My Service Learning Project

For my service learning project, I created a website called The Scoop for my fellow faculty members at Shoreline Community College. This site is intended to give the parent education faculty an opportunity to connect and collaborate with each other.

Our faculty consists of 22 instructors who teach at seven different cooperative preschool sites in the Seattle area. As parent education instructors, we teach both adult learners and preschool children. Our staff meets every other month to share ideas and connect with each other.

This past January, our staff attended our annual faculty retreat. During this retreat, we were trained in The Nurtured Heart Approach. While the training was informative and helpful, we have not had a chance to share our experiences as we use this approach in our classrooms. The website, The Scoop, is intended to be a place where we can gather and share our experiences between staff meetings and training. I began with using our shared training with The Nurtured Heart Approach to give us a beginning topic of conversation. I also made our site private to create a comfortable and safe place for faculty members to share ideas.

In thinking of how best to use connected teaching and learning to bring my faculty together, I used Padlet and Flipgrid as platforms to create collaboration. The faculty seemed to like interacting with Padlet as it allowed us to brainstorm ideas and save them for a later date. While the faculty stated they enjoyed watching my Flipgrid videos that shared my experiences with The Nurtured Heart Approach, they did not want to create their own video responses. My hope was that videos would substitute for the time we spend together in faculty meetings, but it seems the faculty preferred Padlet, which allows for more writing-style brainstorming.

I think the website has the potential to be a great way for the faculty to connect and share ideas with each other. Since our in-person time is limited, this site allows us to connect with each other more frequently and easily than we could with faculty meetings alone.

Connection Counts

Making connections when reading to children is important.

In Tap, Click, Read, Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine examine e-books. The research surrounding e-books is interesting, but for educators probably not too surprising. According to the book, research has shown that e-books provide some benefits for language acquisition when the digital aspects of the books are incorporated into the narrative, rather than being random and/or distracting from the story. Educators would recognize that anything added to a learning experience needs to enhance it, rather than distract.

One finding that I found most compelling was related to the interactions with parents, children and e-books. A study found that parents interacted more with a physical book than they did with the e-book. With the physical book, parents asked more questions and paused to talk about the story with the child. With an e-book, the parents were more likely to follow the formatting of the book and not add any additional comments of their own. Of course, we need to examine the content that the parents were reading in both cases. Another study found that parents interact more with educational texts when reading to their children and the format (digital vs paper) was not much of a factor.

The takeaway for me is that parents need to support their child’s learning regardless of the format in which it takes place. The authors are clear that we want to choose digital texts that simulate the behavior of teachers and parents, meaning that we are providing support and scaffolding the child’s learning. They also make the statement that good teachers know when to take children off digital devices to make sure they are not just being entertained. However, do parents know when and how to do this? When so many reading apps claim educational value, it is very difficult for parents to know when there truly is valuable instruction occurring. In addition, the scaffolding that takes place with e-books can be quite valuable to early readings, but again, would parents know when to remove the scaffolding and move children to the next level? As digital texts are so new and we are just beginning to understand their potential and shortcomings, it is difficult for educators and parents to have a solid understanding of how best to use them with children.

Conversations about Digital Citizenship

This week’s readings on privacy and digital citizenship were interesting. It made me wonder how much my own children know about digital citizenship, so I asked them what they have been learning in school. I used this Edutopia article’s suggestions about what students need to know as a guide.

I asked my high-schooler what he knows about digital citizenship and he said, “They show us a PowerPoint presentation every year and it’s really boring. It’s always on a Friday when everyone is tired and doesn’t care. End of the day on Friday is the worst time to teach anyone anything.” You have to appreciate the honesty of a kid. He makes a good point about not teaching this as a once-a-year lesson. Although, he is in high school and perhaps not the most reliable source.

