ERIC Identifier: ED376991
Publication Date: 1994-12-00
Author: Davis, Bernadette Caruso - Shade, Daniel D.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Integrate, Don't Isolate! Computers in the Early Childhood
Curriculum. ERIC Digest.
Despite the promises and predictions made by educational researchers in the
early 1980s, computers have not revolutionized education overnight, and few
schools have invested wholeheartedly in instructional technology. Instead, in an
effort to provide computer access to all students at an affordable cost despite
the low ratio of computers to students, and because some critics feel there is a
lack of quality software or that technology is too complex (Maddux, 1991),
schools have often put computers in a single room where children use them once a
week under a specialty teacher's supervision.
Unfortunately, this practice has undermined the most valuable aspect of the
computer--its ability to cut across traditional subject boundaries as a
practical and useful tool. Papert (1993) compares the isolation of computers in
labs to the body's immune response to a foreign intruder; by removing computers
from the classroom and relegating them to an isolated lab, schools have
effectively minimized the potential impact computers can have on children's
learning by turning the technology into a separate, unrelated subject area
called "computer literacy." In this lab approach, Papert further argues,
students have access to about 1/50th of a computer in school, far from the
critical level needed for this technology to have a major impact on educational
practices or learning experiences of children. The fatal flaw in taking
computers out of the classroom is that any information learned about the
computers today will be obsolete by tomorrow (Papert, 1993). Only when computers
are integrated into the curriculum as a vital element for instruction and are
applied to real problems for a real purpose, will children gain the most
valuable computer skill--the ability to use computers as natural tools for
learning (Shade & Watson, 1990).
INTEGRATED LEARNING SYSTEMS VERSUS TRUE INTEGRATION
term "integrated learning" has gained popularity over the past half-decade,
evidenced by the appearance of numerous prepackaged reading, math, and science
curricula on the pages of educational software catalogs. Unfortunately, these
well-marketed packets are often no more than unrelated activities clustered
around a single topic and give little consideration to the development of larger
concepts or goals (Routman, 1991).
These misnamed integrated learning systems view a topic, such as dinosaurs or
planets or fish, as only a series of superficially related activities and
isolated skills linked casually together in sequence, much as a worm appears to
be no more than a chain of loosely attached segments that can be severed and
still function independently. Real knowledge is much more than a group of
unrelated segments; each section supports a particular function, and all are
related to one another. If the severed pieces are thrown into a box (brain) and
shaken up without the support of their natural connections, neither the worm nor
deep understanding will grow.
True integration respects the interrelationships of the
disciplines--language, mathematics, science--as natural and necessary to
achieving the goal of becoming educated about a particular topic. As in the
"project" approach (Katz & Chard, 1989), children exercise all the
developmental or curricular domains as they complete self-initiated projects
individually or in small groups. For example, if the teacher selected the topic
"Fish" for integrated study, the first step in planning might be to define
several central concepts about fish that are meaningful and relevant to the
students' lives. Next, activities might be chosen based on the desire to further
explore these concepts. The teacher would then determine the most effective
medium for supporting the activities selected. Sometimes computers will be the
most appropriate material for concept exploration; at other times, they will
not. Computers, like any learning material, are neither panacea nor pernicious
EXAMPLES OF COMPUTER USE IN INTEGRATED CURRICULA
exploration of a concept encourages students to write letters, stories, poems,
or reports, using a word processor allows children to compose, revise, add, and
remove text without being distracted by the fine motor aspects and tedium of
forming letters. Research demonstrates that children who write on word
processors compose longer and more complex stories, are less worried about
mistakes, and are more willing to revise (Clements & Nastasi, 1993; Feeley
et al., 1987).
The teacher implementing the unit on "Fish," for example, might use the KID
PIX program with very young children to construct a story through pictures and
labels that can be narrated in the child's own voice by recording through the
computer's microphone. With KID WORKS2, students might write and draw what they
have learned about fish and hear their composition read back. Slightly older
students could use CD-ROM encyclopedias to gather data and STORYBOOK WEAVER to
compose and illustrate original stories and reports about their topic. MY WORDS,
a simple program, can be used to write letters to local experts asking for
information or extending an invitation for a classroom visit. Any one of these
programs provides an excellent medium for teachers to record a group report or
One of the most powerful uses teachers can make
of computers is to provide students with a MICROWORLD (a microworld is software
with which children play and discover concepts and cause-effect relationships
included by the software developer for this purpose), a bridge between hands-on
experiences and abstract learning, in which children can learn about a topic
through exploration and experimentation (Papert, 1980; 1993). An example is EZ
LOGO, which is often used to introduce young children to geometric concepts in a
playful way that is intuitive to them, just as one might use blocks to teach
size and shape relations. Microworlds are developmentally appropriate software
programs that are harder to find than are drill-and-practice programs, but that
are much more valuable.
