Getting the balance right: Using technologies in Early Years

This case study is about how five nursery schools in our teaching school alliance worked together to explore which technologies might complement and enhance teaching and learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). We drew on the work of Professor John Siraj-Blatchford (2015), who proposed that effective use of ICT in the Early Years should:

  • ensure an educational purpose
  • encourage collaboration
  • integrate with other aspects of curriculum
  • ensure the child is in control.

What we did: Developing case studies with a range of technologies

Inspired by Debi Keyte-Hartland’s blog (2014) about the potential of using technologies in the context of a wider ‘pedagogical understanding of such concepts as creativity, innovation, enterprise, critical thinking, (and) imagination’, we compiled a long list of accessible technologies suitable for use in the EYFS (Gunning and ELEYSP, 2019) and divided it into categories to develop specific case studies in each school, covering a range of equipment. We were struck by the breadth of usable technologies and wanted to find out more about their potential effectiveness.

The electronic and digital equipment and ICT we chose included:

  • remote control and programming: programmable toys, like ‘Beebots’
  • cameras and visual: digital cameras, microscopes
  • image and film: for example, sharing a film of a wedding ceremony
  • interactive screens: interactive whiteboards (IWBs), iPads
  • applications (apps) and programmes: for example, ‘HP Reveal’ (extended reality platform – free download available from App Store or Google Play for iOS or Android), ‘Our Story’ (The Open University app – free download from App Store), ‘Busy Things’ (website resource – apps available from Apple, Google and Amazon for iOS or Android)
  • scanners and software: for example, ‘HP Reveal’ (as above)
  • electronic devices: incubator, brooder (and eggs)
  • equipment with controls: laminator, photocopier.

Technologies as tools for learning

We considered how we could use these technologies to enhance effective learning. Oliver Thomas Nursery School had developed an in-depth policy for ICT and we drew on this to inform our approach:

  • We use technology as a tool for learning
  • Technology is part of children’s worlds and a relevant curriculum includes investigating technology as well as using technology to learn
  • Children’s experiences of technologies in everyday life are used as a basis for learning
  • We recognise the importance of digital technologies and the need to engage with children in a rapidly changing world in which access to varied and developing equipment is important
  • Children learn about technologies through play; we encourage autonomous learners and active exploration.

The key questions we asked

Knowing our principles and starting points, we wanted to find out more using the following questions:

  • Can we use technologies to inspire and motivate?
  • What technologies support children to be engaged and challenged?
  • Do technologies develop creative thinking?
  • Does a balanced approach using a range of technologies enhance learning?

What we noticed about technologies and effective learning

All teachers who took part in the seven case studies were unanimous in their agreement that the technologies they used were motivating and inspiring. The ‘Beebots’ programmable toys enabled children to explore and experiment, trying to solve problems and discover solutions when presented with challenges about where to send their toy. When using the ‘Our Story’ app, children were inspired to do simple programming, showing great curiosity, fascination and energy. The ‘HP Reveal’ augmented reality app brought to life children’s experiences of story, as they retold and re-enacted We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and created their own videos. As one child said, ‘We’re going to be the persons that tell stories.’

When using a digital microscope, children explored and discovered objects that they found – one child gathered different leaves and exclaimed, ‘There are some lines and they are white!’ and another remarked, ‘This bean has a black spot, it looks like an eye!’

Children were highly involved whilst using a brooder, incubator and eggs. For example, one child researched on the internet about the chicks and devised a record of what he had observed and learnt, using the computer, printer and laminator.

When using digital cameras, children gained confidence in using the equipment, inspired and prompted by a home video of a wedding, and so role-played and extended their personal experience of weddings in their play. They helped each other to take photos and use the controls to zoom in and out and capture images of each other.

Critical thinking and creating were strongly promoted through using the case study technologies. The ‘Beebots’ encouraged involvement and persistence when using them for collaborative tasks with their peers to follow or create maps and grids. With the ‘Our Story’ app, the teacher noticed that children paid attention to details, made links and noticed patterns in the story.

When using the IWB and ‘Busy Things’ mathematics programme, children worked with their peers to find solutions – promoting problem-solving and gaining spatial awareness. Children maintained interest for a long time, persevering and trying out strategies until they succeeded. When using the brooder and incubator, teachers noticed that solutions to challenges and investigations were co-constructed through sustained shared thinking, with the adults supporting them.

Conclusions: What the case studies showed us

Using technologies can inspire and motivate young learners

We found that young children were engaged, motivated and challenged through a range of technologies, and their creative thinking was stimulated

Using technologies can challenge and enhance learning

Digital technologies supported a collaborative learning partnership between adults and children. With a supportive adult, children found solutions and developed further ideas to inform their own learning.

Using technologies can develop critical thinking

The range of equipment supported learning that promoted thinking in children, through experimentation, discovery and new challenges. The technologies we used were open-ended and versatile. This enabled children to hypothesise and create new learning experiences, sharing with peers to find out new solutions and ideas.

With thanks to case study research partners from: Alice Model Nursery School, Homerton Nursery School, Kaizen Primary School, Oliver Thomas Nursery School and Sheringham Nursery School

References

Gunning C and East London Early Years and Schools Partnership (2019) Learning and teaching with ICT and technologies in the EYFS: A guidance booklet to help you develop ICT and technologies with case studies to support your practice. Available at: https://eleysp.co.uk/eleysp (accessed 27 February 2019).

Keyte-Hartland D (2014) Aesthetics of the digital landscapes. In: Debi Keyte-Hartland: Creativity and Innovation in Education. Available at: https://debikeytehartland.me/2014/12/10/aesthetics-of-the-digital-landscapes-emergent-lands-of-possibility-and-transformation/ (accessed 14 February 2019).

Siraj-Blatchford J (2015) More than ICT. Watford: Early Education.