Technology + Kids = Precocious or Savvy?

But They’re So Much Better at Technology!

Today’s youth live in a media environment that is not only very different from what previous generations experienced, but is also changing at a rapid pace. Sherry Turkle, in her article Always-on/Always-on-you: The Tethered Self (2008), describes our connection to technology as a state of constant readiness to send or receive communication through our devices at any point in time. Adults model these multi-screen, multitasking behaviors as we shift from one device to the next working through our daily tasks.

Many adults testify to watching children figure out new technologies at speeds that they could only imagine attempting, I generally see this swiftness to learn new tools as children’s natural precociousness when it comes to technology. However, this does not provide evidence that children are fully aware of their actions during their interactions with digital tools. For instance, adults who have had more exposure to using technology, generally understand where to press to play a video, pause it, or even scroll to rewind or move forward. In contrast, a young child who has not yet learned of these features may cause some of these same effects through experimentation, however, may not explicitly realize what action caused the result. In their article on Causal learning mechanisms in very young children (2001), Gopnik, Sobel, Schulz, and Glymour note that when young children are presented with patterns of evidence within a learning situation, they are likely to draw causal conclusions, however, much of this process is most likely unconscious. In other words, although children are learning and making causal links when they find patterns within a new digital tool, they are not able to explain or identify the assumptions they are making to draw that causal inference.

It makes sense that adults have more metacognitive abilities when processing and learning with technologies. In fact, when adults are watching a scene from a movie, they are using 17 distinct regions of the cerebral cortex (Anderson, Fite, Petrovich, & Hirsch, 2006). So, when we consider that many parts of the brain have not yet fully matured in young children, it becomes quite clear that guidance is necessary just like in many other areas of their dynamic young lives. What I am getting at is that children still need to be taught in order to move beyond just being precocious, to becoming truly savvy!

So How Do I Get Started?

No matter which area of the school you are teaching in, there are a few general things I’d encourage you to think about when it comes to your students and technology:

  1. Figure out and understand HOW your students are using technology both at school and in the their lives outside of school.
  2. Consider the areas within that category where your students may need guidance in terms of skills and strategies.
  3. Try to find opportunities for GUIDED PRACTICE in your setting so that they can learn in a safe environment.

So let’s break these three points down!

How are Students Using Technology?

I work between the grades of Pre-K to 2nd Grade, so the ideas and examples that follow will pertain to this age group. However, the thinking process above can be used for any age group. What I found out about my students were the following:

  • Outside of school, my students were accessing television and video content for viewing entertainment. Although we encourage co-viewing with an adult when watching any type of video or television content, the truth is, it isn’t always happening.
  • In school, they were being asked to use a range of apps to create content and document learning with their teachers both in their homeroom classes as well as specialist classes.

How Should I Guide My Students?

When I think about what my students may need guidance in, I focus on the fact that children bring much less background knowledge to new technologies than adults. So, what scaffolds can I provide to help them THINK while they are using or consuming content on technology?

Looking at the first point concerning media consumption, I am very aware that many of my students are probably watching all sorts of media content without an adult to discuss the content with. One area of concern among not just educators but also parents is that children often assume what they see on the screen is true.

As for my second point, many of my students are asked to use a variety of new apps to create digital content but have very little knowledge of how to figure new tools out or how to troubleshoot.

Finding Opportunities for Guided Practice

When it comes to the media that children are consuming, one thing that I’d like to arm my students with is the ability to QUESTION and think critically about content. Many teachers already teach students thinking strategies such as the Visible Thinking Routines from Project Zero. Why not use these with a lens on questioning “fake” and “real” content when it comes to photographs or videos found on popular sites like YouTube? Students should also be provided with opportunities to alter content for a public audience. Through simple tools like photo editing, collage making, or even green screen projects, you can emphasize how easily digital media is altered before publishing. Imagine the type of deliberation and conversation we could get going if students had to comment on and analyze each other’s edited or altered work!

Finally, we all know that working with young children on technology can be a nightmare, especially when they all have no idea what to do next!!! If we give students strategies to become strong and able readers regardless of the book, we should also be giving students strategies for becoming thinkers and problem-solvers when approaching new digital tools. Beyond a “How To” chart for each new app, could you create thinking strategies that would guide your students through the problem solving process when they need to figure out a new function or troubleshoot when they navigate to the wrong place?

