ongoing and evolving over time, and was very successful. This is a space that I would recommend using with grade level teams.


It's extremely flexible and extremely adaptable. And then, depending on how you use it, you can also apply a password to it.


So it can be public, but if you're gonna be putting photos and videos on there, you can apply the password to make sure to protect the identities of anyone that needs to have that protection. It's a really great resource.


So, as we kind of think about moving forward, I think it's always important to be very mindful and intentional and to really kind of come up with plans and goals. And so, maybe you've heard of this framework before, the SMART Goal framework, and I think it's extremely effective.


It takes a lot of thought and intention and time to really craft yourself a goal out of this framework.


But, what I love about it is, it really sets yourself up for success. So SMART is obviously an acronym; specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. And so even just the question at the bottom of each of these is really, really helpful for you to figure out how to craft a goal that's setting yourself up for success.


I have asked teams that I've led in the past to create goals based on this, and I am being asked to create goals for myself from my supervisors as well.


So, they are very, very effective, because they are really looking at, or at least this framework is looking at, how to look at all the bits and pieces really granularly about what you want to do, how you're gonna do it, setting yourself up for a timeline that makes sense.


- And then moving beyond that, it's looking also at what challenges and obstacles you're going to potentially encounter.


So just thinking about them; you know, you're gonna be bombarded with phone calls and emails and, you know, maybe even text messages, depending on what, you know, digital platforms you use, you might be encountering those.


Field trips are gonna happen. You're gonna have illnesses, sicknesses. You know, right now RSV is running rampant in the U.S., you know, so that's, lice happens, you know, there's so many things that come up. So just thinking about those.


And then you have your, you know, your routine drills that you might have; disaster drills, fire drills, and things like that. Unanticipated classroom management issues that you might be having. And then there's obviously, the other.


So, when you're creating these goals, really think about what, or in what ways you can incorporate these into how those goals might transpire over the course of a period of time that you've identified for yourself.


So I think it's also important for us to just kind of look at the why, why we're doing this, you know, and, how we are really kind of solidifying the bedrock that's necessary for our kids, and what we're doing to move our kids forward in the years ahead.


So just kind of from the design thinking in the computational thinking framework from the tinker lab that I had created, this is just kind of a very, this is like a public facing kind of curriculum that we had shared with families. So they got an idea of what happens at various grade levels.


So just for a context translation; preschool is three-year-olds, junior kindergarten is four-year-olds, senior kindergarten is five-year-olds. So you're gonna see that there are some things that move over, because they go into a deeper level.


And sometimes it's also just because a child might not get it in junior kindergarten, but they might get it in senior kindergarten, based on the type of experiences.


So what's really trying to be, or about trying to be intentional about what your kind of, you know, your through lines are, what your, you know, kind of common denominator curriculum is, and what it should look like, and what you're trying to achieve to support things in primary, moving forward.


There are always technology obstacles, and I think it's also important to prepare for those.


And those obstacles can be wide-ranging. It could be an app didn't go to your device, it could be that your device wasn't charged, it could be, you're having Wi-Fi issues. Be cognizant about what obstacles that you might encounter when planning to use different devices or different apps or different EdTech resources.


One of the things that we encounter, because there were so many apps and so many devices, was that there were apps that all of a sudden went out of business . And they, once the device was updated, you couldn't use the app anymore.


So sometimes I was like, "Well, don't update my device because I wanna be able to keep that app." But in order to use other apps, we had to make sure that our devices were updated to the current operating system.


So, it's all about being able to be flexible, adaptable, and able to pivot when you have to. So, Doodlecast Pro was an app that we loved and used widely. It was an app where you could bring in photographs, and illustrations, and you can incorporate audio recordings, so kids could narrate, or, you know, describe what was happening in the illustration that we had taken a photograph of.


And when that wasn't available anymore, we really had to think, "Okay, we need to look at what other options there are." We quickly found out that, you know, Explain Everything was an option for us, you know?


Or, there was an app by Duck Duck Moose; Draw, Write, Tell, or something like that. So we knew what our options were.


So it's all about, from a leadership standpoint, knowing what those options might be, or alternatives might be, so that when our teachers come to us with this, right now, because they're mad that their app is gone, we can then think about, "Okay, you know what? Let's come together, let's reset, and let's grieve the loss of our previous app, and think about what opportunities we have with resources that we haven't considered yet."


And then, moving forward, like I said, yes, these gifts are just so, so, quintessential for this. So once having told them that they don't work anymore, and then they're mad at us, then we say, "I have got an idea for you. This one I've already looked at, I've vetted it, I've tried it out, it's going to do everything that you wanted to do in the past, and more." And then everything's great.


And helping them, just kind of coaching them through that transition process, is really going to be helpful. I think that, when it comes to EdTech and technology, you know, we really want to nurture the value of being vulnerable and trying new things. Teachers want to be the knowledgeable other, they do.


And I totally get that. But we also just need to help them understand that sometimes we don't always know what the outcome will be, even though you hope in expectation.


But as a leader and an administrator or a center director, if they know that you're gonna be there with them, supporting them trying something new, and if it doesn't go their way, you're not gonna be shaking your finger at them.


You're gonna give 'em a thumbs up and say, "You know what, let's try this differently next time, we're gonna work together on that." So I rushed through a lot , a lot of ideas, a lot of approaches, and I'm hoping that there are nuggets that you are able to take away.


I wanted to leave some time for questions, you know, if there were any. And if you're not vulnerable enough right now to be public about your questions, I put my email in here. If you wanna reach out to me directly, you know, we can have a conversation, whether over email, or set up a chat, you know, to kind of troubleshoot and kind of problem solve, you know, some of the things that you're thinking about, some of the things that you wanna try. So I don't know if there are any questions that have kind of come forward in the chat as of now, or if there are any just in general that we can entertain.



- There's been, no, no questions at all, really, at this moment. But I'm sure if anyone would like to ask you questions, Brian, like you said, just to use your email there, and send them your way, anyway. I found that, you know, very, very enlightening. So thank you so much, you know, for the work that you do, in enabling practitioners to be able to use technology effectively in their teaching and learning environments. So thank you-


- Absolutely.


- For all your work in that. And, you know, look, I found that, you know, one of my best things was, out of this, I really liked the Two Tip Tuesday.


- Yes.


- I thought that was-

- Yep .

- Quite good.


- Yeah.


- And, you know, and, you know, to see some of the work that the young children that you've worked with have done, like, you know, was it a robot? You know, and how they-


- You could actually see how they planned it on paper first.


- Yes, yes.


- You know, it was drawing it down, and doing that, and you used all those different apps as well, you know. It was really quite, you know, yeah-


- That's good. Good, I'm glad.


- Quite informative. So thank you so much, Brian, for your time today.


- Absolutely. No worries, yeah. I'm glad to be able to come to join you today, and looking forward to continuing the conversation with, you know, anyone who wants to join it, and you can figure out other ways to engage together, and maybe have some other webinars on some other focus topics.