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a group of kindergarteners using safe technology in the class

4 tips for incorporating safe, engaging, tech-rich material into early elementary ed

Here’s how to find appropriate resources for the youngest students

I love incorporating technology into my curriculum and introducing it to my students in meaningful ways. The good news is that teaching them to use technology isn’t difficult. My kindergartners can navigate iPads better than I can. The challenge is incorporating tech-rich material in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to what we’re learning and that doesn’t take away from their learning experiences. Here are a few ways I successfully introduce technology and resources that are safe, engaging, and developmentally appropriate.

Finding safe, tech-rich material for the youngest students

1. Use video to warm up, engage, and transport students.

Every tool I use needs to reinforce whatever concept we’re learning or otherwise be tied into the lesson. It must meet the standards we’re working on, and it needs to be engaging.

One tool I’ve found incredibly useful this school year is Boclips for Teachers, which provides educational videos. I can find video resources for anything, including animation and songs that my students love. It’s such a timesaver because I know I’ll find an appropriate video for whatever lesson I’m teaching, and once we sit down to watch it, we don’t have to sit through all the ads—or worse, see inappropriate images that can sometimes come up with an on-the-spot YouTube search.

We use videos as a whole group in a variety of ways. In math, we work on number sense with videos to practice rote counting, number recognition, decomposing, and shapes. In our literacy blocks, we use videos to work on recognizing letter names and sounds, sight words, vowels, or just to sing about the alphabet. (We do a lot of dancing to these songs as well!) I also think of videos as a way to reinforce a concept and make sure my students are exposed to multiple approaches to understanding it.

Sometimes we just use videos as brain breaks. Our students have one recess, so brain breaks allow us to get some energy out during the day and maintain effective instructional time.

We also use videos for Skype Virtual Field Trips, which are a great way to bring the outside world in. We’re about two-and-a-half hours south of Atlanta, and I have kids who have not been able to visit. Virtual field trips to California or the Statue of Liberty are a fun way to expand the walls of our classroom.

2. Discover new tools in teacher communities and on social media.

Online communities are such a valuable channel. I found Boclips, for example, through the Georgia Science Teachers Association Facebook page.

I rely on various teacher communities on Instagram for ideas and best practices. There are so many new things coming out for classroom use all the time, and I’m not always sure how I can incorporate them into my kindergarten class—or if I even should. But teachers are incredibly active in those Instagram communities, and there’s usually someone who has tried it out and is ready to give opinions and suggestions. Seeing how other teachers use a tool challenges me to think of different ways to incorporate technology.

3. Preview before you share.

Advertisements may be the bane of my classroom existence. They’re so frequent and bothersome! Many videos I use are on YouTube and it is such a hassle to wait for ads to be over before I can switch the video from my computer to the SMART board.

I work hard to stay on top of the ads, but they are so frequent that they now appear in the beginning, middle, and end of videos. The ads that they put in videos these days don’t even have anything to do with the content. I am vigilant to make sure any video I show my students is appropriate!

It’s incredibly important for me to preview videos, apps, and activities. Fortunately, it’s easy to monitor what goes onto the iPad because I’m the one that downloads the apps and that kind of activity is password-protected.

Within the apps, I find that my students are pretty good about staying where they’re supposed to be. We group the apps by activity on the iPads and my students respect our class rules. They understand the consequences of not following directions, but safety is paramount, so I do everything I can to make sure I’m showing them only age-appropriate things.

4. Incorporate plenty of non-digital activities.

Of course, part of ensuring age-appropriate technology use is limiting technology use, so I make sure I include lots of non-digital activities. We practice writing in the Seesaw digital portfolio program, for example, but we also work on pencil grip with an actual pencil. I have kids who can navigate the iPad no problem, but knowing how to play with Play-Doh can be a challenge at the beginning of the year. To help them develop fine-motor skills, we do a variety of hands-on activities, such as STEM challenges involving Play-Doh, and the typical coloring, cutting, and gluing you find in a kindergarten classroom.

I appreciate the value of hands-on activities and am very selective with the technology I put in front of my students. More and more students are beginning school without basic social skills—and those skills can be impeded by the frequent use of technology that is prevalent today. I want to make sure that if I’m using technology in my classroom, it adds to our instruction and meets the learning goals we’re working on.

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