The battle to add new tech to our early learning classroom was harder than I had imagined it would be, but the gains our students made were worth the struggle
Why I Fought to Get Funding for New Classroom Tech
When my state enacted new standards for Early Learning Centers, I knew changes to our curriculum would be necessary. The promise of Federal and State funding to make these changes meant we might have the resources we needed to offer more than just a safe place for our students to stay. It meant we could teach them at a higher level and with the latest equipment. Getting that funding proved to be a struggle. In the end, I feel it was worth every extra hour my staff and I put into getting it.
Tech for the Youngest Learners?
Advanced technology for Pre-K through 5th-grade students might seem unnecessary. Many parents and advisors questioned whether we couldn't spend the money better on playground equipment or finger paints.
I didn't think so.
With our increasingly tech-reliant world, I know without a doubt that students need to understand available technology and be comfortable with it if they are going to succeed. Since we serve many children that are from low-income families who wouldn't have access to computer equipment. We knew that if they were going to get access, it would have to be with us.
We started small. I completed a grant proposal and sent it in along with my dossier and a thorough description of the center. In three short weeks, I had an answer.
They said no.
We were denied outright.
An Uphill Battle
The reason for denial of my request was simple and basic - the experts didn't believe that computers were appropriate for young children.
In principle, I could see their point.
Many Early Learning authorities agree that computers are inappropriate for children under the age of three. Technically, this is true. I can't imagine a child so young manipulating a computer system and learning anything with any level of success at that age. What my reviewer missed was that most of my children were older than three. They also failed to consider that even NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Institute had come to accept that interactive media could be beneficial to young learners when used appropriately.
We took our campaign back to the drawing board.
A Stressful Hearing
Twice more we applied, each time with extensive research and documentation. Twice more we were denied. Each denial came with a polite - if short - letter explaining that these funds were designated for classroom enrichment and not inappropriate tech toys.
Each time, I wrote a new rebuttal, which was dismissed out of hand.
After the third dismissal, I requested a formal hearing on the matter. It was not a pleasant experience and not one that I recommend to others, but it was enlightening and instructive, to say the least.
I opened with a discussion about my previous applications, passing out the information I had already submitted. I was shocked (not really) to learn that none of those present had actually seen the studies we cited. They had denied us based on their own beliefs and preconceived notions about Early Learning tech and its place in the classroom.
I had my work cut out for me.
I will not waste precious time here on the debate, arguments, and condescension that we saw from those who doubted our mission. It was a long hour-and-a-half, but in the end, we convinced enough of the panel that our plan was sound and they granted our request for funding.
After months of trying, we finally got our equipment.
Well Worth the Effort
Once we had it, it was time to decide how to use it.
Many of our students were familiar with smartphone technology, so we introduced tablets to the classroom first. These allowed them to explore basic concepts such a reading, writing, and science with the apps we provided. Later, we added computers as well, giving the youngest preschoolers access to services like ABC Mouse, PBS Kids, and others.
The older children could complete homework and view videos that helped to strengthen their understanding of basic concepts in a fun, easy way. Most had no high-speed access at home, so our center provided the only opportunity for these activities.
For each of our Pre-K students, we instituted a computer lab, allowing them a few minutes daily to use the equipment if they so chose. For the older students, the lab was available after homework was complete. Most approached it with enthusiasm and curiosity, some not so much, and that was fine.
For each of our younger students, understanding of basic concepts increased and they gained confidence in their own knowledge and abilities.
For the older students, the lure of age-appropriate educational games was enough to get school work done in record time. They could even earn special access for improving their grades. As a result, we saw an overall increase of one grade point on average for these students.
I'm not suggesting that computers are necessary for students to succeed, but it has been my experience that they can learn a great deal when the equipment is used appropriately. For my students, using our systems was a treat that they earned and opened a world of fun and learning that they wouldn't see otherwise. Since the older students were also learning to read instructions and respond to prompts on the screen, it really did have a positive scholastic impact that carried over into the formal classroom as well.
We worked hard to get our students the access they needed. It took almost a year of hard-fought battles to succeed. In the end, it was worth it to me for the extra boost my students saw and the excitement they could glean from learning something new in a new way. For me, that is the point of tech in the classroom and something I was happy to bring them.