Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reading, Writing - and Computers High-Tech Teaching Tool Moves Children beyond Traditional Basic Skills to Keyboard 'Literacy'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reading, Writing - and Computers High-Tech Teaching Tool Moves Children beyond Traditional Basic Skills to Keyboard 'Literacy'

Article excerpt

IT'S pretty hard to miss Andrew's enthusiasm.

The preschooler punches the computer keyboard. He looks raptly at the computer monitor. Whenever he gets a right answer, he raises both arms above his head in triumph.

Cecile is quieter but more accurate. Her task is to put in order four cartoon pictures of a pig making an apple pie. She hits the space bar of the keyboard until the 1 is beside the picture of the pig picking apples. Then she presses the Enter key. "Professor Al a likable guy on the righthand side of the screen - gives a reassuring nod.

Cecile then orders, correctly, pictures of the pig cutting the apples, baking the pie, and eating it. The computer lights up its approval, arcade-style. Professor Al takes a break with his yo-yo.

For the preschoolers here at Carnegie Mellon University's day-care center, this is a typical activity. The computer revolution is not waiting to happen for them. It's already here.

In another Carnegie Mellon building across the street, a class of four-year-olds is learning a new drawing program, called Kid Pix.

"This program has surprises in it," says parent-volunteer Becky Shapiro. The idea: Let children discover its features on their own.

Anne has discovered the eraser tool. She clicks on the eraser icon on the screen with her computer mouse, then pushes the mouse back and forth vigorously. Slowly, a Kid Pix picture is revealed.

"It's an eye," she confides as the picture appears.

These children may not be typical. Their parents are university faculty or staff. Still, what is happening here is taking place to one degree or another in schools across the United States, indeed around the world.

There are some 3 million computers in US schools - or roughly one for every 13 students, estimates Henry Jay Becker, principal research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools in Baltimore. The number is growing steadily by 300,000 to 400,000 a year, he says.

Other countries aren't far behind. According to Dr. Becker, a 20-nation survey in 1989 found that Canada's province of British Columbia had a greater concentration of computers at its high schools than do schools in the US; the Netherlands was roughly comparable; Japan, slightly behind. These countries did not have as many computers in elementary schools as the US does. But Israel was roughly comparable in terms of computers per school, although it lagged at the high school level.

Ronghua Ouyang, a graduate student who is studying the children and their computers, has found that nearly all the preschoolers at the Carnegie Mellon Children's School learned quickly how to use the machine. …

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