I encourage you to think about these things as part of helping your students to grow as digital citizens. Let’s not just assume that our students will learn how to do it on their own, that they’re already “good at it”, or that it can wait till later. We are responsible for guiding our students through all learning areas, including their digital lives. Being precocious is not enough, let’s prepare our students to be SAVVY!


Gopnik, A., Sobel, D. M., Schulz, L. E., & Glymour, C. (2001). Causal learning mechanisms in very young children: two-, three-, and four-year-olds infer causal relations from patterns of variation and covariation. Developmental psychology, 37(5), 620.

Anderson, D. R., Fite, K. V., Petrovich, N., & Hirsch, J. (2006). Cortical activation while watching video montage: An fMRI study. Media Psychology, 8(1), 7-24.

Turkle, S. (2008). Always-on/always-on-you: The tethered self. Handbook of mobile communication studies, 121-137.

Coaching: Learning along with the Learners

As a coach, I have been thrown into the world of 3d printing. This is my story:

Im pretty new to 3D printing. About 3 months ago a few Grade 2 students asked me if they could print something on the 3D printer during their iTime (See this post by Kath Murdoch on iTime). I was pretty excited to use the 3D printer in an authentic way to help students in learning and wondering. This post is from my notes from the experience.

We’ve been engaging in iTime at my school for a little over a year now. It’s exciting and challenging at the same time. I am fortunate to work across the primary school assisting teachers and students with technology integration. We didn’t just set out to print something but had a carefully drawn up plan or attack. As Kath puts it:

We need to be crystal clear about the broader learning intentions of such things as passion projects or iTime. This means, amongst other things:

Taking time to develop clear criteria and guidelines with students agreeing on ways to ensure accountability explicitly identifying the skill sets accompanying the learning tasks students design building self assessment and reflection into the process Kath Murdoch (2015)- Seeing Beyond the Cupcakes- What iTime Should Really be About

Our criteria and guidelines for this project is briefly outlined below.

Session 1: We sat down and brainstormed and made some agreements on the way forward and what we would achieve in our meetings. Students had all sorts of questions about how the 3D printer worked. To them it seemed a minor miracle that I printed a Yoda Head that I hadn’t designed myself but merely found the .stl file on Thingyverse. Cool nonetheless right? I didn’t see much value in just finding something and printing it. Whatever these 4 boys wanted to print there had to be some sort of independent design and thought involved. For session 1, we drew, talked, wondered and examined the 3D printer in the Makerpsace that happened to be in action printing something (no, not another Yoda head). At the end of the session, we had many ideas from 3D printing a drone to a ‘mini me’ statue to a robot. We wrote about our blue sky thinking in our Easyblog Learning Stories for documentation. Skills: communication, critical thinking, asking good questions. Dispositions: Resourceful

Session 2: I had pondered the kids ideas all week, they were imaginative ideas but not so practical. Session 2 provided more clarity for us all. Over the week, the learners had (thankfully) changed their minds and wanted to print..a fidget spinner! My first reaction was ‘gah’! but I sat and listed to their proposal and they had some crude drawings on their plan. The had some sound ideas. They also had a few more questions of 3D printing. We addressed some of those questions and misconceptions first through teacher guided research. Then back to the plan. I had listened to the kids discuss how they could make the spinner, and then what I heard surprised me a bit, they were talking about math. Measurements to be exact. I had some sealed bearings on hand and we grabbed a ruler and measured the bearings, and roughly figured out the spinners dimensions (with my help). One of the biggest things I learned is that I had to give the kids TIME to explore the materials they needed (like the bearings) which led to more wonderings like- how does a ball-bearing spin? What is inside it? How can we open one?….The kids were stoked and couldn’t wait for the next session to print. Skills: communication, numeracy, Dispositions: Resourceful, Resilience.

Session 3: Students were a bit disappointed to learn we weren’t printing today. We hadn’t designed it yet! We used Tinkercad to make our design (I had to take some time myself to learn how to do this first). We used our accurate measurements and plugged them into the design starting with the basic shapes they drew. The kids did this by themselves but took a while as each learner had their own part to design on my Macbook which was super impressive. This process was again recorded on their iPads then put in Easyblog to record their progress. Skills: self-management, patience. Dispositions: Resourceful, Resilience.

