Technology Can Be a Catalyst for Early Learning in Science, Engineering, and Math Skills

With new interactive digital devices and apps becoming available seemingly every day, early childhood educators can often feel ill equipped to understand new technology and incorporate it into the classroom. But with training that affirms what is known about child development, professionals can feel more prepared to integrate technology in a purposeful way that supports early learning.

“Young children are explorers, communicators, and creators,” observes Chip Donohue, Ph.D., director of Erikson Institute’s Technology in Early Childhood Center, which explores the intersection between young children and the digital age. “Technology holds the potential to facilitate their learning, but the intentional and appropriate integration of technology in the classroom requires training, professional development, and support for teachers.”

Donohue shared these perspectives in his keynote address, “Technology Tools as Catalysts for Early Learning,” at this month’s 4th Annual Early Childhood STEM Conference at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif. He also was one of seven experts in the early childhood field who participated in a panel discussion on early childhood and digital media at the three-day conference.

As educators work to integrate science, technology, engineering, and math education — commonly known as STEM — into their classrooms, it’s important to think about how technology can support the other three components in addition to being to a subject in and of itself, Dr. Donohue said. Teachers need to be able to draw from their knowledge of child development when considering what types of interactive digital media can aid their students in learning and how best to incorporate them into the curriculum. Ongoing professional development, training, and access to information about digital tools also are key to helping them feel equipped to use technology in an appropriate manner in the classroom.

No longer does technology integration mean that students share desktop computers in the classroom or a lab, Dr. Donohue said. Today, personal, handheld devices like tablets and smartphones allow technology to support many areas of the curriculum throughout the day, including science, engineering and math. Media mentors, adults who set good examples for technology use, can show students how to use these new devices in ways that help them discover, collaborate, and learn. By using devices with new storytelling apps, such as Book Creator or My Story, children can capture photos, video, audio, and art, and share what they learned with loved ones in a way that demonstrates STEM learning.

Dr. Donohue’s work at the Technology and Early Childhood Center is informed by the child development theory and practice that is at Erikson’s core. Through his keynote, Dr. Donohue took the Erikson perspective to the Pasadena conference, which brought together 650 practitioners, educators, researchers, policymakers, and business leaders to address the importance of STEM education for children ages 8 and younger, as well as the challenges that come with integrating it into the classroom.

“To prepare today’s children for the challenges of tomorrow, it is increasingly important that they have developmentally appropriate, inclusive, and culturally sensitive approaches in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Dr. Donohue said.