Once I asked him and his eleven-year-old sister more specific questions about digital citizenship, they had more information to share. For both of them their main idea about digital citizenship is about “being safe and nice online.” This seems to be the predominant message they receive from their teachers. When asked to define “being nice” they talked about not cyber-bullying anyone. Regarding safety, they both talked about creating good passwords, not sharing personal information online, and checking in with your parents if you are unsure of what to share (I was especially happy to hear that last piece). They are also familiar with the idea that you should not post pictures without a person’s permission and be aware of any locations that are visible in a photo, such as street signs. The ways in which photos can be digitally tagged was not something they had learned. Both of my children understand the importance of giving credit to sources online and not plagiarizing. My daughter’s librarian has spent a lot of time teaching this at her school.

My youngest son is in first grade and states that he has not had any lessons on being online yet. Looking at the lessons on Common Sense Media’s site, there are a lot of opportunities to teach digital citizenship for young students. I checked with our school district’s website and found that under digital citizenship they talk about using Common Sense Media’s curriculum. Again, my children are not always the most accurate in reporting what they have done in school, so I will be following up with the school to see when they use this curriculum and in which grades.

None of my children are on social media. My oldest is not interested and the other two children are too young in my opinion. However, in this interview, author Jordan Shapiro talks about his book The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World and makes some interesting points regarding social media. Shapiro argues that children should start young on social media so parents can teach them how to use it and guide their exploration. He makes the connection between abstinence-only education in sex education classes to how parents are told to have not screen time because it is harmful. This analogy is helpful as I confront this issue with my own children. Just as we know that best practice regarding sex ed. it to have many short conversations rather than one “big talk,” we should embrace the idea of having many conversations around digital citizenship with our children. In this way we can help guide them in this new digital landscape.

Reflections on Learning to Read in a Digital Age

In reading the first two sections of Tap, Click, Read by Lisa Guernsey and Micheal H. Levine, I am impressed by the premise of this book. As a parent educator, I am often asked about the use of screens with young children and I spend a lot of time sifting through research, articles, and books on the subject. As the authors of Tap, Click, Read point out, there are a lot of negative perceptions, especially among early childhood educators, regarding the use of screens with young children and how it affects their ability to learn to read. Rather than feed these fears, Tap, Click, Read presents a balanced approach where screens are embraced as a part of emergent literacy while still emphasizing the importance of adult guidance and interpersonal connections necessary in language acquisition.

I am very aware of my own biases on this topic. Being a staunch advocate of rich early literacy environments, I spend a lot of time talking about the need for books and reading in young children’s lives. I tend to bristle when educators suggest we bring screens into a reading experience for young children because I believe that preschoolers and toddlers learn best from physical interactions with their worlds, and this includes physical books. The authors remind us that new technologies have often been met with skepticism, such as television and even novels, which were considered unsophisticated and full of fantasy.

Tap, Click, Read proposes a hybrid approach to reading that embraces reading and technology with parents supporting children’s language and literacy development, and most importantly, putting devices away when they begin to distract children. The important aspect is that adults would “recognize and limit situations in which technologies are impeding children’s learning.” While the authors admit this is the ideal, it does make me wonder how practical this approach would be. Parents would certainly need to be well-versed in which technologies to use, and able to recognize when they are impeding children’s learning. To do this, parents would also need to have a strong understanding of how children learn, something that not all parents truly understand.

One issue raised in Tap, Click, Read was the ways in which research has been done with screen use and children. First, many early studies looked at screen use without taking into account the content of the screen time. More recent research has shown that content matters and that educational content does have some positive effects on children’s learning. Also, parental support while engaging with digital media has a positive effect on children’ learning. Second, decades of research has been done on samples of children from white, middle-income families. These same families were well-educated with exposure to language and books from an early age. The context of how people engage with technology and digital media is just as important as the content. We need to accept how families use technology and media in their homes without making parents feel guilty or patronized. Moreover, if we truly want to close the achievement gap for young students, we need to support the ways in which families can use technology to their advantage.

Speed Geeking #3: Book Creator

Book Creator is a tool that allows users to create digital books. It is a free app that is easy and fun to use. Their website states that Book Creator allows you to bring creativity into your classroom in any subject area.

