Category Archives: technology

The Changing Face of Literacy

As an Early Years teacher I have always capitalised on opportunities for literacy in everyday life. Making children aware and involving them in these things is often key to children viewing reading and writing as fun. Traditionally these would have been things like writing shopping lists, reading road and shop signs, mark making in diaries and calendars or following recipes.

However literacy in the real world is changing. Children these days are just as likely to see you read or write on your phone or laptop as they are to see you write a list or note.

This really hit home with me when I watched my 3 year old playing on my iPad a few weeks ago.  She asked if she could download an app called Dad book, designed for dads to record stories for their children.

But mummy it’s not doing anything

she said once it was downloaded.

No, someone has to tell the story and record it.

I replied.

I asked her 7 year old sister to record the story for her, they sat together as my 7 year old narrated the story.  When she was finished my 3 year old listened and then repeated the words as she had seen done with another app Pat the Cat .

What a great opportunity for playing with literacy for both children.  This made me think about all the other literacy activities my children tap into on the iPad.

My 3 year old is learning about the alphabet and phonic sounds using the wonderful Elmo loves ABC’s app.  This has loads of different levels of games all based around learning letter names and sounds and includes lots of  memorable Sesame Street clips.

Another favourite is Me Books a children’s picture book reader for classic Ladybird books.  Both my children enjoy following the stories and adding in their own sound effects. This is simple for the children to do and another great way of getting different aged siblings to share reading.

The Ladybird Touch and Say books are also a great way for my 2 year old to learn to read simple words and even my one year old loves the Baby Touch app.

My 7 year old loves creating her own stories and animations using Toontastic or Puppetpals and these are also simple for pre-schoolers to use with adult guidance.

We have even discovered new songs and rhymes through English Songs and Chants. My 3 year old loves this one and can be heard walking around the house reciting the chants and singing the songs.  The chants are excellent for teaching rhythm and steady beat, a concept I usually teach using Ros Bayley’s Beat Baby.  I wonder whether Ros has considered creating a Beat Baby app?

There are a number of things that I really appreciate about the way my children use technology to play and learn about literacy.

  • The children freely choose the literacy apps and never feel like they are learning literacy skills.  Everything they choose to play is fun and interactive.
  • The apps are an added dimension to their experience of literacy. They still love books and choose to read traditional books more often than  e-books, still love to write, tell and listen to stories.

Current touch screen technology is still a little small to offer good mark making experiences for the youngest children but the drawing apps are good fun for when they get a bit older and are able to work on a smaller scale.  I look forward to a time when I can roll out a big screen onto the floor and let the youngest children explore markmaking on a large scale.

I also think Kinect holds great possibilities for literacy. My children talk to their dad via video Kinect when he is not at home. There would be great potential for speaking and listening activities if they connected with other children from around the world and shared experiences about their life and culture.

My girls are avid readers, I’m not afraid that new technology will distract them from traditional literacy, but that it adds a richness to their lives and new possibilities for exciting literacy experiences.

Sesame Street Once Upon a Monster on Kinect – A Review

I have been so excited about the forthcoming release of this game for a number of reasons.

  1. I am a huge Sesame Street fan and think it is the best in pre-school entertainment
  2. I have been waiting for a game that my 3 year old can play easily on Kinect.
  3. It is billed as a co-operative game and I would love to find  a game that my children won’t argue over.
  4. I am interested in evaluating its educational merit and whether or not it could be used in a pre-school classroom.

So when I was offered a copy to review I jumped at the chance.

The game centres around a story book ‘ Once Upon a Monster’ that Elmo and Cookie Monster jump into to embark on adventures.  As each chapter unfolds they encounter monster friends both new and familiar (Grover and Oscar) and help them to solve problems through a number of fun tasks.  The graphics and the story behind the game are captivating and we were all excited to see what would happen next.

The game is designed with drop in/ out co-operative play.  It can be played solo or with the help of an adult or sibling, if you decide to join in half way through a small monster appears in the corner of the screen and directs you to wave. This is great for young children as they often decide to wander off in the middle of a game but it doesn’t spoil the game for the other child. The game is only suitable for 2 children which means that it probably wouldn’t be suitable for use in pre-school unless you wanted to use it as an exercise in turn taking. I would like to see it adapted for 3 children, partly because I have 3 children and it would avoid one being left out and partly so that siblings could play with a parent to help if necessary.

