I am not overly impressed with most pre-K apps on the iPad or the Android market. Many have a reductionist view of learning and focus on very simple skills.
That said I really enjoy watching my 3 year old son play Team Umizoomi Math: Zoom into Numbers. Yes it is a skilled based game. Yes it is from a mass consumerism show (one my son didn’t watch until we downloaded the app). Yet to me it has so much promise as an app that demonstrates the power of responsive feedback.
Growing with You
As soon as my son got his hands on the ipad, after requesting we download it, John went right to work. Like most video games, going back to the left right scroll, you have to unlock boards.
What I love best about the app was if you return to the game the skills get harder. That is until you hit your level of expertise then the challenging problems are mixed in. For example on one game you have to pop bubbles with a specific number. You start of with the numbers but this is replaced with graphic symbols. A critical early counting skill.
There are also help features built into the games that have appropriate wait time.
In another game you get ballons to fly in the air (addition) and pop ballons to return to Earth (subtraction). The visual cues of the ballons act as a great manipulative to build in important numeracy skill. Can my son decipher number sentences. No of course not, but the game models some important concepts.
Future of Early Childhood Assessment??
Do not get me wrong. I in no way think an app can replace mathematics instruction in pre-K. My eureka moment with Umizoomi had more to do with assessment rather than learning.
One of my biggest reservations with the latest round of Race to the Top money, which was focused on early childhood, was the assessment requirements for funding.
I just don’t believe that current assessment practices are reliable enough for 3 and 4 year olds. On any given day a preschooler can be an angel. They can also be the spawn of Satan. Futhermore I do not believe pre-K students can even understand the formal grammar of most concept of prints, alphabetic principles, numeracy, and phonemic awareness assessments.
A reliable assessment would require ongoing teacher observations in naturalistic environments. That brings us back to Umizoomi. What if teachers could mine data from students repeated use of numeracy and literacy apps? Reports could be generated that identlify where they level off, time spent on the app, etc. Plus the assessment could be given or time, which reduces the little angel/little devil issue. Finally it can be engaging in fun.
After watching my son play Team Umizoomi I can now envision the future of pre-K assessment involving some non-commercial apps that allow us to watch growth unfold instead of trying to take an unrealistic snapshot.