Technology for children far beyond our older imaginations

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Lynne Cope Hummell

Remember the book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum?

I didn't go to kindergarten. It wasn't required by the state board of education at the time, and the only kindergartens I knew of were held in churches. It was more like day care for working families, and since my mom was home, so was I.

But I do remember going to first grade, where I learned a lot, I'm sure, but not nearly everything I would need to know.

Actually, upon reflection, I don't know what I learned. By the time I got to first grade, I already knew how to read, thanks to my big brother. In fact, my teacher, Mrs. Rampey, gave me low grades in reading because she was convinced I had memorized all the Dick and Jane books.

I also knew how to add and subtract, thanks to my dad, who could figure large equations in his head. And I knew how to sit quietly, how to raise my hand before speaking, and how to say "yes ma'am," "please" and "thank you," thanks to my vigilant mom. I could already tie my shoes, count past 100, and write my name and address.

I thought I was pretty smart.

Then, last fall, I read a press release about first grade students in an optical engineering class. I don't even know what that is! But I know they received a bunch of state-of-the-art microscopes to help them learn about small organisms. How cool is that - especially in first grade?

The same school, River Ridge Academy right here in the Lowcountry, teaches environmental engineering in fourth grade.

My, we have come such a long way from the pickle jar terrarium that our fourth grade class had to build.

Other elementary schools in our area are teaching robotics, web design, animation, and how to create apps, among a host of other exciting and globally viable skills. This is where STEAM starts - science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Elementary school sounds like the place to be.

The technological changes have been gradual, of course. When our firstborn was in fourth grade, his class was selected to be "guinea pigs" to test the effectiveness and feasibility of providing Palm Pilot personal digital assistants for students. I couldn't understand why they would need that sort of device - my child was not one to stay organized in any way.

But he did figure out how the gizmo worked, perhaps before the teacher did. He showed everyone how to "beam" a document from one device to another. Most of the kids couldn't have been less impressed. After all, they were focused on collecting Pokemon cards.

In the past couple of years, we have heard more about coding classes for youngsters as well. (For those elders like me who are unfamiliar with coding, it's the part of technology - the language - that tells computers what to do.)

There are school classes and even summer coding camps for kids as young as 8.

When I was 8, in 19-something-something, computers still took up most of a room. The world's first commercial 16-bit minicomputer, the 3C DDP-116, was sold - for $28,500.

We were so proud and excited when we got our first home computer. It was 1993 and the internet was still new. We took out a loan for $5,000 to buy a Macintosh Centris 610, with an 80 MB hard drive and 4 MB of RAM (random access memory). It weighed 300 pounds. Or so it seemed. It really did take up half the dining room table.

Now, the ubiquitous cell phone is far more powerful than any of us could ever have imagined. Except maybe the kids in kindergarten.

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