Schools Adopt Tech to Prime Development of Earliest Learners

In the five videos, students Skype with a music teacher, use their mobile devices to make videos of their work and then explain what their intention was, and stand in pairs in front of a green screen to explain the thematic elements of the book they just read, whose cover will eventually be integrated into the recording of their performance. You might say these were just examples of your typical digital classroom. But in this case, the classes are all in schools that teach the littlest students.

All five schools and their principals have been recognized for their innovative educational technology practices with early learners. The National Association of Elementary School Principals announced the winners of its Digital Leader of Early Learning Awards during NAESP's annual conference last week. The competition was sponsored by education technology company ViNCi Education.

At Loess Hills Elementary, part of Sioux City Community Schools in Iowa, a major emphasis is on coding with programs such as Kodable and Tynker. For example, in a math class students learn skills such as repeated reasoning, coding, number sense and other mathematical practices. Jeff Gacke, a third grade teacher at Loess Hills, uses the software to help his kids learn how to write stories "and then have their characters talk with each other."

Students at Woodson Kindergarten Center in Austin Public Schools in Minnesota receive Skyped music lessons from off campus and also use Skype on mobile devices to have conversations with elementary and middle school students. As Principal Jessica Cabeen explained, that kind of activity allows students to "see the bridge between what they're doing in kindergarten and what it might look like in third grade."

Leila G. Davis Elementary, part of Pinellas County Schools in Florida, integrates technology into math lessons. For instance, students use their digital tools to read QR codes that bring up problems on their devices that they solve in their math journals (by hand).

Students at Paul Cuffee School, a charter in Providence, RI, use blended learning for literacy, math and science. Teachers create "playlists" that show parents the online lessons their students can practice outside of class for a flipped experience.

Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, CA runs a STEAM program that immerses young students in projects in imaginative ways. For example, in one project an art teacher has her students use Chrome to get online to hunt down images of plants and animals that she doesn't have models or pictures of for a lesson on biomimicry for adaptation.

"We are thrilled to honor these principals who have embraced innovative educational technology practices that support the early learner," said NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly. "When technology is used effectively, it can be a powerful tool that helps boost learning and development for our youngest students, and we hope other schools can learn from these examples."

Video links to profiles of each school's digital efforts are provided on this NAESP web page.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.