TEChPLACEs: An Internet Community for Young Children, Their Teachers, and Their Families
Hutinger, Patricia L., Clark, Letha, Teaching Exceptional Children
When 17 kindergarten children in a small, rural Illinois school wanted to know more about kangaroos, their teacher, Carol Reed, asked, "How can we find out about this?" The children knew that Mrs. Reed's brother lived in Australia; and more than one child echoed Jana's response, "Just e-mail your brother. He can find out for us!" This was a class that blended children with disabilities and children at risk for school failure. Twelve had mild to moderate disabilities that included cognitive functioning, communication delays, and behavioral anomalies. The 12 children with disabilities, however, were already computer savvy-they had participated in a preschool special education class that integrated computer applications into the daily curriculum.
These kindergartners were accustomed to farm animals and tractors, fields of corn and soybeans, school buses and narrow roads. Family income levels were low. Children seldom traveled more than 100 miles from their own homes. Yet they used communication technologies as an important information source to connect them to the world through elements of their own collaborative Web site, TEChPLACEs (http://www.techplaces.wiu.edu). The everyday reality of these 5-year-olds included the ability to use the technologies of the communication age to access and communicate information, a reality that would have been impossible even 5 years ago. Moreover, it was a reality that ensured that young children with disabilities, from low-income families, had access to the technology applications enjoyed by children without disabilities, from more affluent families, as well as children and youth in the elementary and secondary years. Although using the Internet as a learning medium is not new (Johnson, 1998; Tapscott, 1999; Taylor, Bowers, & Morrow, 1998; Teicher, 1999), it is a new concept for the age group that participated in TEChPLACEs.
Origin and Purpose of TechPLACEs
Here's the amazing thing about TEChPLACEs. Children with disabilities and their teachers in collaboration with a university development team, designed the site as an innovation to test the feasibility of incorporating communication technologies into the early childhood curriculum, with special attention to the communities in which children lived and an emphasis on understanding the experiences of their own and others' daily lives.
The children, with assistance from adults, were major participants in developing the site, an unusual situation in that the majority of them demonstrated a variety of mild to moderate disabilities. Content included (but was not limited to) social studies, literacy, math, science, art, writing, and story-making-all part of the general education curriculum. The technologies used in TEChPLACEs provided a way for children with disabilities to do things differently. The site incorporated a variety of media and technologies to use the Internet; as well, it was a tool to restructure curriculum. Rather than adapting technology to traditional educational practices, TEChPLACEs relied on tools such as e-mail, Internet synchronous relay (ICQ), and the World Wide Web to stimulate new patterns of interaction that suggested different ways of teaching and learning (Cahoon, 1996). Recently, four early childhood experts were surprised to find which children developed the site-not children in general education.
Participants and Their Roles
In creating the site, Mrs. Reed's kindergarten class was joined by children and teachers in four classrooms, each located in different Illinois communities and school districts: an early childhood special education classroom for 3-5-yearolds in Colchester; two inclusive kindergartens, one in Industry and one in Good Hope; and one inclusive first grade in Macomb. A total of 167 children participated in TEChPLACEs over 2 years, including 102 (61 %) with mild to moderate disabilities, 51 (30.5%) identified as "at risk," and 14 (8.3 % ) without disabilities. …