I found Book Creator to be very easy to use. Using the app, I created a book about my classroom. The layout is simple and intuitive. When you first sign up, a pop-up message encourages you to make a three-page book to begin. The tools allow users to add pages, pictures, text, drawings, and audio. Images can be uploaded from your computer or device, or you can search for images to insert. This feature is extremely easy to use. Adding text is easy as well, although you cannot change the size of the text or the font. Adding drawings is a fun feature, however, creating drawings with a mouse is tricky. It may be easier on a touchscreen. The drawings I created were a bit messy, but the drawing feature does allow you to “undo” parts or all of your drawing and also has an eraser to fix mistakes.

Book creator allows you to add audio to your books, which is a great feature for children who are unable to write the text on their own. Once your book is complete, you can have your book read back to you. This is another excellent feature for children who are beginning readers, children with special needs, and English language learners.

I can see a lot of potential for Book Creator in the classroom. Children can create stories and share them. This could be incorporated into any subject area. Having children collaborate on a story would be an excellent use of the app as well. Teachers can also use Book Creator to create their own materials. There are so many possibilities.

Sierra mentioned the privacy issues in her blog, and I agree that I would be cautious about anything that retains information about students. They also send you a lot of emails once you’ve created an account. The moment I created my first book, I also received an email from “Dan from Book Creator.” I was quick to unsubscribe to those emails. Otherwise, it is an excellent resource for the classroom.

Speed Geeking #2: Flipgrid

Flipgrid is a free app that supports social learning online. A user can download Flipgrid onto a PC or a mobile device. I used it both on my PC and my smartphone.

The idea behind Flipgrid is that users can make short videos 90 seconds to 5 minutes long and share them with a specific group on their “grid.” The app is extremely easy to use. The videos are easy to create, edit, and title, and then are easily shared to the collaborative grid. I tried the application myself and had my 10-year-old daughter test it as well. Not surprisingly, my daughter had an extremely easy time making her video and adding a title complete with emojis. Even I, who does not always intuit how to use a new technology, found Flipgrid easy to use.

Flipgrid’s website has a getting-started video with easy tips to edit your grid and an Innovation Station that allows educators to further explore the possibilities of the application. I can see a lot of uses for Flipgrid in a school setting where students can share their work and have a chance to respond to each other in a closed setting.

One of the strengths of Flipgrid is that it allows students to engage in dialogues about topics in a face-to-face manner without having to be in the classroom together. An example comes from the Flipgrid Blog where they discuss how Flipgrid can be used to discuss issues of diversity and equity. One teacher used the example of having students share their learning about Ruby Bridges.

I appreciate that the grid can be closed with only a certain group having access to the videos, such as one group of students. Their Privacy Statement is reasonable as they only collect basic information such as names and email addresses. Flipgrid is storing the videos and comments on the site, so users must be OK with this aspect. Flipgrid is explicit that educators need to gain consent from parents for any users under the age of 13 using this application.

I have plans to use this application with my adult students as a way for them to communicate with each other, but also as a way to include their young children in the exchange. Since they are using simple videos, my preschoolers can be a part of these videos that the parents share and can respond to the other videos in the group. I think there is a lot of potential to this application, and I look forward to exploring it more.

Making Sense of Digital Texts

Books vs Digital Texts: Is there a Difference?

As a parent educator, I love talking to parents about early literacy and their young children. Getting children excited about books and reading is one of the biggest goals in my classrooms and I thoroughly enjoy watching emergent literacy skills at work. One question that arises again and again from these parents is how reading a digital text differs from that of a traditional paper book?

Parents and educators often talk about teaching children through technology so they can compete in a technological world. but I wonder if technology actually helps our learning. Studies have shown (and anecdotal evidence supports) that people have different reading experiences with books versus digital texts, and in most cases we learn better via traditional books. I have hypothesized that the tangible aspect of a book makes a difference in our learning, especially when thinking in terms of young readers. The act of turning a page and feeling the weight of a book adds to the experience of reading it. Anne Mangen, a professor at the National Centre for Reading Education and Research at the University of Stavanger, in Norway,  agrees that the physical presence of a book impacts our reading and comprehension. She believes that our interactions with the printed page impact our learning in a way that the use of a screen does not.

