Portland Public Schools Head Start
The role of technology in early childhood education, birth to age eight, is a controversial topic. Parents and educators have concerns about potential benefits or harm to young children. Critics contend that technology in schools wastes time, money, and childhood itself by speeding up the pace and cutting down on essential learning experiences (Cordes & Miller, 2000; Healy, 1998). Proponents suggest that children should have the advantages that new technologies can offer. Thoughtful observers are concerned that while exciting and potentially valuable things are happening with children and computers, we may not be using these tools in the best ways, or obtaining the results we expect (Healy, 1998; Kleiman, 2000).
The issue is sometimes presented as a simple question: Should my students, my children, use computers or not? While this question is valid the issues are broader and more complex. Computers are already in homes and classrooms, and young children are using them. The more useful question is, What are appropriate and meaningful uses of technology with children? And, since technology is being used, how can educators take advantage of the power of these tools to enhance children's learning and development, while avoiding potential problems?
Research suggests appropriate and effective uses of technology in early learning and provides guidance in selecting the tools and creating the environment essential for successful technology use. Studies point to how technology -- computers and other tools such as tape recorders and cameras -- can be used to support and encourage the development and learning of preschool and primary age children. The critical factor is a balanced approach to technology in learning, with thoughtful planning to provide for the important needs of childhood.
This story about Portland Public Schools Head Start demonstrates how they put the needs of students and the curriculum first and thoughtfully devised strategies to integrate technology as an enhancement of their teaching and learning goals.
Portland Public Schools Head Start has five sites in North, Northeast and Southeast Portland. Six hundred and twelve three-, four-, and five-year-old children representing 12 diverse cultures and languages are enrolled in full- and half-day sessions.
The district recently received a small amount of funding specifically for technology integration. Before adding technology to their curriculum, staff members from the five sites formed a committee to answer the question, "What will be most beneficial and useful in supporting student learning?"
The committee agreed that any technology should be a tool and not a teacher, and that it should not take the place of something else in the program, or replace interaction among the children. They developed a philosophy statement to guide any use of technology in the classroom. This brief document sums up their philosophy for technology integration: Technology should be interactive and empowering, promote creativity, support language development, provide an opportunity for language interaction, and should be used to enhance children's learning.
Before recommending any purchases, the committee carefully considered the needs of the students, the current curriculum, potential uses of technology tools for the teachers, and available resources. Based on this data, the committee recommended purchasing a computer, scanner, and printer for each classroom. They looked at software in light of its appropriateness for the developmental needs of young children and selected an open-ended drawing program. In addition, they purchased a digital camera for each school.
The classroom computer is available to the students as one of their choices during center activity time. Two chairs are placed in front of the computer to foster interactions and conversations. Children are encouraged to work together and share their projects.
The digital camera has become a useful and versatile tool for the teachers. It is used to enhance learning in several ways:
Looking ahead, the staff anticipate purchasing an additional computer for each classroom. They are also considering additional software purchases. But the priority is to get additional digital cameras, which they see as more useful and beneficial to the program.