Children and computer

Do computers have the potential to change the way children think? Teaching methods are associated and influenced by psychological theories of child development. Although progressive methods of teaching are already partly exercised in the present education system, traditional methods are still in use. Implementation of computers into classroom requires reconsideration of today’s teaching methods. There was a claim that computers are able to change children’s thinking and programming can help to develop problem-solving and thinking skills. Alternative idea was that computers by itselves can not change children’s thinking but they help to create stimulating environment and increase motivation to learning. It was stressed that in order to achieve good results in educating children, it was important that pupils work collaboratively on computer task that facilitate group interactions was important.

Dorothy Faulkner (1995) explain that there is an increased concern about the “nature of effective teaching” (Faulkner, 1995). Teaching methods were influenced by psychological theories and they were divided into traditional and progressive teaching methods. In traditional education the curriculum is organized in a way that each subject is taught by a specialist teacher. However, in progressive method te same teacher can teach many subjects through themes that cover a range of different areas of curriculum. In progressive education children of mixed abilities are grouped together and they are taught in small groups. The emphasis is focused on the process of “learning how to learn” where children construct their knowledge through discovery. In traditional education teachers give direct instructions and the emphasis is on the accurate retention of the subject matter. A teacher is teaching a whole class simultaneously and classes are organized according to children’s age and ability.

The underpinning theories of traditional education are those of natives or behaviorist perspective. Progressive methods of teaching are based on constructivist and social constructivist theories. The implementation of computers into classroom associated with progressive methods of teaching.

Karen Littleton (1995) introduced to the idea that as the computer technology grows and the use of it expands to the classroom, the need for investigation of the impact on children’s intellectual thinking is increasing. Computers drill-and-practice programs were placed within behaviorist theory where the computer serves a role of a “patient teaching assistant” (Littleton, 1995). Such programs work on the individual task routinely and they give an immediate feedback in order to shape further performance. They are usually designed to automatize basics, such as basic mathematics or spelling. According to research drill-and-practice software plays a modest role on children’s learning, although there were some exceptions (Kullik et al., 1985; Hughes, 1990). Such programs associated with Skinnerian behaviorist approach.

In was claimed by many educationalists that programming assists development of thinking skills. Seymour Papert (1980) argued that programming may help children to progress from concrete stage of thinking to formal. His claim was based on Jean Piaget’s theory. The role of the teacher was to create a supportive environment where children could explore. One of the features of the Logo programming language was a turtle graphics and children could have written a program in order to control a Turtle, that was, a small robot on wheels that could move on the floor or on a table. A pen was built into the turtle that can be lowered and different patterns and pictures could be drawn by programming a turtle.

Although programming of the turtle often occurred in groups, Papert’s focus, as well as Piaget’s, was on the individual cognitive development. He argued that programming itself helps to develop problem solving skills because the act of programming involve dealing with a problem by separating it into manageable units. Programming gives visible results. So, it helps children to reflect on their own thinking and to exercise control over their mental processes.

Hughes (1990) investigated Parpert’s claim and proposed some conclusions that emerged from previous researches. Research usually employed experimental design. Children’s problem-solving skills were assessed at the start of the study and after exposure to Logo programming. Their performance was compared with the control group, that was, children who were engage in other activity. The results of these studies showed that even if cognitive benefits were noted, they were not impressive. However, there was an argument that in order to acquire gains from programming it should be done extensively over a long period of time. That is why the results of those studies were not great enough.

Other studies (Clements, 1986) showed that children gained much more when Logo programming was structured by the teacher. He compared three groups of children from 6 to 8 years old. The first group had tutor led introduction to Logo during 22 weeks where children were increasingly introduced to complex concepts. The second group had computer-aided instructions of the same period of time. The third group (control) had normal lessons. The results revealed that children in the first group gained much more then children in two other groups. Clements and Nastasi (1998) also found that when children work with Logo programming in groups they had more significant gains.

An alternative believe is that the use of computer do not change children’s cognitive abilities on its own rights but it provides stimulating environment where children can work in groups. It might be that working on a computer task with a partner increases motivation and self-confidence. However, research has little to say about it.

