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Oklahoma Teacher Awarded for Connecting Pre-K Students with Tech

Putting iPads and other technology in young children’s hands makes school fun and enjoyable in the moment, but it’s the long-term payoff of learning computer science and coding skills that is so beneficial.

by David Dishman, McAlester News-Capital, Okla. / December 11, 2015

(TNS) -- An old proverb states if you give a person a fish, you feed them for a day — if you teach someone to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.

For William Higgins, a Pre-K teacher at William Gay Elementary, the same logic applies to kids and technology. Putting iPads and other technology in young children’s hands makes school fun and enjoyable in the moment, but it’s the long-term payoff for learning computer science and coding skills that is so beneficial.

“This is the language of the future,” Higgins said. “There are hundreds of thousands of jobs in need of this skill, but not hundreds of thousands of people with this skill.”

Higgins’ efforts to implement the building blocks for these skills into his curriculum recently earned him the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Supporting K20 Innovative Educators (SKIE) Award. He won the regional portion, and was later named the statewide winner.

Technology integration is one portion of the mission statement of the K20 Center, which is an educational support institution based at the University of Oklahoma. Higgins was announced as a regional winner, “Due to the mixture of technology use, logic and imagination he encourages in the classroom,” a press release states. Step into his classroom, and the creativity is evident.

Students use iPads and other technology for a variety of purposes. They can scan QR codes in order to learn about shapes, colors and letters. They can practice basic coding skills by inputing directions into Pre-K friendly programs. They can use robotic toy-like machines to reinforce the coding lessons learned in real life.

Higgins has a board set up with blank spaces in a grid and a mouse-like robot to move across the spaces. He can set up a “maze” for the robot to maneuver through, and then the students can figure out how to program the robot to dodge the obstructions. What are those obstructions? Rex the dinosaur from “Toy Story”, a Hot Wheels car and other little toys.

“It teaches problem solving and basic building blocks for coding,” Higgins said.

Students enjoy working with the electronic tools, and for some it translates into trying harder than when working on more traditional tasks.

“I’ve found they are more likely to keep trying than when they are just using a worksheet,” Higgins said.

As part of his award, Higgins was given a $1,000 check for the school to use for the purchase of additional technology for classrooms. Higgins hopes they will be able to get some additional robots to work in conjunction with the iPads already in classrooms. The robots are usually cheaper, and the kids love learning — perhaps better described as playing — with the technology.

The fun and enjoyment experienced by the children now just might lead to educational and professional success in the future. That’s Higgins’ hope at least.

©2015 the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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