With Kinect games I have found that my 3 year old has struggled to keep within the sensor.  There is a helpful built in feature with this game in that if the child  steps outside of the sensors limits a monster pops up and points in the direction that they need to move.

I had high hopes for this game as a controllorless game that my 3 year old would be able to use easily.  However I encountered a few problems which meant that she couldn’t play it independently.  To get inside the page of a book the monsters ask you to bring both arms together.  This worked really well when my 7 year old or myself did it but it didn’t seem to work for my 3 year old or her friend, even though they were making the correct movements. The other problem is that if you go too close to the sensor (or my one year old runs in the way) a menu pops up .  You need to wave on the back button to go back to the game.  My girls became frustrated because the sensor found it difficult to pick up which player was trying to direct it.

So far we have played the first of 6 chapters.  This centres on cheering up Marco the monster and helping him get to a birthday party.  The tasks along the way include running through the woods collecting objects and avoiding obstacles, flying to the tree tops to collect fruit with Grover, choosing outfits for Seamus the monster, drumming and my personal favourite disco dancing with Grover.

The usual response from my 7 year old when playing Kinect is to moan at her younger sister for getting in the way.  When she tried to join in yesterday my 7 year old complained and I told her that it was meant to be for 2 players.  The mood soon changed  to a lovely picture as my 3 year old watched her sister intently and copied her every move.  It is certainly fulfilling some of the games aim to foster a social and emotional curriculum in our household.

There could be a few tweaks to make it easier for young children to play but the game is engaging and  fun and my high expectations were not disappointed. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the other chapters have in store.

Sesame Street Once Upon a Monster is released on 14th October

Why Use Technology in Education? Professor Tanya Byron

In the above video from Tanya Byron’s keynote speech at the 2011 FOSI conference, she explains her response to the government when faced with this question.  She speaks with such passion and conviction and I found myself nodding with excitement all the way through.

I think there are 2 key points to this argument.  Firstly that education needs to be made more relevant to children’s everyday experience. Children live in a multimedia world and are excited by it.  Bringing this multimedia world into their education will make learning more exciting and when learning is exciting we achieve better results.

My 7 year old often says school is boring and she hates writing.  She is one of the brightest children in her class, if she finds it boring imagine how the least able children feel. Which brings me to the second point.  Education in this country is about whether or not you are academic, if you are academic you are clever , otherwise you are not and pushed down a seemingly less important vocational route. This notion of what ‘clever’ is forms from the very beginning of school and unfortunately it is often boys who are not academic and would prefer to do something more active. Unsurprisingly the gap between boys and girls widens.

When children lack motivation they misbehave and eventually give up on school altogether ( as happened with my younger brother). Technology has so much promise as a way of engaging children and raising standards.  It is relevant to their lives and gives them skills for their future.  My own daughter’s teacher recognised that children of this generation will be unlikely to use pen and paper as a main source of writing in the future.  Yet there is still fear about doing something different and worries that they have insufficient equipment .

This is why we need inspirational leaders, with ideas, energy and enthusiasm to show teachers what can be done. If enough influential people share this message, perhaps one day we will be heard.

TEDx London 2011 The Education Revolution

I was fortunate to attend TEDx London this weekend. This event was born from issues raised in Sir Ken Robinson’s 2010 TED talk and was designed to raise the question ‘ How can we bring on the Education Revolution?’

What can all those involved ACTUALLY  DO to ensure that the old and irrelevant in education is thrown out and  that we can build a new model of constant reinvention to ensure that  education provides what industry requires and more importantly what   young people need to flourish in today’s world.

I returned from TEDx London, my head buzzing with ideas, questions and things to explore.  Many of the underlying concepts were not new but were reiterated by passionate individuals and illustrated by exciting examples from the world of education. These were some of my highlights:-

The talks were split into 3 sections

  1. What’s Wrong / What’s Happening
  2. What’s Right
  3. What’s Next.

The first session began with a live feed from Sir Ken Robinson.  He discussed his views on the purpose of education

Economic – Education underpins the modern economy and for a modern economy there is a need for creativity and innovation.

 Cultural – Helping to understand each others cultures and relieve the problems of cultural mistrust.

Personal – Education is about individuals, it cannot be mechanistic and should encourage students to become engaged.  For this reason education should be personalised.

Sir Ken Robinson’s vision for change includes

  • Education that is personalised
  • Improvements in the motivation of both students and teachers
  • Education that is customised to the needs of the particular community or individual school
  • Education is about diversity and standardisation offends diversity.
  • Education is about partnership with great institutions and the community.