Session 4: Print Day! We hurried down to the Makerspace to print our spinners. I printed one the day before just to see if we had the measurements right and it all worked out well. We made 4 copies- 1 for each learner in the project and began the print. While it printed, we had time to further observe, record and explore our wonderings and reflect on the process. Skills: communication, data gathering, observation, asking good questions. Dispositions: Resilience

Session 5: Play and Presentation. I cleaned up the prints for them as it required sharp tools but let them struggle a bit with the tight ball bearing fit. They were pretty happy with their design and and final product. We debriefed a bit, examining the challenges, what we would do next time without over analysing it all, however the presentation part of this I wish we could have done a bit better. More celebration. Maybe even showing our spinners at a school assembly or making a little video clip of the process to share with the school community. Skills: communication.
Dispositions: Reflective

One of the students wanted to improve the design and make a more complicated spinner, different shapes with more bearings while another wants to make a car to attach a motor to it and make it move. All 3D designed and printed of course. I’ll have to do my homework and figure it out myself because I dont really know how to do it yet. The best part of working with kids in this way is that I often don’t know myself and I need to learn along WITH the children which essentially makes us learning partners. I must admit it’s pretty fun.

I’d like to thank my 2 awesome colleagues @janeinjava and @hugoindratno for inspiration and teamwork as I love stealing their ideas and seeing the cool stuff they make with 3D printing and design. Worth a follow on Twitter and Instagram if you are interested in levelling up your maker skills.

Feedback for Current #COETAIL-ers

As the school year winds down, there’s a lot of activity on the COETAIL feed! Online 4 just finished Course 5 while Online 5 just finished Course 4. This time of year is a great opportunity to get involved in the COETAIL community. There are Course 5 final projects waiting to be watched. There are Course 4 final project ideas waiting for feedback. When you need a short break from end of the year activities, check out #COETAIL on Twitter or the COETAIL feed. If the recent feed on the homepage isn’t organized enough for you, the tags page will help you quickly find relevant blog posts. Below is a guide to clarifying & probing questions and warm & cool feedback. I love this community and can’t wait to see all the great things happening from the current and recently graduated COETAIL-ers!

#COETAILchat 3.6.16

On Sunday Megan and I co-hosted a #COETAILchat at a different time in order to allow more people in various time zones to participate. An hour and a couple hundred tweets later, I think it worked!


#COETAILchat March 6, 2016   Megan connected with Joel and a #COETAILchat about the COETAIL continuum, social media and collaboration was born. &nbsp Thank you to everyone who contributed to and participated in the chat…near and far! Although this chat was only an hour, feel free to continue to share your story!



#COETAILchat March 6, 2016 (1)


Disrupting Professional Development #CoetailChat

I think this was the biggest turnout for a CoetailChat yet. Feel free to look back through the chat, and come to #CoetailChat to continue the discussion

#CoetailChat happens on the last Sunday of each month around 9 pm Japan Standard Time (1pm GMT+0).

Everyone in the Coetail Community is welcomed to suggest topics for further chats and to moderate it with us (if you so desire).

The #CoetailChat team is @robert @shary-marshall @thammerlund @jasongraham99 @chezvivian

-Thomas Hammerlund

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If I were to start it all over again…

When I was 20 years old and living in Melbourne, I worked at an old world Italian restaurant. It was a tiny place. Sandro, the owner, had emigrated to Australia in the 1950’s, and he had some great stories to tell. One night he struck up a nostalgic conversation with me, talking about his youth. He looked at me and wheezed through a smile, “Ah, Marcello, to be your age, and have my money…” I had no idea what he meant. I felt young and pretty clueless. I felt like my age was a bit of a handicap…

As I have become older I have often thought back at episodes in my life and thought what I might do thing differently if I faced those same opportunities and challenges now. Not in terms of money, but in terms of confidence, experience, and in terms of learning.

Watching new Coetail cohorts spring up, bringing new faces and ideas into the community, has made me think back my own Coetail experience. It was not long ago that I began reading and writing online as part of the first online cohort. Mine are not the sepia stained memories one usually associates with contemplative reflection. But Coetail was my very first foray into being a connected learner, and dealing with all that that notion entails, so it does seems like a long time ago to me. So what would be different if I started it all again?


Well, I think that I would arm myself with the understanding that yes, sharing your ideas with strangers is a very powerful opportunity to learn, but it is not that simple. Connecting your ideas,thoughts, and your learning journey to that of other learners, it all takes courage. And it takes a willingness to make yourself vulnerable. So in retrospect, if I started Coetail tomorrow, I would try to live my new learning journey in a sustained state of vulnerability. In the words of Brenee Brown, I would strive to always be willing to show up and be seen in your new learning community.