However, the question arises as to why this is true and is there anything we can do to support learning on digital texts? Katrina Schwartz’s article discusses ways in which educators can teach students strategies for reading digital texts that mirror the ones we use for traditional paper ones. I have experienced some of these strategies in this class, such as using and this blog. I will admit that they have helped as I use digital texts, but I would greatly prefer books to reading digitally.

I would argue that I learn better with books versus digital content, and while this may be true of many people, is this because humans are designed to learn this way or because we have been taught to read in this format? It can certainly be argued that we learn best from paper books because that is how we were taught to read in the first place. Conversely, if we had learned to read with digital texts, would that be our preferred way to interact with text? Moreover, can we find a middle-ground where we can learn and apply reading strategies to both types of texts to be equally successful in our reading and comprehension?

I do not think we will find the answers to these questions yet, but I believe it is important for us to continue to ask them, especially as we see how they impact our youngest readers and learners. In the meantime, I will continue to give my young students as many experiences with paper books as I can.

Technology and Students with Learning Disabilities

Billy Krakower and Sharon LePage Plante’s book Using Technology to Engage Students with Learning Disabilities discusses the ways in which educators can use technology to best support and enhance learning for special needs students. The authors state, “Today’s technologies make providing accessibility to those with learning disabilities so much easier.” The authors also point out that teachers are often unsure of how best to use these tools to support students’ learning. So the importance lies not merely in the acquisition of the technologies, but in the correct application to individual students.

This book is a good guide to some of the technologies that are available to special needs students. I appreciate that the book focuses on technology that truly changes the learning experience for these children. For example, when looking at children with dyslexia or dysgraphia, technology can be used to change the reading and writing experience for these students. Altering the text on the screen, using text-to-speech or speech-to-text apps, and adjusting the speed of the text are all ways to support these students. This is something that could not be done without the use of technology. Likewise, students with dyscalculia can benefit from the many mathematical apps that help with math fluency, an important skill for special needs students to achieve.

One point that the book makes is how technology can help students with learning disabilities move toward more independence with their learning. Often paraprofessionals are used to support students, and one accommodation that is frequently suggested is having students use a scribe for their work. The authors use the example of a child who was very dependent on his paraprofessional to scribe for him and how the use of assistive technology helped this student use an audio recording tool which could be used independently.

The book goes beyond math and literacy to address the importance of assisting students in science and social studies as well. One area of concern for many special needs students is their need to find graphic organizers that work for them. The ability to organize one’s thoughts and assignments is an important skill for students to learn. Technology can help students by allowing them to create a graphic organizer that works for their specific needs and learning style.

Another important consideration is the output of students’ learning or the ways in which they can share what they know. The authors highlight the fact that traditional means of assessment, such as exams and papers, are not ideal for many students with learning disabilities. Therefore, using technology to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding is a huge benefit to these students. Many platforms allow students to create multi-model examples of their work where they can combine text, drawings, pictures, video, and voice into their final products.

There is a stigma that special needs students face in school, but the use of technology can help with that as well. As mentioned, technology can lessen their dependency on paraprofessionals, allowing students to feel more confident and in control of their learning. As devices become smaller, the technology support can also become more discreet. A student using a small device in her backpack does not draw attention to the fact that she is using technology to help her as most students have devices for personal use. Therefore, the student can access help without feeling embarrassed.

Another aspect of technology that the book addresses is how technology can help families of students as well. Considering that learning disabilities are often inherited, the technology accommodations that help students can filter into their home lives and help their parents as well. In addition, technology can create a home-school connection for the parents of special needs students so they can know how best to help them. Since many applications can be applied to any device or be accessed from computers at home, families can continue to use these supports at home. This is not something that would be possible without the use of technology.

