Online vs. Offline Play

The ongoing question that is asked especially with parents and teachers, is at what age is it appropriate to incorporate technology into children’s lives and especially the classroom? Should it start at Kindergarten or before because they are already experiencing it at home, or should the K-5 experience especially be focused on tactile play, imagination, and environmental creativity?

Maria Bradley, an education technology steward and Josh Olins, a 1st grade teacher share their view points on this topic and what it looks like for the K-5 classroom moving forward.



Kevin Oates 0:00
This is probably going to place my age but growing up the no video games in the house are Macintosh LC 2 with Red Baron and Sim Farm as the only computer games we had. And not a single computer in the classroom, my time was spent doing a lot of playing, whether it was pretending I was a Ninja Turtle with my friends fighting in the yard, pretending I was a pirate on the playground wall, getting wood splinters everywhere, or my youth soccer league where over the course of five years, I scored a total of zero goals. Playing outside or inside in this way, made me a more creative and imaginative person, all while staying active. Fast forward to today, and I’m doing zero of those things, especially still not scoring soccer goals. Technology is now at the center of mine in everyone’s lives. whether you want it or not, we encounter technology at every touchpoint in our day to day. Truly, just think about all the ways you encounter us or even have it be the center of your conversations. But the ongoing question that is asked, especially with parents and teachers, is at what age is it appropriate to incorporate technology into children’s lives, and especially if the classroom shouldn’t started kindergarten because they are already experiencing at home. Or, for the K-5 experience especially be focused on tactile play, imagination, and environmental creativity. I reached out to two educators with opposing opinions on this topic to get some more clarity. For the power of online learning is Maria Bradley.

Maria Bradley 1:35
It’s really important, I think, for a couple of reasons. Well, one, I just want to go and say I don’t think technology replaces everything. I still see when I walk down the hallways and I see kindergarten flowers hanging on the wall with mom spelled wrong or word speller, I get that I had kids too, and you want to save those things. So I understand that not everything should be done on a device. And not everything has to be done on a computer. I’m not advocating for that at all. However, I think what I saw in the beginnings of technology going into the classroom, number one, it levels the playing field. So if I’m a student who either I am an ESL student, so English is not my first language, I those are usually the ones that you know what let’s give them that’s what we saw, let’s give them an iPod and begin it was an iPod but it moved over to an iPad, so that we’re able to give them stuff in digital format. And it’s easily translated to them so that they can catch up to everyone else. Technology sort of brings me to the classroom, and I’m not less than or equal to my peers in the classroom. So they’re going to be reading from a textbook, I’m gonna have it on my device, but I’m reading the same thing. And I don’t need to be brought out to a separate classroom, I can be in a general education classroom. So I think technology plays a big part in inclusion in the classroom, what you find is that that benefits everyone,

Kevin Oates 3:07
Maria came from the B2B sector back in the dot com boom and even interviewed a small online book company at the time called Amazon. She took her passion and involvement in the technology sector and brought it into the K-12 sector, providing students and teachers the tools and skills necessary to use technology to improve and make the classroom more interactive, and engaging.

Maria Bradley 3:29
I wanted to just take technology and see how I can use it in the education space, because that’s where my head was at. So I was watching, you know, I have my own children now. And I wanted to look for something to apply my background in technology in the in the education space, because that’s where my head was at. So it’s kind of like a natural sort of thing. But that’s where that stemmed from.

Kevin Oates 3:52
I asked Maria for some innovative ways we can use technology in the classroom as tools, and how to build engaging curriculum around not just software, but platforms.

Maria Bradley 4:02
like trying to wrap my head around, like how are they going to use Twitter in the classroom? Now, when you think of it today, where everything’s a hashtag, and everyone’s pulling back then it was like, how are you going to do it? And you know, what I came up with, you know, just doing research on like, let’s do tweets in a history class, if you know, where the Redcoats and we have, you know, what are we doing is we’re marching into the states. And if I’m George Washington, what am I saying to my troops in a tweet? And then even today, as we use Twitter, in the classroom, you know, one of the things again, it’s so it’s everywhere now, but back then when you’re trying to think of it, you know, I would point out to teachers, you know, back then a tweet was 144 characters, whatever else came out. So I would use it in an English classroom saying, why don’t you use this to summarize this chapter because you have to be on point. So in a tweet, it’s a really good exercise because there isn’t room for likes or this or that you have to be on Point to get 140 characters to make your point. So taking that technology and say just you don’t even have to use the technology, but apply that that piece of it, which kids are starting to use today and let them that be their answer, like 144 characters. Tell me what you know about this.

Kevin Oates 5:16
I asked Maria if she thinks we’re becoming too dependent on technology to learn, or is it just simply a tool?

