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Technology can impact brain development in good, bad ways

5:23 PM, May 20, 2013   |    comments
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ARVADA - Kim Myers teaches kindergarten at Allendale Elementary in Arvada. She is proud to use iPads, laptops, and an electronic whiteboard to help her kids learn with the latest tool at a young age.

"I bring technology into every content area," Myers, kindergarten teacher, said. "It's more engaging for them to be able to put in on a computer, to be able to use an iPad, to be able to use a clicker and answer questions in class."

But, is what Myers doing, the right thing to do?

"So many of us have concerns that if these young children are immersed in all the technological stimulation at a young age, that may be problematic for their brain development," Dr. Gary Small, neuroscientist from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dr. Small wrote a book called I-Brain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind.

"When they spend a lot of time with the technology searching online, they're sort of training their brains to teach the way they search," Small said.

When young kids use technology, Small says it does strengthen information processing in the brain.

"The downside is, our face-to-face human contact skills; looking someone on the eye, noticing the emotional expression on a face; those neural wires are weakening," Small said.

That's why in Laurie Clark's classroom, you won't find any laptops or iPads. Instead, you'll find ribbons to braid, bread to make, and chalk art instead of white boards.

"I think technology certainly has its place," Clark said. "But, I don't think it belongs in early childhood."

In fact, you won't find a computer in any classroom at Clark's school until the ninth grade. She teaches at the Denver Waldorf School where Administrative Director Judy Lucas says they focus on brain development at young age.

"What we teach at our school is human interaction, social skills, social-emotional," Lucas said.

What they do at their school is tie different parts of the brain through movement and information.

"The more that the students have to make alternative routes or alternative paths, the more they develop these paths; the neural connections in brain," Lucas said.

Clark says teachers like to teach life, not computers to kindergartners.

"So, what we're trying to do in early childhood is make a foundation for learning to take place," Clark said.

Clark says students learn to struggle. They learn to solve problems. They learn grit.

"How much more will they remember that? How much more real with that be to him than simply Googling out an answer that comes and goes?" Clark said.

So, is what Myers doing at Allendale Elementary wrong?

"I use technology in my classroom because I can't assume a kid sees technology at home," Myers said.

She teaches to a student population of a lot of low income families.

"By incorporating laptops and all these resources, why not take advantage of it?" Myers said.

Small says bringing computers into young classrooms can be an important tool, if used properly.

"The technology is not the enemy. The enemy is too much technology," Small said. "They have to bring [computers] in the classroom. They have to be innovative in how they deliver the curriculum."

That's why Myers does. She combines computer assignments with creative ones. She gets students to work together and communicate with each other to tackle challenges on the computer. Don't forget, her kindergarten students can barely read, so forcing them to type out their answers on a laptop can strengthen their reading skills, according to Myers.

She says computers help her students develop their brain power.

"Technology is going to be resource to them," Myers said. "It's not going to be a crutch."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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