In an effort to provide cutting-edge technology integration and improve academics in the core curriculum areas, I have spent the last three years creating an all-digital kindergarten laboratory classroom at Lincoln Elementary School in Rock Springs, Wyoming. My Technology Boot Camp began a few years ago when I won a classroom set of 24 HP iPaq handheld computers to use with students to improve their academics and motivate them to stay on task.

My Technology Boot Camp has been working with two partner classrooms in a neighboring school district to build community and increase communication skills for both teachers and students. These partner classrooms use the same kind of handheld computers that we do.

Chatting with Virtual Pen Pals

The students participate in a virtual pen pal program in which they are assigned a partner from one of the other classrooms. Once a week, they visit with each other using the Apple iChat program with webcams to build social skills. We give students a topic to use when interviewing their partners each week, and at the end of the school year, the three classrooms come together to meet face to face and share their new technology knowledge and experiences.

When students first began to chat, they did not always make eye contact, speak clearly, or project their voices so that the other students could hear. By the fourth quarter, everyone was doing a great job of listening and speaking. At the end of each quarter, students completed a rubric to determine if they felt they had made progress with their speaking and listening skills on the computer.

Using Ubiquitous Handhelds

My students use the handheld computers in a variety of lessons, including reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. They visit websites that include short stories and sight-word sentences to work on their reading. They use their styluses to write letters, numbers, and sight and color words, and later to write sentences and practice spelling words. They also use flashcards I have created in Power-Point to review this information.

The students feel good about the green aspects of using handhelds for writing. One kindergarten student, Gavin Rheaume, said, "We are saving the environment because we use handhelds instead of using paper and pencils, which come from trees."

Charting the Weather

In science, students used the National Weather Service website to check the weather and then graph temperatures and precipitation.

For social studies, they used Google and Yahoo to look up current events and read them to the class. The most notable current event the kids studied was the presidential election and President Obama's first 100 days.

Students also used the game Bubble Breaker to build thinking skills, problem solving, and hand-eye coordination.

The district assigned an instructional coach to the classroom. Her data show that students using traditional tools to learn were on task for 10–15 minutes, but students using the technology were on task for almost 55 minutes.

Keeping Fit with the Wii

My students have used the Nintendo Wii game system for both fitness and academics. They use a variety of sports games, such as Wee Ski, Wii Fit, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, Playground, and several sports, such as bowling and racing, all of which build coordination, teamwork, fitness, and communication while enabling them to meet their physical education standards.

Students use music and dance programs, such as Dance Dance Revolution, Disney Grooves, Boogie, Wii Music, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, American Idol Karaoke, and Sing It, to meet music standards and to experience a variety of musical in-struments and songs. The students use the system's controllers, drumsticks, microphones, guitars, and dance mats to play these virtual and interactive games.

Students also get some art practice when creating a character, or Mii, that looks like themselves or a classmate. They do this by selecting categories, such as eye color and shape, hair color and style, body size, and other characteristics to come up with a realistic image.

Learning about Art and Stories

I also taught the students to use games such as Smarty Pants and Cranium Kabookii, which include art trivia and other art skills using clay and drawing.

During "Love of Reading Week," they listened to fairy tales and folk tales using Wii Story Hour, which allowed them to participate in activities associated with the stories. Using this brain-friendly tool, my students seemed to be calmer and more productive than they would be with more traditional teaching approaches, such as picture-book read alouds or listening centers with audio books.

My favorite additions to the lab classroom were the programmable floor robots that teach mapping skills, coordinates, problem solving, communication, teamwork, and critical thinking using mats labeled with curriculum icons and words. The students program the robots to move along a grid and land on the correct answers to questions. These "bots" help the students gain basic computer programming and logic skills.

Staying Informed

Most recently, the students have been studying the presidential elections, and they have created a mat portraying pictures of President Obama in different aspects of his life and career. The students randomly navigate the robots to spots and then share with their group what the pictures are about and why they are important.

A former kindergarten student, Robert Blatt, said, "I loved teaching other kids how to use the Bee-Bots, and we got a good laugh when the adults could not do it."

I have used the bots to introduce new lessons, to practice skills through small-group interaction, and for interventions one on one or in small groups. I have noticed that my students this year have learned concepts faster and with a greater retention level than those not using the bots in other classes.

I wrote a book, Bee-Bot Lessons, that includes many of the lessons the students have used this year.

My students have improved their scores on the DIBELS and Aims tests, which are used for universal screening in our district.

And best of all, parents have been pleased that their students are using technology in a 21st-century learning environment.

Cristy Magagna-McBee is a National Board certified early childhood education instructional coach at Sweetwater School District in Rock Springs, Wyoming. She will complete her PhD in educational technology this summer.

Copyright 2010, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 1.800.336.5191 (U.S. & Canada) or 1.541.302.3777 (Int'l), iste@iste.org, www.iste.org . All rights reserved.

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