As we have explored the use of technology, we have seen that it is not the tech that is important, but rather how it is used with students that matters. When discussing the Universal Design for Learning, the authors remind us that “individuals learn in different ways through multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression.” This is certainly true of all students, which is why educators need to approach instruction with flexible teaching that supports the needs of each student. Technology allows educators to provide assistance to students’ learning and to differentiate their instruction to fit the learning styles and needs of all students. The authors state that their book does not contain one-size-fits-all answers to be applied to all learners, but rather shows us the possibilities that exist for educators, students, and their families. That technology can help assist and differentiate instruction for all special needs students is the goal that we are hoping to achieve.

Speed Geeking #1: ScratchJr

Scratch Jr is a coding platform designed for children ages 5-7.

I have been exploring the platform ScratchJr. Since the children I teach are too young for this, and our preschool is intentionally screen-free, I tested out this platform with my own seven-year-old son.

ScratchJr is described as a coding platform for young children where they can “program their own interactive stories and games. In the process, they learn to solve problems, design projects, and express themselves creatively on the computer. ”

The platform is fairly easy to use and navigate, although I would say it wasn’t completely intuitive as far as which buttons to use to create certain sequences. Their website is set up well to offer support and their getting started section explained how best to use the platform. The platform allows children to string commands together as a beginning coding experience. However, I appreciate that it goes beyond coding and allows children to customize the characters and create backgrounds that add to their stories. Rather than focusing solely on linear sequencing, ScratchJr promotes creativity and problem-solving skills as well as math and literacy skills. The use of higher-level thinking, such as problem-solving, creativity, and exploring cause and effect, are higher on the SAMR model, which is the goal of using this type of technology with young students.

The website for ScratchJr asserts that “coding is the new literacy!” The early childhood educator in me bristled at this claim. In an effort to keep an open mind, I read up a bit more on ScratchJr and found this article. Blogger Jelena Aleksov argues that while writing organizes our thoughts and expresses our ideas, coding can do the same. Framed in this way, I can see how coding can be seen as a new type of literacy that would be beneficial for students to learn. However, like traditional literacy, the learning needs to be social, engaging, and developmentally-appropriate. We also need to be able to differentiate the instruction for divergent learners.

ScratchJr seems to support this type of differentiated instruction. There are basic sequencing skills that allow characters to move in a simple fashion. The platform then allows for students to add more levels of complexity, both to the coding itself and to the design of the story. The platform also allows for a lot of testing and problem-solving as students can “run their program” and make changes as needed.

One of the biggest strengths of this platform is that it encourages group collaboration. First, students can share their completed stories with a larger audience. Second, and more importantly in my opinion, is that the creation of the stories can be a collaborative experience. The creators of ScratchJr have a link on their website called creating together to help families “facilitate collaboration when coding with scratch.” This collaboration–with an adult scaffolding the child’s learning–would be the best way to use this platform, as a skilled adult would know how to differentiate the experience for the student. When my son worked on his story, I was able to guide his learning with the coding itself, such as understanding the sequencing, how to connect the codes, and how to adjust the timing between the codes. Additionally, I was able to support his story-telling with guided questions and encouraging him to expand on what the characters could do, such as having a dialogue with each other. In a classroom, a teacher would be able to do this in a small group setting. I would have students work together to create a story with adult guidance. Students collaborating with each other adds another layer to this learning.

ScratchJr allows children to create their own characters and settings.

ScratchJr has a lot of potential in a classroom. It is also free, which is wonderful for teachers and parents. This platform goes beyond enhancing learning and has the potential to transform a child’s learning. It takes the idea of storytelling, but adds coding, which could not be done without the use of the technology. The technology is not the goal, however. The emphasis is on problem-solving, sequencing, and creativity. Also, since the platform is fun to use, children will not feel like they are learning. Instead, it seems like a story-telling game. Playing games and telling stories come naturally to children and are enjoyable, so this platform engages young children in the learning style that is best suited for them. This is certainly the goal of technology instruction with young children.