Introducing digital devices to preschool children – and their teachers – often requires someone like pedagogical IT specialist Franziska Kläui as a catalyst. Using iPads to enhance class activities is also an opportunity to improve media literacy for teachers and children alike.
Caroline Smrstik Gentner: Why did you decide to create a digital project specifically for preschoolers?
Franziska Kläui: In Switzerland, teachers in the upper grades of primary school, fifth or sixth, have had courses to prepare them to teach media literacy and use edtech in the classroom. But in our school, preschool teachers only received the electronic devices: each class was given two iPads, along with some basic information at professional development events. I thought that they could benefit from concrete suggestions and wanted to introduce teachers to the idea of using iPads to do something useful with young children.
Eveline Hipeli, a professor of education and social sciences in Zurich, wrote a series of books about Ulla the owl and her friends Peter and Anna with stories about age-appropriate media use, learning to read, advertising and other media topics. The series was my inspiration for creating activities that use iPads imaginatively, and at the same time naturally promote media literacy for children.
I chose the second book in the series, “Peter und der Traum” (“Peter and the Dream”), because we have it in our school library. I expanded on some of the author’s suggestions for working with the book and put together a box with a set of ready-to-use materials that can be loaned out from the teachers’ library, then visited several classes to run through the program with them. Now that they know it, teachers are using it themselves, and through my network of pedagogical IT specialists, other schools have expressed interest as well.
CSG: The story in “Peter and the Dream,” where a boy is haunted by something he saw on his tablet, deals with fear and powerful emotions. How do you help young children understand that not everything on a screen is real?
FK: Moving images do make stories seem very real, and the children can be genuinely frightened. But in today’s world, it’s important to address these topics and let children know that they shouldn’t believe everything they see.
When we make a video against a green screen, they learn that if they have a photo of a beach, or of a tiger in the jungle, it’s relatively easy to use an iPad to create an illusion. When they’re finished, it looks as if they had actually been at the beach, or as if they had petted a tiger. Once they see how people use tricks to fool the viewer, they see things more critically.
“Teachers have to see their roles differently and begin to learn alongside their students, rather than upholding the status of the expert who knows everything.”
CSG: There’s a lot of disagreement about the balance of play and learning in preschool, with both teachers and parents having very strong opinions about the use of technology. How has your program been received?
FK: Many people think that young children should only be playing with blocks and Lego bricks, things they can hold in their hands. I completely agree that this is important, but after all, digital devices exist, and are enormously fascinating for children. Our goal is to teach them to deal with digital devices in a sensible, critical way. And because the children actually work with the tablets rather than just consuming whatever is on the screen, they also learn that iPads can be used to create something.
Introducing digital devices in the school doesn’t always have to be a huge project. We’re trying to show teachers how they can use our program in the context of what they are already doing. An iPad gives them more options than just the traditional pencil and paper.
We have to be brave enough to take a leap of faith and try something new. For that, teachers have to see their roles differently and begin to learn alongside their students, rather than upholding the status of the expert who knows everything – which they never were, anyway.
Franziska Kläui is a primary school teacher who is responsible for educational ICT support at the primary school in Wiesendangen, Switzerland. Her project is one of the Spotlight Switzerland 2019 award winners.
The Wiesendangen primary school teaches 590 pupils from preschool to sixth grade in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland.
Reality and fiction in kindergarten is a set of lessons for preschoolers based on a children’s book about a boy confronting his fear of an image he saw on his tablet. The children follow an online tutorial to create a “magic disc” that matches the boy’s story, and experience creating “magic” of their own with green screen technology. The accompanying discussions help very young children begin to distinguish between what is real on screen and what is not.
Reality and fiction in kindergarten was one of the ten Spotlight Switzerland projects presented at the HundrED Campus Seminar on 30 October 2019 in Zurich. The prizewinning projects highlight emerging best practices for digital transformation in the schools. The initiative is a collaboration between We Are Play Lab Foundation, Gebert Rüf Stiftung, Jacobs Foundation, Stiftung Mercator Schweiz, Beisheim Stiftung, digitalswitzerland next generation, and the Zurich University of Teacher Education.