Featured in the Gainesville Sun

The kindergarteners in Elmira Goode’s class at Rawlings Elementary know the routine. They stuff their backpacks into their cubbies, grab a squirt of hand sanitizer and rush to the front of the classroom for attendance.

But Goode doesn’t call out each child’s name. The children take their own attendance on a SMART Board — an interactive whiteboard. With the touch of a finger, the students drag their respective picture from the home column to the school column.

For these 5- and 6-year-olds, technology is a way of life, no different than using a crayon for their writing lessons. Technology has become increasingly prominent in classrooms and evermore important for the young generation.

“It’s almost expected for a child to come into kindergarten knowing the mechanics of the computer,” said Goode, who is one of about 500 teachers who has received a $3,200 SMART Board thus far.

Like most Alachua County classrooms, Goode also has two computers for her students.

“Technology is becoming very fundamental,” said Uma Shankar, supervisor of instructional technology for the Alachua County School Board. “This is the generation of YouTube, and we have to be relevant to them.”

Goode uses the SMART Board to build interactive graphs, download educational movie clips and show students real-time pictures of children around the world.

“The SMART Board gives me the world to give to my classroom,” Goode said. “It makes learning come alive.”

And kindergarteners are not the only students learning through technology. Some preschools now introduce computers to children as young as 2-years-old.

“You’d be surprised how some of the children are able to use computers,” said Martha Anzola, director of Kinderoo Children’s Academy in Ocala. “The computers really catch the children’s interest.”

The preschool put computers in several of its classrooms, including the older 2-year-old/younger 3-year-old room and the preschool room, about two years ago.

But classroom technology no longer ends with a desktop computer.

KidWorks in Gainesville opened new two preschool classrooms this fall at its Town of Tioga location, each with a 52-inch flat screen and student computers among the shelves of books and dress-up clothes. Although Mike Kramer, owner of KidWorks, often finds the dates changed and hard drives renamed, he said it is important the children begin learning how to maneuver a mouse and use a keyboard.

“Kids are much more in the sponge mode, and they become computer literate really, really fast,” Kramer said.

Each child visits the computer center at least once a week, and the teachers use the big screens daily to show the children real weather forecasts and books enhanced with motion.

“They love the screen,” said Kramer, as the children sat on the floor listening to the book “Mud Puddles,” cringing and shouting “Eww!”

But not all educators have been as quick to incorporate technology into the classroom.

“We feel like in the pre-K setting, it’s more about human contact,” said Kate Sherrard, creative director for O2B Kids.

Sherrard said the preschoolers do visit a computer lab every once in a while, but student computers have not been integrated into the classrooms.

“They will get it eventually,” said Sherrard, referring to computer skills. “The social-emotional and nurturing is what [preschoolers] need the most.”

Shankar agrees it’s a “balancing act” for teachers.

“There is no way a computer can replace a teacher,” Shankar said. “But it provides an engaging supplement.”

At Millhopper Montessori in Gainesville, kindergarteners spend at least one hour each week in the school’s computer lab, researching the topics they are learning in the classroom and using kid-friendly search engines like QuinturaKids.com or Kartoo.com. Each room also has laptops and desktop computers.

“I think it’s very important that they move forward and understand here is an additional tool they can utilize,” said Sylvia Aslanian, technology specialist at Millhopper Montessori. “You change and evolve with time. That’s what technology is all about.”