iPads are child’s play
Maxine Myre | May 28, 2014
Today’s kids are surrounded by more technology than ever.
Even children ages 3-4 years old can pick up iPad skills quickly and intuitively in classrooms.Researchers at Brock University set out to explore how technology affected young children’s literacy learning. Their big question was: If you introduce iPads into early years classrooms, what happens?
“[The kids] are very inquisitive [and] very interested in learning new things, so they get right in there and start touching, and playing, and swiping,” says Debra Harwood, a researcher in early childhood education and the principal investigator of the iPad study. “They don’t have any kind of inhibitions about trying things out, which is perfect because that’s what an iPad invites the kids to do.”
Harwood and her colleagues employed a 21st-century definition of literacy that goes beyond just reading and writing.
“To me, traditional literacy has always been an ability to read printed words and to write printed words. That’s a very 20th-century mindset,” says Jennifer Rowsell, Canada Research Chair in Multiliteracies and member of the research team. “I would argue that literacy today is much more about being communicatively competent.”
Harwood and Rowsell presented some preliminary findings at Congress 2014 in St. Catherines.
They’re seeing a new world of play for young children where the boundaries between what’s real and what’s virtual are blurred. They refer to this as “convergence of play.”
They might be playing with Lego building blocks, for instance. Then they’ll grab the iPad and go onto the Lego app. They seamlessly move back and forth between the app and the concrete world.
“Sometimes as adults, we have preconceived notions about digital technology. We would say things to them, if they’re colouring on the iPad: Wow that looks like real colouring! And the child would kind of look at us and say: It is real!” says Harwood.
While there is an abundance of articles that highlight the negative effects of technology on children, Harwood argues that in the classroom context it’s all about the way they’re introduced as a tool to facilitate learning.
The researchers and educators controlled the apps that were on the iPad depending on the interests of the children. They chose apps that would foster collaborative play.
“For example, when spring came, the kids started going outside more so we were able to add apps so that they could photo-document trees, birds, those types of things, and then write stories around them,” says Harwood.
Social interactions are also an important part of the learning process. For this reason, not every child was given an iPad, but rather one for every three to four children. They saw that kids were able to problem-solve how they were going to share the iPads, either by helping their friend or negotiating a time when they would get access to it.
“So [that level of self-regulation] for me was really quite interesting because we’re talking about such young children,” says Harwood.
Another key aspect in introducing this type of technology into classrooms is teacher training. Although the tools are constantly changing in this past-paced world, it’s becoming increasingly important to train teachers in using technology as a tool to support learning.
Turns out, iPads can be a useful tool to promote literacy. It simply offers another lens for kids to explore ideas or create their understanding of things.
“I’ve always known how clever young children are. It reaffirmed that thinking on a level that I couldn’t have imagined,” says Harwood.
The whole package
Teresa Pitman | September 26, 2014If you’ve ever bought ready-to-eat sushi, you may have noticed a blob of wasabi on the tray. It’s a convenient way to add pungent flavour to your lunch, but it also serves another purpose: it protects your food from micro-organisms. As food science professor Loong-Tak Lim explains, wasabi contains allylisothiocyanate, (AITC) a natural and potent anti-microbial that kills yeast and bacteria. Of course, not every food is enhanced by the strong flavour of wasabi, so Lim has developed a packaging system that offers the same antimicrobial benefits . Lim derives his AITC from ground mustard powder, and uses a patented nanotechnological process to spin tiny fibres that encapsulate the naturally sourced agent in the packaging. “The conventional approach to adding preservatives has been to add them to the food,” says Lim's research colleague Suramya Mihindukulasuriya. “But processing the food may break down the preservative. By having the preservative in the packaging, we don’t need as high a concentration to enhance the shelf-life, safety and quality of the food.” So-called “active packaging,” responds to changes in the environment and the food itself, Lim says. In this case, the membrane responds to a certain level of moisture and releases a preservative to prevent spoiling. Other active packaging materials respond to heat and light. Mihindukulasuriya works with a preservative called hexanal, the volatile organic compound you smell when you cut grass or slice a cucumber. Hexanal helps preserve cell membranes of fruits and vegetables so they don’t become soft or soggy as they ripen. The preservative also has some anti-microbial properties, which are activated by heat and humidity. Mihindukulasuriya calls her technique of enclosing the preservative using ultra-high electrical forces “electrospinning.” Lim jokes that “we are like Spiderman, spinning tiny fibres.” And the fibres are tiny – about 400 times smaller than a human hair. When exposed to humidity or water, these fibres become permeable and release the hexanal. During her PhD studies, Mihindukulasuriya also developed an oxygen indicator that is activated by ultraviolet radiation. When there is little or no oxygen in the package, the indicator is white, but if the package is damaged or torn, allowing oxygen to enter, the indicator turns blue. This matters because oxygen causes rapid deterioration of some foods, and higher levels of oxygen encourage the growth of more micro-organisms. These foods are sealed in vacuum packs or in packages flushed with nitrogen to remove the oxygen, but if the package becomes damaged at some point, oxygen can get inside. That’s where Mihindukulasuriya’s product comes in: a label with a blue line would indicate that the package should not be purchased. What’s next in active and intelligent packaging? Mihindukulasuriya is planning to develop a compound that will detect the volatile compounds produced by food when it spoils and indicate to consumers that the food should not be eaten. The technique would supplement expiry dates, which are only estimates based on typical situations. Not only would such packaging warn people that food had spoiled, it could also reassure them when it was safe to eat – even if the expiry date had passed. “People throw away lots of food that has expired but is still perfectly good to eat,” says Lim. This article was originally published by the University of Guelph. It has been edited for brevity, clarity and style, and is republished here with permission.