By Natalie Harr
(Blog Post #6)
Digital Playgrounds vs. Virtual Playpens
Marina Umaschi Bers and her students in the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University are examining how technologies might be used to help our youngest learners to learn. The research team uses the analogy of "playgrounds vs. playpens" to help us understand how technology can help engage children in imaginative or exploratory play and the kinds of developmentally appropriate and playful learning opportunities that may not be possible without technology.
Playgrounds are places where children go to play and learn. Children can choose to play tag, climb a slide, rest under a tree, or imagine new games. When you think about the physical design of these spaces, playgrounds naturally support a child's imagination, playful exploration, social interaction, and motor coordination all within a safe structured environment.
Now, think about how a playground compares to a playpen. In a playpen, the walls limit a child's movement, exploration, socialization, and ultimately their playful curiosity. Bers and her students are developing technologies that allow learners to imagine, explore, and interact together as they would in a playground setting.
Meet KIWI: Kids Invent With Imagination
As an early childhood educator, I am JUMPING UP and DOWN about KIWI (now commercially known as KIBO)! This simple, easy-to-use robotics kit is purposefully designed for young children (4-7 year olds/preschool-grade 2) and can be seamlessly integrated into early learning environments.
With the pressures for more academic rigor in our schools today, the beauty of KIWI is that it engages children in meaningful, cross-curricular projects that support the development and application of fundamental academic skills that are most critical in the early childhood years -- at the same time nurturing their developmental needs for creative play and exploration. By programming the KIWI robot, children playfully learn the logic of sequencing (how order matters), mathematical one-to-one correspondence concepts, and a wealth of pre-literacy skills that are at the core foundation of all early learning.
Check out this video to learn what KIWI is and how it can support
digital "playground" learning in early childhood settings.
Video: Courtesy of the DevTech Research Group
KIWI: A "Developmentally Appropriate" Learning Technology
"Developmentally appropriate practice, often shortened to DAP, is an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development."
KIWI consists of intuitive, easy-to-connect construction materials that are developmentally appropriate for early learners. Rather than "writing code" or arranging icons on a computer screen, young children physically connect tangible, wooden blocks that represent different computer commands (e.g., go left, shake, turn). Children "read" or make meaning of the words, icons, and colors located on the programmable bricks to decide what behaviors KIWI should do.
Once the blocks are connected in an appropriate sequence from left to right (just like reading), children use the robot's scanner (similar to a handheld grocery store scanner) to program each command - sequentially one at a time (one-to-one correspondence) - into the CHERP (Creative Hybrid Environment for Robotic Programming) software.
By pressing KIWI's start button, the robot comes to life and performs the sequence. Be sure to check out KIWI's FREE curriculumhere.
Video: By Natalie Harr
Bers explains how computer programming is a natural fit in an early childhood curriculum.
Children learn sequencing skills in the context of making a robot!
The KIWI (prototype) in action in early childhood classrooms.