FARMINGTON — Preschool children gathered around a multi-table Tuesday to hunt for animals as part of a research project on how the new technology supports early learning and teaching.

Children at the Sweatt-Winter Child Care Center at the University of Maine at Farmington are using the Engage-2 multi-touch table developed by Kaplan Early Learning Company, Donna Karno, associate professor of Early Childhood Education at UMF, said.

Karno, along with Kaplan representatives, will present the findings of the research at an international education technology conference next spring in Savannah, Ga., she said.

The Sweatt-Winter school is UMF’s laboratory school for college students in teacher education.

While teachers and students at the center have used individual iPads for several years, the new interactive table allows up to four children to manipulate it at the same time, she said.

Hooked to the Internet, a variety of applications in literacy, math, puzzles and artwork are used, she said.

One insect app allows children to put parts of the insect’s body together and teaches them parts of the body, she said. A bubble app helps with counting the numbers of animals found.  

Teachers can upload and adapt local photos to create more personal puzzles of places children know. Teachers can take pictures of leaves, acorns and squirrels, for instance, and group them into a fall app for children to identify fall items, she said. 

It is a supplemental part of the children’s day, Karno said of the 20 minutes spent at the table during their 6-to-8-hour-day at the center. It doesn’t take the place of other activities but technology is part of their future, she said.

There are a few things she has observed, including social dynamics. Children working at the table collaborate and work well together, she said. Boys tend to use the table more, although the apps are gender neutral, she said.

UMF students who do their field work at the center will also train in how to appropriately use technology in the classroom as they work with the children and table this fall, she said.

“As a college of education, UMF is taking a lead by doing the research,” Karno said. “No one else has done it.”

It is important for children to experience technology appropriately, she said.  “I’ve worked in educational technology for a number of years,” she said. “A lot of it is used inappropriately.”

The appropriate way to use technology in the classroom is important for the student, the teacher and for the state of Maine, she said.

For the research, Kaplan provided the table and a separate tablet that will remain at the child center.

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