A number of these points were a common thread throughout the talks.  The importance of recognising children as individuals and encouraging, rather than stifling their talents and interests, came time and again. The need to motivate children and encourage them to think for themselves and the many possibilities that technology offers  also kept reappearing.

I consider myself fortunate to work in Early Education.  Active learning, teaching that stems from children’s interests and strengths and listening to the child’s voice are fairly widespread.  Learning is fun in the early years and it would be unusual to find a pre-school child who grumbled that school was boring. I hope that all education can take lessons from early education at its best.

Adam Roberts an 18 year old human rights campaigner talked about  critical thinking and how his mother’s encouragement to ask questions set him up for life. As young children we instinctively ask questions, but as we grow older children are often discouraged from questioning. This point was made even more strongly in Ewan McIntosh’s talk. Ewan explained the need for children to be problem finders rather than problem solvers.  He showed a group of 7 and 8 year olds who were asked to put on their own TEDx event.  The children were inspired to come up with their own questions, prompted by ‘have you ever wondered?’ The children came up with wonderful philosophical questions and the excitement and animation shown by the children was truly infectious.

Another common thread was the potential for  embracing social media and technology in the classroom.  By doing this we are bringing the real world into the classroom rather than viewing education and school as separate to other aspects of life. Dan Roberts  believes strongly in education through technology and demonstrated some of the things his students at Community School are doing.

The What’s Right sessions showed a number of inspirational projects including:

History pin – building a history of real people and places using photographs and video footage.

A workshop from Seeper with a school for children on the autistic spectrum, showing how technology can motivate and engage children.

Dr Matt Whitby  showing how awe-inspiring science can be, through his off the wall science experiments.

Tim Exile – a musician who has invented a machine to create spontaneous electronic music using a variety of sounds.

The Final session involved speakers who are thinking in a new way and their pleas for like-minded individuals to join them in this journey.

Dougald Hine was inspirational.  He talked about change  with determination and self belief, a firm believer in making things  happen.

Emily Cummings the 24 year old inventor has been named Barclays woman of the year in 2009 and one of the top ten outstanding young people in the world in 2010.  She explained how her passion for designing began when her grandfather taught her to make things in his workshop. Teachers recognised her talent and entered her for competitions, harnessing her enthusiasm and giving her new goals.

Sir Ken Robinson closed the day with a plea to make alternatives a part of the mainstream.  A new vision for education including personalised learning, group activity, the closeness of the community and using and sharing talents.  Many of the case studies from young people at the conference showed that talents were often discovered and utilised outside of school.The community then has an important role to play in educating children.

The closing lines resonated with me

New technologies will make change possible.

Technology alone doesn’t do much, it’s what we do with it that matters.

There were some wonderful examples of what we do with technology and creative thinking.  I came away with lots of ideas and things that I wanted to share but also a feeling of uncertainty about what I can do to make a difference.  I want to share inspirational ideas and inspire others to try new ways of teaching.  Why?  I believe that we need to be able to use the tools that children are used to at home and that will form a large part of their future rather than sweeping them under the carpet .  Technology will not replace traditional play but will enhance it if we use it creatively. It gives opportunities for awe and wonder, for raising questions, self discovery and creative expression. My endeavour is to show this in practice and inspire others to do the same.

You can join the discussion here. Further videos of the conference can be viewed here

My Grown Up Weekend part 2 – Festival of Education : Technology and Education

As regular readers will be aware I am very interested in the use of new technology in early years classrooms.  I was pleased to see therefore that the Festival of Education at Wellington College Crowthorne had a number of sessions relating to education and technology.  As usual at these events most of the content was aimed at working with older children but I found a number of ideas/materials that could be adapted for use with younger children.

Jan Webb (  from Microsoft gave an interesting talk outlining many of the free resources available to teachers and the ways in which she had used them in the classroom.  Many of the resources were used to link up with schools in other countries to add another dimension to project based learning.  This could be used really successfully in an early years classroom, using video chat to talk about and demonstrate concepts such as snow to young children who may not have seen it before.

Jan explained that the Partners in Learning Network provides free downloadable software for use in the classroom.  I got up and showed off my singing talents to demonstrate Songsmith – for creating music (ok it was only Happy Birthday). 

