By Michael Hilkemeijer
Case studies can show that ICT can be used to support aspects of learning including language development and mathematical thinking, and can also provide unique opportunities for scaffolding and supporting learning for children with special learning needs, and children from diverse cultural or language backgrounds.
What is clear from the case studies that I have come across is that young children incorporate digital technologies into their play experiences naturally based on what they see in their lives around them. It is exactly the same with traditional resources.
Constructionism is about constructing children’s knowledge in the process of internally motivated construction of something relevant to the child and for the people around them.
Good examples of this occurring in the early childhood learning environment are through the use of LEGO bricks or by a process of movement with a programmable toy or a program of action.
A program that combines these three options is the LEGO WeDo.
LEGO WeDo and Construction knowledge
In a report to UNESCO, Kalas (2010) made references to a case study pertaining to its use:
The WeDo activity starts with learning how to assemble a WeDo Robot from parts (‘Lego bricks‘ including a microprocessor, motors, etc.). The learning material is presented to a child as a computer movie (but exists also as a printed matter).
So, here the computer teaches the child.
At the same time, the task for a child is the opposite: to “teach” the robot to do something, for example, play soccer (football). The constructed model is wired to the computer. The ‘teaching‘(programming) occurs at a computer screen.
The icons there represent actions of motors and whistles, etc. The child tries different icons and sees what the robot is doing. Then the child constructs the plan of action (and in the more complex cases – interaction). This context is more abstract than direct work with programmable toys, so, to help young programmers, the teacher can first try to realize commands in physical activity of children.
In the process of construction, a child reflects on his/her own actions (as being the robot) and discusses this with the teacher.
To make a crocodile that closes the mouth when a hand is put on it, the child should use sensors and represent cause-effect relation in sequence of iconic commands. It needs a new type of reasoning ‘what if’, to program this interaction.
General doing and thinking strategies can be exercised in the activity and can be a basis for transfer and generalization later.
These strategies include top-down (divide-and conquer) analysis of the task and assembling the program from parts.
The child should certainly follow the trial-and-failure procedure and not to be afraid of failures.
The critical factor of success is social interaction between participants, discussion with teacher, presenting results, including ‘how I decided to …’, etc., as well as the original motivating context of soccer championship, visiting the Zoo, etc., playing with constructed models, and including them into the context.
The minimal time, needed for the WeDo module can be 3 play-lessons of 30-60 minutes each. Every lesson includes short explanations of teacher, several group discussions, individual and group work.
Today, the literature and research relating to the use of ICT in early childhood education is filled with case studies that clearly show how effective the use of ICT in preschool and kindergarten can be. The process of integrating digital play based learning in preschool can start with just one device such as a computer software and learning how to maximise its full potential for learning.
Like LEGO WeDo, there are many other examples out and I will continue to bring them your way so that you can be inspired by them to try it yourself.