Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers are nearing the end of an extraordinarily challenging school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of them are experiencing severe stress. Educators have encountered many additional barriers in the ever-present struggle to engage students, from learning new technology on the go to navigating between distance education and in-person mentoring.
It hasn’t been an easy time being a teacher, but there is light at the end of the tunnel with COVID-19 vaccinations and students returning to the classroom. Also, a survey by the Education Week Research Center found that nearly half of teachers reported that their ability to use educational technology effectively during the pandemic had improved “a lot,” and 41 percent answered that it had improved “a little.”
Amanda Sullivan, AG12, AG16, who received a PhD in child development from Tufts University and helped launch the Tufts Early Childhood Technology (ECT) degree program five years ago with Marina Umachi Pierce, Elliott Pearson Division Chair for Child Study and Human Development and Director of the Research Group DevTech is multidisciplinary.
“Over the past year, we’ve had to innovate and do things in education that we haven’t done before. It may be easy to get back to normal, but innovation is important. This is a leapfrog moment where we can take a huge leap forward in terms of what we do with education,” Sullivan said. and educational technology.
Innovation was the goal of creating ECT. Pierce’s vision led to the creation of a graduate program where those interested in teaching young children could not only learn how to use our current technologies, but those of the future. “Technologies are constantly changing. This is their nature. Therefore, we need to provide intellectual tools, along with technological skills, so that teachers can learn how to learn and develop their confidence as learners,” said Marina Pierce.
Building teachers’ confidence to more easily overcome challenges during the pandemic and in the future is the primary goal of the ECT programme, which aims to help teachers of young children develop knowledge and skills in technology, coding, and engineering through fun, developmentally appropriate learning.
“My passion is working with children,” said Amanda Strohacker, A11, AG13, AG20, Jumbo Trilogy. She received her Ph.D. through Elliot Pearson and is now Associate Director of the ECT program.
“In my ECT courses, we look at technology differently, including non-conductive technologies,” Sullivan said. “I want to change what people think of as technology, because it doesn’t have to be sitting passively in front of a computer or a screen.”
Both Sullivan and Strawhacker teach courses in the ECT program, which develops students’ teaching practices, assessment methods, and their understanding of student learning through integrated curricula that include arts and literacy as well as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. All ECT frameworks are rooted in evidence-based pedagogy from the DevTech Research Group and the Elliott Pearson Department, and are implemented at the Elliott Pearson School for Children.
One area of research is Pierce’s Positive Technology Development (PTD) framework, which proposes six positive behaviors that educational technologies should support. Known as the Six, they are: Content Creation, Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, Community Building, and Behavior Choice.
“The PTD framework is one of our foundational pedagogical approaches because we’re not talking about the tools themselves, but what they provide and what opportunities are there in terms of inclusive and psychosocial behaviors, which all children need to develop,” said Strohacker. “And we know how to design and teach with technology so that it can be a great tool for all kinds of learning.”
The KIBO Robot, a robotics building kit for young children developed by the DevTech Research Group that uses wooden programming blocks but does not include screen time, is one example of an educational technology that encourages the Six Elements. Another is the free ScratchJr app, which allows children to program interactive stories and games on a device, jointly developed by the DevTech Research Group and Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab. ECT offers educators the opportunity to take courses with instructors who are involved in the latest research and implementation around the world.
“The ECT program helps students to feel comfortable learning about technologies created by DevTech and others, but also learn how to choose new tools, critique them, and determine if the tool helps them achieve their educational goals,” said Strohacker.
“We want to create lifelong learners who know how to educate themselves, how to approach new technologies, and what important questions to ask,” Sullivan said. “They will know how to effectively select the most developmentally appropriate technologies for their students or children, regardless of changes in the consumer market.”
While the ECT program and the DevTech Research Group place a heavy emphasis on educational technology, Strohacker stressed that “everything we put into practice comes from a place where a child grows. We are not a computer science department, and we are not a game company.”
Putting learning into practice
Eben Brinkley, a student and electroshock teacher from Norfolk, Virginia, joined the program after her school district introduced a Kibo robot to second graders a few years ago. She said the ability to evaluate tools and create a meaningful learning space is one of the key concepts she’ll take away from the programme.
“I want to make sure that kids have a way of creating what they’re doing and not just being told what to do,” said Brinkley, who has taught grades 1-3 for 16 years. “They can express what they have learned in their own creative way. Children and people in general see things differently. I don’t want a child to think they are wrong just because they see things differently.”
Sullivan echoed Brinkley’s emphasis on self-expression – one of the questions Sullivan often thinks of is: How can we use technology in more meaningful and deeper ways as a means of self-expression and communication, not just learning about technology, but demonstrating learning through he-she?
“The biggest focus I’ve had with my ECT teachers and other educators I’ve supported over the past year, is how we can get kids to do the practical and physical work through a format like Zoom,” Sullivan said. The final project in her course was the development of a curriculum unit, and she said students found innovative ways to engage physical actions, collaboration, and hands-on play for virtual learning children. For educators like Brinkley, it wasn’t just a virtual unit.
“You bring the concepts that students in the program instantly transfer to their classroom and give you feedback on how they work with their young students,” said Strohacker, who added that she constantly learns from students in the program.
“Every week, they share new ways to bring together these ideas to manage or new tips for making connections with families and students who are feeling isolated. They do so through the lens of exciting educational content in STEM, which brings more modernity and real-world relevance into their school day. ‘ said Strohacker.
Brinkley shared that she used to call her students the “little engineers” in the class – something they responded very positively. “They say, ‘Wow, that sounds like a smart guy,’” Brinkley said. “I’m a fan, yeah, because you are.”
Angela Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.