For example, ODELL DOWN UNDER allows children to explore the ocean's
ecological interactions by becoming a fish, with all the abilities and
vulnerabilities of the particular species selected. ZOOKEEPER and SAN DIEGO ZOO
PRESENTS THE ANIMALS! give students the chance to examine the habitats of
several aquatic creatures. Graphics programs, such as COLORFORMS FUN SET provide
students with the tools and props to construct their own underwater environment.
TEACHER ROLES IN COMPUTER-ENRICHED CLASSROOMS
When the computer is introduced into the classroom, an initial learning
period occurs during which the children need time to become familiar and
comfortable with the technology. It is during this period that the teacher needs
to assume the most active role in instructing children, guiding them through new
software and encouraging their exploration of the material.
As students gain experience with computers, the focal role held by the
teacher gradually diminishes; children are able to perform tasks independently,
and peers begin to take over the role of instructor. The teacher then moves into
the role of facilitator, providing guidance and support when needed and ensuring
appropriate behaviors, while control of the situation remains in the hands of
Children will be much more likely to use the computer as a practical,
integrated tool for learning if they see the teacher doing the same. Using the
computer during whole and small group instruction and for recording stories and
producing classroom signs and charts are ways in which the teacher can be a
highly visible user of technology.
Responsibilities of the teacher in the computer-enriched classroom begin
before the computer is introduced to the students. In providing a rich,
challenging, and appropriate learning environment, teachers must take an active
role in selecting the software that will truly enhance children's learning and
Despite revolutionary advances in the field of
educational computing, technology remains simply a tool. Potentially powerful
and stimulating, the computer is only an inert object that can never be a
substitute for the personal touch of the classroom teacher. How teachers
implement computer use in their schools is critical. Without proper integration
of computers into the curriculum, the benefits of technology to foster
children's learning cannot be fully achieved, regardless of the creative
potential of any software used.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Byrd, D., J.E. Killian, and J.N.
Nelson. (1987). Is There a Role for Computers in Early Childhood Programs. Paper
presented at the Association of Teacher Education Annual Meeting, Houston,
February. ED 288 621.
Clements, D.H. (1987). Computers and Young Children: A Review of Research.
YOUNG CHILDREN 43(1, Nov): 34-44. EJ 363 920.
Clements, D., and B. Nastasi. (1993). Electronic Media and Early Childhood
Education. In B. Spodek (Ed.), HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH ON THE EDUCATION OF YOUNG
CHILDREN (pp. 251-275). New York: Macmillan. ED 361 107.
Feeley, J.T., D.S. Strickland, and S.B. Wepner. (1987). Computer as Tool:
Classroom Applications for Language Arts. COMPUTERS IN THE SCHOOLS 4(1): 1-13.
Haugland, S.W., and D.D. Shade. (1994). Software Evaluation for Young
Children. In J.L. Wright and D.D. Shade (Eds.), YOUNG CHILDREN: ACTIVE LEARNERS
IN A TECHNOLOGICAL AGE. Washington, DC: NAEYC Press.
Katz, L.G., and S.C. Chard. (1989). ENGAGING CHILDREN'S MINDS: THE PROJECT
APPROACH. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Maddux, C. (1991). Integration versus Computer Labs: An Either/ Or
Proposition? EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY 31(10, Oct): 36-43.
Papert, S. (1980). MINDSTORMS: CHILDREN, COMPUTERS AND POWERFUL IDEAS. New
York: Basic Books.
Papert, S. (1993). THE CHILDREN'S MACHINE: RETHINKING SCHOOL IN THE AGE OF
THE COMPUTER. New York: Basic Books. ED 364 201.
Routman, R. (1991). INVITATIONS: CHANGING AS TEACHERS AND LEARNERS K-12.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Shade, D.D., and J.A. Watson. (1990). Computers in Early Education: Issues
Put to Rest, Theoretical Links to Sound Practice, and the Potential Contribution
of Microworlds. JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL COMPUTING RESEARCH 6(4): 375-392. EJ 420
Shade, D.D., R.E. Nida, J.M. Lipinski, and J.A. Watson. (1986).
Microcomputers and Preschoolers: Working Together in a Classroom Setting.
COMPUTERS IN THE SCHOOLS 3(2, Sum): 53-61. EJ 341 638.