Shireland  Collegiate academy demonstrated  their learning gateway .  Though this is a secondary school and would be used very differently in an early years setting, I saw merits in the way that staff could share planning and assessments, as a means of getting parents involved in their children’s learning and making learning visible to them.

There was an interesting discussion at the end of the day about what we could teach the Facebook generation.  There were some interesting points regarding worries about the ever growing use of technology and social media.  On the positive side was the idea that worries about technology are similar  to worries about the novel in the eighteenth century and that whatever children are interested in will become the dubious thing.  I think that is an interesting view and that we should be using children’s interests to stimulate meaningful learning , rather than threatening to ban things. Another point made was that in this generation the most important skill we can teach children is to take charge of their own destiny. Some felt that this generation were in danger of losing social skills and that technology should be limited to allow children to spend time reading.  A straw poll was taken as to the preference between physical books and reading them electronically.  Personally for me I would much rather have a kindle with hundreds of books in one place than have to find or carry real books.  I suppose there is still some sentimentality about having books on a shelf, but is that because they are precious or because we want to show others what we have read?

I have many links and inspirational practice to look up as a follow up to the festival, these will appear on the blog in due course.

Can Technology Engage and Improve Boys Literacy?

How many times do you hear stories about boys falling behind girls in their literacy scores?  In the last 2 years the Foundation Stage Profile Results ( assessment at the end of the child’s first year in school) show that girls are outperforming boys and that Communication, Language and Literacy has the widest gap.

My opinion  is that to a large degree it is down to the fact that boys are not motivated by literacy, because it is not taught in a way that is relevant or interesting to them.  It is important that this is addressed at an early age, rather than once they have already lost interest and are failing.

Children are growing up in an increasingly technological world.  Think back to how much has changed in the last 10 years and we can not possibly imagine what life will be like for our youngest children by the time they leave school.  There is no doubt that children’s experience of literacy in the future will be very different to the pen, paper and print concepts they learn about today.  

 Children’s experiences with technology in the home are generally incompatible with  what they see at pre-school or nursery.  In my experience, having visited many nurseries, technology is generally used in a piecemeal way.  If  I compare this to my children’s  experiences at home it is vastly different.  At home my children play on games consoles, operate the television by remote control, talk to family via video chat, watch cartoons on the laptop or mobile phone, take photos and videos using a mobile phone, record their voices onto a laptop or mp3 player, draw pictures on a drawing tablet, play games on a mobile phone, search the internet for information and much more. The richness of their home experiences are not reflected in their learning at pre-school.

Often this is based on fear, an uncertainty about introducing children to technology (especially screen based) because it will lead children to become lazy and replace more healthy, active or outdoor pursuits.  I recognise those fears; none of us want our children to grow up as screen junkies or for technology to replace important things like reading to your child.  However, I would argue that as technology is evolving, it is becoming more accessible to pre-school children and the opportunity to use it in innovative ways in a play based setting presents itself.  Technology is an ever growing part of their lives and it is important that it is utilised as a natural part of children’s play in pre-school settings.

Boys generally love anything technological and lack interest in reading and writing – this is a generalisation but on the whole it is the case.  I hear people ask all the time ‘ how can I get my son off the computer?’  So maybe instead of trying to ban the things they are interested in we should be using it to our advantage.  I was told a story just a few days ago about how a boy aged 11 who could never understand how anyone could choose reading or writing as a pastime and had joined a computer club at school.  The teachers had shown them how to create animations and story boards.  Following this he has gone away and invented characters, writing comic books and animated stories with such enthusiasm that he couldn’t get to the club quickly enough. 

If we can encourage this enthusiasm at pre-school, maybe we could avoid many of the negative feelings that boys have around literacy and inspire them to be literate in a different way.

This premise forms the basis of my proposal for Phd research ( subject to finding the necessary funding). The hypothesis is that if boys were given opportunities to learn the foundations of literacy through technology, then they would be motivated to learn and this would in turn improve their literacy outcomes.  I would  create a play based environment whereby children could explore the underpinning skills of literacy, through the medium of technology.  This would occur alongside more traditional activities to see whether the technological experiences were more engaging. Technology would be integrated into ongoing practices of teaching and learning.  Each classroom would be designed around the needs and interests of the children. Technology would be freely available and would be used both indoors and outdoors.  I would hope that it would also inform those who create technology, software and applications highlighting possible future developments.  To work together to provide suitable experiences for our youngest children that would reframe  long held notions of literacy.