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Tech-ing Wisely
In K-2 Classrooms


Early childhood has distinctive learning and developmental characteristics. We asked the Education World Tech Team: How do you use technology effectively in K-2 classrooms? What activities and software programs have you had success with? Find out what Tech Team members suggest for successful and engaging computer use in the primary grades. Included: Half a dozen classroom-tested activities and recommended software programs.

Are computers simply entertaining babysitters in early childhood settings? Tech Team members disagreed with that idea, citing real value in appropriate use of computers in the primary grades.

Tech expert Pam Livingston, for example, suggested that emerging reading skills can be reinforced with computers, while tech coordinators Jennifer Wagner and Sandra Kennedy said that technology's value for early childhood lies in its ability to extend learning beyond the traditional curriculum. Thomas Haynes, father of a preschooler as well as a high school math teacher, offered the opinion that the enthusiasm and creativity found in K-2 students can be fostered through technology.

“Computers in the early grades allow kids to extend their learning in exciting ways. Whether it is a site that allows for drill and practice or a rich extension of what is going on in the classroom, it is a motivating tool that enhances learning.”

With early childhood learning being the foundation for how students learn for years to come, technology also can play a role in the preparation for future learning. As Gail Braddock noted, "The foundation of future learning success should be patterned by using software and activities that help students learn to think and learn."

In addition to learning how to learn, Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain said that K-2 students can and should use technology to build information literacy and technology skills for the years ahead. She identified those "tools, skills, concepts of information use, presentation and organization, and the intellectual capability to be effective technology users throughout changes in technology and culture" as 21st Century Information Fluencies.

According to technology coordinator Sandra Kennedy, K-2 computer use has value whatever the specific application might be. "Computers in the early grades allow kids to extend their learning in exciting ways," Kennedy noted. "Whether it is a site that allows for drill and practice or a rich extension of what is going on in the classroom, it is a motivating tool that enhances learning."


Computer games are the subject of debate in any grade, but perhaps more so in early childhood. Do "skill and drill" activities, whether online or on software, have a place in K-2 classrooms?

Both Haynes and Gail Braddock said no. Haynes argued, "I have little time for games or software packages that are pre-rolled. Those are a 'solution,' not a use of the computer as a tool for research or presentation."

For Jennifer Courdoff, however, such skill-building activities do play an important role in learning in the early childhood classroom. She suggested, "Learning games such as Reading Rabbit are high-interest and engage students in learning Dolch site words, recognizing numerals, counting, matching numerals to sets of numbers, and many other primary skills."


Looking for engaging activities for your early childhood classroom? The following activities made the Tech Team's short list for tech success and educational value:

  • Jennifer Wagner says, "We trace each child's hands and scan them into Kid Pix. Each child decorates his or her hands in a variety of designs and colors. The hands are printed, and lined paper is glued onto the inside part of the hands. Students then write a story about themselves on the lined paper. It makes a very nice bulletin board display for parent open house."
  • Gail Braddock suggests that "teachers can do directed lesson with Kid Pix templates and begin to help students learn how to do creative presentations with the Slide Show feature." She also recommends that teachers take a look at the Kid Pix and AppleWorks templates available for download from Shelby County Schools.
  • Pam Livingston sees value in using technology within thematic units, including "opportunities for students to 'visit' a zoo via a Web cam and see a newborn panda, for student work to be uploaded to a school Web sit where Grandma and Grandpa can see it, and for children to use Inspiration to create a simple concept map of their own families."
  • Beth Gregor emphasizes both journal writing on the computer and learning the keyboard, particularly capital and lower case letters, using Kid Pix Deluxe. "I can teach them to use the shift key to create an upper case letter (I call it a 2 finger job!). Students also print their work each and every week. I really think that sending them home with a piece of paper they created using the computer is the best. Students share with parents what they can do and start using the home computer more."
  • Bernie Poole suggests virtual field trips. "The computer can be used to stimulate a child's curiosity about his or her world, and there are so many wonderful Web sites that take children on virtual field trips to gloriously illustrated and narrated experiences. Working such Web sites into thematic lesson or unit plans seems to me to be a natural fit with young children's cognitive development."
  • Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain emphasizes both team-based projects, in which students work together on activities using technology, and activities using dialogue. "The dialogue can be digital, digital story-telling with pictures, pictographs, and text and words-to-voice (with the accompanying 'reading')."


With hundreds of software titles designed for early childhood, which have been used with success by teachers and techies? The following programs were recommended by Tech Team members as some of the best for educational value and ease-of-use in early childhood:

One caution about software: sometimes the skills practiced with software might not translate directly into greater learning with pen-and-paper. Poole suggested, for example, that one writing program has been shown to "accelerate a child's learning to write and read, but doesn't necessarily help them read or write better."


Tech Team members agreed that one of the most important keys to using technology effectively in K-2 is adult supervision, especially with the youngest in that age group. Gregor noted, "Preschoolers and non-readers in general should only go on the computer with the constant supervision of parents. Preschoolers do not have the eye-hand coordination to use a regular mouse and need to be taught the proper way to use it."

Wagner agreed, suggesting that "children need the guidance of a living, breathing person, rather than getting their knowledge from a computer system. If they are not guided, they make errors in judgment of learning that might not be caught. With a teacher nearby to answer questions, the studentis in a better learning environment."

Teacher supervision does require that teachers be prepared to work with technology. As Sky-McIlvain argued: "The teacher needs to model use of technology for problem-solving, productivity, and communication." And, it's not just using technology that is important, but loving learning with technology. Wagner dreams that if she were "Queen of K-12," "I would have the teacher be the computer guru rather than the tech coordinator, so students could see it isn't only Miss Wagner who has a love for this 'technology stuff.'"


Location is everything. Those words are true about real estate, and given the comments of EW's Tech Team, they're also true about computers in K-2. Wagner argued against teaching that age group as whole classes in labs, saying that young students get confused, frustrated, and off task too much in whole group instruction. She'd reallocate those computers into classroom learning centers.

Sky-McIlvain supports the idea of in-class computer centers. Those might include "discovery stations," where children explore technology; "digital stations," where students build math and reading skills with Web sites and software applications; "invention stations," offering database, charting, and virtual explorations software; "communication stations" that provide voice recording devices; and "art stations," where students work is displayed and a simple Paint program gives students the tools they need to create it. "The classroom computer, of course, can support any or all of these activities," Sky-McIlvain noted.

Who Are They?

The Education World Tech Team includes more than 50 dedicated and knowledgeable educational-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. The following Tech Team members contributed to this article:

* Gail Braddock, technology integration coordinator, Briarcrest Christian School, Memphis, Tennessee
* Jennifer Courdoff, professional development technology mentor, Etiwanda School District, Etiwanda, California
* Beth Gregor, elementary technology coordinator, Pleasantdale Elementary School, La Grange, Illinois
* Thomas Haynes, master instructor in mathematics, Culver Academy, Culver, Indiana
* Sandra Kennedy, lower division technology integration coordinator, Berkeley Preparatory School, Tampa, Florida
* Pam Livingston, head of technology, Peck School, Morristown, New Jersey
* Bernie Poole, associate professor of education and instructional technology, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
*Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain, director, Least Tern, Georgetown, Maine
* Jennifer Wagner, computer coordinator, Crossroads Christian, Corona, California

Article by Lorrie Jackson
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Updated 10/08/2009