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When is Technology Developmentally Appropriate for Young Children? – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I shared how important it is to define the learning goals for students before considering the value of learning technologies for young children.  I highlighted “exploration” as an important learning outcome for young children.  In this part, I’ll share two more key aspects when considering age-appropriate technology use for children.


Give Students Problems Worth Solving

Exploration alone isn’t enough. If we put four-year-olds in a room with research-based mathematics manipulatives, blocks, and other exciting items to explore, we would certainly see plenty of investigating—and probably even some sense-making. But we couldn’t expect any truly focused learning outcomes because students also need worthy tasks to complete and developmentally appropriate problems to solve.

The same is true with digital interactions on a computer or tablet. As an example, how much Calculus could an adult learn alone with a graphing calculator or app? Some for sure, but not nearly as much as if those interactions were paired with pedagogically strategic questions from a great teacher or software program. Similarly, putting an abacus or manipulative on an iPad can’t make a real difference for young children unless there are accompanying questions to stimulate critical thinking. Digitizing a manipulative for virtual interaction is not the same as using a digital version of a manipulative to engage students in solving problems.

Merely interacting with objects only gets the mind so far because tools were designed to accomplish something useful. Successful exploration generally requires a problem worth solving or a question worth investigating because the mind needs worthy things to think about. Whether the tasks are self-determined or at the suggestion of a teacher or piece of learning software, the act of accomplishing them ensures that students make connections and learn to think critically about important ideas.

Given the importance of the problems and tasks students engage with in classrooms and on software, in Part 3 of this series I’ll share thoughts about how not all problems and tasks are created equal. Young children need quality problems to solve both in classrooms and when using technology.