Kids are crazy for technology! And it’s important to provide early learners with time to simply play, create and use their imaginations. However, teachers must also ensure that students learn to use current technology in this constantly-evolving world. Integrating technology, when done well, not only reinforces key technical skills children need to thrive in the 21st century, but it also increases student engagement and enhances learning. Listed below are 10 trending tech tools that early childhood teachers can use to attain better outcomes in the classroom.
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1) Interactive Websites: There are a TON of engaging websites for early learners that reinforce key academic concepts. Starfall is a phonics-based website for children pre-K through first grade that aims to develop and strengthen reading skills. ABC Ya, Cookie and Fuel the Brain feature age-appropriate educational games and activities spanning all subject areas. Math Magician and XtraMath help children improve their math fluency with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Suessville, named for Dr. Suess, includes kid-friendly activities as well as information about the author’s books and interesting characters. These self-directed sites require little or no teacher assistance and will keep children actively engaged both at school and at home.
2) Enriching Apps: School iPad carts are available to many teachers for use in classrooms, while other schools have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. Whichever is the case, bringing iPads into the classroom is an excellent way to generate excitement about learning. Best Apps For Kids features some of the best apps by age, grade level, and subject matter. Top 10 Educational Apps for Preschoolers features reviews by a mother and former teacher highlighting both free and paid apps for preschool children.
3) Educational Video Sites: Teachers no longer need to search their school library’s archaic VHS or DVD collections when current educational videos are available via the click of a mouse. BrainPOP Jr. and Discovery Education feature academic videos tailored to learning objectives and specific age groups. TeacherTube, a media site similar to YouTube, enables teachers to share instructional materials such as videos, audio recordings, and photographs. SafeShare.TV is a student-friendly filter that removes the offensive elements sometimes surrounding YouTube clips.
4) Online Organization: Symbaloo is a visual tool teachers can use to gather and organize the most commonly used websites on their computer desktops as graphical tiles. This format not only helps teachers manage their many excellent resources, it can also significantly improve struggling readers’ ability to navigate the desktops on student computers. LiveBinders is a virtual binder for the web, useful for collecting resources and making them accessible to both students and parents. Just say no to lost papers!
5) Interactive Whiteboards: Electronic touch boards such as the Promethean board and SMART board allow teachers and students to manipulate items on a large screen using electronic pens, bringing a new level of interactivity to classroom instruction. Promethean Planet offers over 60,000 free teaching resources for the Promethean board, while SMART Exchange shares a myriad of activities for the SMART board. Teachers can also create their own lessons and broadcast media from the Internet, including academic videos or energizing clips that promote movement like those featured in 20 Brain Break Clips: Fight the Fidgeting. The possibilities are endless!
6) Digital Storytelling: Several websites encourage children to tap into their creative imaginations to produce digital stories online. Story Bird supports children in creating visual stories with artwork; Little Bird Tales provides a medium for students to design and narrate their personal work; and Zimmer Twins carries it further by helping kids produce their own animated tales. And digital storytelling not only keeps children engaged, it also encourages higher-level thinking.
7) Collaborative Resources: Another source of memorable learning experiences for children is communicating with classes in other schools, districts, states and countries. Using Skype, children can hold video chats with other students over the Internet. The social platform Edmodo connects classes so they can share materials and access information easily and safely. ePals Global Community connects over half a million classrooms around the world. While students can still benefit from writing to traditional pen pals, these sites may offer a level of cultural contact deeper than what the written word can convey.
8) eBooks: In addition to the high-interest texts that classrooms provide, teachers can take advantage of the many sites featuring popular kids’ books online, such as Disney Digital Books, TumbleBooks, and We Give Books. Storyline Online, a special site run by the Screen Actors’ Guild Foundation, shares videos of famous actors and actresses reading well-known children’s books.
9) Virtual Timers: Timers can help set a tone of accountability and assist students in self-regulation and completing their work. Online Stopwatch offers a range of teacher timers, clocks, and countdowns for display on the computer screen and/or interactive whiteboard. Tick Tock Timer, Egg Timer, and Timerland are other options for tracking time.
10) Online Behavior Systems: Behavior management software can help teachers manage their classrooms online. An example is Class Dojo, which allows teachers to award points to students for participating, helping others, exercising creativity, showing great insight, working hard, and making a good presentation. The software can be accessed from a tablet or smart phone, in addition to the teacher’s school computer. Class Dojo is especially helpful for teachers who manage more than one group of children.
To get the most from the new technology and hold the very short attention spans of little ones, it’s important to avoid technical difficulties and to have a solid understanding of the functions and features of new technology before making use of it. Think deeply about how each tool may enhance your students’ abilities to reach their personal goals. Approached properly, technology need not be intimidating. Rather, it can catapult its users to new heights. As teachers, we must embrace the technology that shapes our world. To develop life-long learners in our classrooms, we must be life-long learners ourselves.