How much do you remember about your elementary education? Do you recall sitting on that large square rug learning colors and numbers, or in bigger desks memorizing maps and learning state capitals? Most of us recall our younger years in the classroom, but as I think back, I also realize that what I learned in those classes felt completely removed from the “real-world.”
I’m sure my teachers tried to make connections for us– illustrate that what we were learning had impact, had meaning, and was a small piece of the much larger world that we lived in. I didn’t see those connections until I was much older.
But oh how lucky our elementary children are today! With new technology in the classroom, they are introduced to the world in full color, full interactivity, and receive a hands-on experience. These digital natives are introduced to iPads and computers from the minute they can stretch out their fingers. The world is a much smaller place for them; one that is accessible from the click of a button. It becomes less ephemeral and more experiential.
They become digital citizens early, and this is a good thing! And while many may worry about the negative impacts of early technology integration, the benefits for the little ones will far outweigh the negatives.
So, what are the positives?
First, students are exposed to good digital citizenship, as their teachers model it. When a first grade teacher and her class use Twitter to update parents on her class’s activities each day, students become a part of that experience. They learn what is appropriate to write and what is not as they discuss possible tweets to send.
This ability to differentiate what is important is an excellent lesson, as I am sure many high school and college-age students could attest. Early experience with good digital citizenship might prevent mistakes later on, and knowing “appropriate” sharing becomes a part of the small child’s knowledge; it becomes second nature.
In addition to exposure to online etiquette, students learn that school is not simply classes that take place within the four walls of a building. Learning is ever-changing, dynamic, and asynchronous. Blogs, Youtube, and online communication make our world part of their lives. Unlike my generation, elementary students can chat with students anywhere else in the world through video, blogs, or online discussion forums. Imagine if you might have had the opportunity to Skype with students in Italy when you were studying ancient Rome? If your teacher could have provided interactive pictures with “lectures” you could have viewed multiple times at home.
Finally, perhaps one of the most important aspects is that children are learning to code switch at a much younger age. They should be taught formal vs. informal writing immediately. Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are informal; whereas, writing an email or blog will be more formal. The rhetorical situation will be introduced earlier. Students begin to comprehend writer’s purpose, the importance of knowing your audience, and of placing writing in a real-world context.
While these are only three of the many benefits of an early introduction of technology, they illustrate that teachers can redefine how learning takes place in their elementary classes (or any class). Just as the SAMR model introduced by Ruben Puentedura proposes a path of substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition of educators’ previous lessons, we can see the obvious benefits of re-thinking our presentation of material and our method of assessment—weaving our new technology seamlessly into our instruction—to create a connection between our students and their world. With technology, we are able to transform that carpet where learning takes place into a “flying carpet,” transporting students out of the room.