Building Epistemic Awareness in the Early Childhood Classroom: Theory, Methodology, and Technology

Building Epistemic Awareness in the Early Childhood Classroom: Theory, Methodology, and Technology

Denise L. Winsor (University of Memphis, USA) and Sally Blake (University of Memphis, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-784-3.ch010
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Abstract

It is evident from the information in the previous chapters in this book that there is much to be learned about how technology fits into the world of early childhood education (ECE). This chapter discusses some exciting new thinking about epistemology and how children and teachers learn and how this could relate to technology and all learning with young children and their teachers. The new understanding of preschool education potential demands new approaches to these vital years of schooling if we are to prepare our children to succeed in the increasingly demanding academic environments.
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Introduction

A remarkable convergence of new knowledge about the developing brain, the human genome, and the extent to which early childhood experiences influence later learning, behavior, and health now offers policymakers an exceptional opportunity to change the life prospects of vulnerable young children, says a new report from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University “The early childhood years lay the foundation for later economic productivity, responsible citizenship, and a lifetime of sound physical and mental health,” says Jack P. Shonkoff, (2007, p. 2) director of the center and one of the report’s principal authors. Early childhood education has long been accepted as important for preparing young children to enter the academic world. Recent reports from the Office of Economic Development (2006) support high-quality preschool education as one of the most promising ways to help strengthen the future economic and fiscal position of our states and nation. There is also growing recognition of the importance of supporting the development of mathematical and scientific knowledge and skills in young children which includes technology. (Moon & Schweingruber, 2005)

The new understanding of preschool education potential demands new approaches to these vital years of schooling if we are to prepare our children to succeed in the increasingly demanding academic environments. Research on the development of cognitive skills related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics has provided fascinating new ideas concerning what young children can do, but very little guidance for adults about how to use this information in caring for young children. Unfortunately, these advances in understanding of children’s thinking do not seem to be shaping practice and policy in early childhood. “The tremendous gaps between what is known from developmental research and the usual content of curricula and the nature of practice in early childhood settings may inhibit children’s ability to reach their potential (NRC, 2005). Furthermore, when applied research is carried out, it is often not guided by theoretical frameworks and does not draw on research on cognitive development.

The professional challenges that this raises for the early childhood field are formidable. Individuals have to mount new mental structure as well as accumulate relevant data for the structure. It is as if learners have to get to the middle of the lake without a rowboat. The theoretical task is two-fold: to spell out how new mental structures are acquired and to achieve a theory of environment that that supports such learning (Gelman & Brenneman 2004). We believe that Denise’s work is a start to understanding how new mental structures are acquired and an approach to possible conceptual change. Because this area of research is new in the field of early childhood education we have provided a review of all current research to build a chain of logic for support if this work. As you read this chapter we have included some direct connections to the relationship between technology and epistemology. As you read the research it is important that you think through the implications for technology and all learning in your classroom.

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