The collaborative work around the computer depends on the type of the software. If children use computer it does not mean that interaction between them will occur. Crook (1987) noted that children who were solving maze computer program did not work collaboratively but adopted turn taking style.

Zemira Mevarech et. al., (1987) in his study found that there was no significant difference in children’s progress whether they worked on the computer program in pairs or alone. Light conducted a series of investigations using the program Towers of Hanoi where children had to make as few moves as possible in order to replace a series of rings of different sizes from one peg to another. Observations revealed the reason why children who worked in pairs did not progress better. Most of them employed turn taking style and interaction between them did not occur.

In the second study Light has changed the rules of the game. Both children who worked in pairs had to type a command in order to move a ring. There was no difference in children’s performance whether they worked individually or in pairs. However, more children who worked in pairs solved problem in fewer moves. The results of these studies suggested that it was important for both students being involved in the task and that computer in itself does not guarantee that children would work collaboratively.

Fletcher (1985) investigated why children who work in pairs do better then those who do not. In his study children worked either individually or in groups of three. Some of the children were asked to make their decisions aloud, while others worked silently. Results have shown that talking individuals and groups of children performed better then those who worked silently. He concluded that verbalization can be important factor in some circumstances.

Mercer, N.(Audio-CD 4) investigated the nature of children’s talk when performing a computer task. He noted that different types of talk had different functions. Disputational talk was non-cooperative and competitive. This type of talk was not found to be very productive. Cumulative talk was characterized by the talk where ideas are clearly expressed, negotiated, and new ideas are build on each others ideas. Exploratory talk characterized by exploration of each other’s ideas. When an idea is criticized, it is done in supportive, non-competitive way. Cumulative and Exploratory talks appeared to be effective for improvements in children’s performance.

In another study Light and Glachan (1985) observed 8 years old children playing game “Mastermind”. Children played the game in pairs and each child was expected to propose the move. Sometimes proposals led to conflict. It was found that pairs of children where the conflict occurred performed better on the subsequently given individual task of “Mastermind” then those who were in groups where there was no conflict. This study made a support to Piaget’s claim of socio-cognitive conflict. According to Pieaget children in equal relationships can consider conflicting views and “balance them against their own” (Littleton, 1995). This process can help children to integrate those views into their own more complete perspective and to move to a higher level of operational thinking.

The role of conflict was examined in the light of Vygotsky’s theory. The notion that knowledge is collectively constructed and shared was originally proposed by Vygotsky in relation to the asymmetrical interactions, which was interaction between adults and children where the status is unequal. Vygotsky in relation to the asymmetrical interactions, which was interaction between adults and children where the status is unequal. Vygotsky saw learning within child-adult relationships as the adult scaffolding the child’s knowledge and helping the child to understand the kind of problem he is solving that is called metacognitive awareness. It is believed that the same processes could be applied to symmetrical interactions.

In the study of Sylvia Barbieri and Paul Light (1992) children were given computer-based problem-solving task. They observed children’s talking about their plans in order to solve the problem and whether children negotiated between one another about the next move. Such conversation between children could be seen as co-construction of knowledge. After a week of working on the problem in pairs children were given a similar task to work on their own. The results showed that interactions that were identified as co-construction of knowledge had helped children to perform better in their individual work.

However, some psychologist think that it is necessary to move away from looking at the individual gains of using computers and concentrate on evaluating on the nature of interactions between children and teacher, children with one another, and children and their home environment when using computers. He also stressed the need for new ways of evaluating children’s performance. Mercer,N. argued that it is not the computer alone that constitutes the computer activity but the surrounding classroom and home environment in its wider context and what the child brings to the computer.

It is possible to say that computers are able to influence children’s thinking and learning. Computers can be used as a tool that helps to facilitate learning. The way in which children have to interact with computers depends on the purpose of education. The teacher’s own views on education may also influence the way in which computers are used in the classroom.

To begin the implementation of computers into teaching it is necessary to know the purpose of education. It is important that children work in groups and the teacher has to ensure that all pupils within a group are involved in a task. That is why the task that allows the interaction amongst a group of pupils should be chosen and children should be grouped according to their stage of development.

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