People, Places, and Pandas: Engaging Preschoolers with Interactive Whiteboards

In this article, the authors describe a recent project undertaken at the University of South Florida’s (USF) Preschool for Creative Learning. To align with the inquiry approach of their laboratory school, the environment at the Preschool is designed so that children can learn through exploration and individual initiative. The administration and faculty are committed to providing an inclusive, anti-biased, multicultural curriculum that meets the needs and interests of the children and families served. In this context, the power of high quality social studies curriculum is realized through integrated instruction that actively engages young children in purposeful and dynamic lessons. By engaging in learning firsthand (rather than being told when and how to learn), children develop personal meaning from their experiences and the courage to seek out new learning situations. Age-appropriate activities help them connect concepts with their everyday lives and extend the learning experience to other disciplines. The children are not routinely asked to gain knowledge secondhand, while listening to someone else telling about a distant place or time. Rather, children are using their hands to take things apart, fit things together, and make new things. They experience things directly and are challenged to make sense of their experience. The project described herein was undertaken in the classroom for four year olds that is connected to the exploration of world cultures and places near and far. The authors integrate social studies throughout instruction to engage children in learning through free play, storytelling, drama, and problem solving, and the interactive whiteboard is an important tool in the exploration process. However, the content and focus of their studies emanate from the children's own ideas, questions, and interests. They conclude that they found the interactive whiteboard to be a tool that aligns well with a classroom focused on process over product, in which the value of children's learning is interwoven into experiences that foster deep interaction with concepts and ideas. The technology expands the capacity of children to revise and transform through play-based experiences and investigations. This situated form of learning necessitates a focus in the classroom on digital literacy to hone the skill sets young children need to become active producers and participants in diverse digitally enhanced environments.

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