Maria Bradley 5:23
I think is like one of the things I say when I’m training, you know, my team is getting to your assignment, and shouldn’t be hard for the kids. The assignment should be the actual content, like so when you’re doing an assignment, you want to pick something that lends itself to it. So in higher math classes, maybe doing it on a Google Doc is not great, because there’s not a math editor on there. With tools like hammy, we could address that now. But in the day like, so that’s not going to work. But if I’m an English teacher, and they’re writing an essay, how great is it when they share their Google Doc, their first draft, and I could put some feedback comments, they can go back and check it, put that feedback, revise it, and then even look at their version history, see the evolution of that document. So pick what lends itself to it. It’s not to replace everything. But you want to think of like I have these tools, especially if you’re a district where they invested in technology, because that’s taxpayer dollars. So you want to show that you’re using it. So what tools are we going to use that make sense for this?

Kevin Oates 6:33
Where are we going with the intersection of technology and education in and out of the classroom?

Maria Bradley 6:39
I think the future is it is in the classroom. I think what we learned during this pandemic is that, you know, I said it levels, the playing field in the classroom, I think we saw that it wasn’t always leveled outside the classroom. So where people didn’t have Wi Fi, you know where I am, they provided them with the Wi Fi, so they can do that. So there needs to be, you know, some sort of infrastructure where there’s Wi Fi available to them. In some cases, this device was their only device. So you were giving, you know, children who didn’t have access to the device, because maybe that wasn’t the most important thing their family needed. At that time. Maybe they needed, you know, they had built their food. So getting an iPad isn’t on the list of things they needed. Now you gave them an iPad. So now they’re not feeling left out. Because they don’t have it. They’re able to use an iPad too.

Kevin Oates 7:34
For the power of offline learning. We have Josh Olins, I asked Josh, what a typical day for an elementary school teacher is like,

Josh Olin 7:43
In teaching you, you don’t do that you get what walks in the door. And, and a lot of times, it takes a little while to see where your kids are at them. Some kids come in, you know, fired up and ready to go. And you know, great terms and others are, you know, need to really sort of draw things out. So the first part of the day is really just seeing how everybody is. So you have to take it slow and have lots of breaks. You know, the day is easily punctuated by things like snacks and resources and movement to lunch. And but but of course, within each block, you’ve got to you got to have eyes out on when your your audience is starting to melt away. So when you see that you got to be ready to shift things pretty quickly. I’d like to think that I you know, after 25 years, I’d be able to plan out a couple few weeks. But even when you do that, you just have to totally change, you know, modify what you thought you were going to do

Kevin Oates 8:46
A first grade teacher at Falmouth Elementary School in Falmouth, Maine, Josh, or Mr. OIins, according to his students, is all about play, and especially the lack of screens in the classroom. Just how important is play for kids?

Josh Olin 9:03
Oh, huge, hugely, I mean, at least two fold. I mean, one one is just the the skills that you require in playing, you know, learning how things fit together and, and building and creating and that sort of artistic play, but also in getting along with your peers. And that is just massive, especially just looking at our society right now. How important is it that kids can have a fight over over a block or how something’s going to be built and resolve it and you know, talk it out and come to a reasonable conclusion. Now, this these things are so important that that we need to be teaching them from and we do teach them from from day one. Play, without a doubt is the most important part of a child’s life. I mean, I’ve got them for six, seven hours every day, but hopefully in a healthy household and a healthy society. The kids get to go home and and play. When

Kevin Oates 10:03
you were pursuing your degree to become an educator, what are some of the things that really stood out to you that have become the foundation for your teaching? Now?

Josh Olin 10:11
You know, we did a lot of writing, and we do a lot of, you know, reading and talking about literature and literacy acquisition and, but also play. And we’re in these spaces, which are, which are highly designed for, you know, tons of amazing block areas and real work benches and constructions very, very old school and I carry that on today.

Kevin Oates 10:34
Do you feel that moving forward, schools are going to lean into technology as it becomes more and more prevalent in our society? Or do you think that the importance that we talked about a play, and that tactile experience will still be at the center?

Josh Olin 10:48
Yeah, this is a really great question, really tricky question. Because we are forever changed, there’s no doubt about it, we cannot just say, okay, as you’re back to play, without computers, we are forever changed. And, and, and I’m sure that we will lean on some of the technology that we’ve we’ve utilized, you know, I don’t I don’t think that it needs to be in the classroom very much. I think that within the four walls, there’s not a lot of need for for technology. And certainly at the younger ages, I, I would love to see less and less of it. But you know, no denying it’s, it’s there to stay, I wouldn’t want to do virtual programming again. But if I can do it, and I may, you know, we had fun, and it was really, you know, it was a great year, I made it a great year, because I knew we had to but I wouldn’t, you know, want this to be how teaching is done from here on out. I do think that so I do a couple things. One is I think that there is a place for virtual school virtual teaching kids that may have health issues or other family issues that for some reason, can’t make it into the building, you know, I think we’re going to get better at meeting the needs of every student. And the other is, you know, in the in the upper grades, it’s, it is a great resource, you know, there are a lot of fancy tools and paste that our society is built on it. So we do have to learn.

Kevin Oates 12:24
So I’d love to just talk about some of your favorite lesson plans, and your approach to meeting students where they’re at.

Josh Olin 12:32
So one that is has been really, really effective during the COVID time is, is letter writing and mail. Now I’ve done I’ve done that a writing in mail forever, I always have I think it’s really fun. But because communication has been so strained during COVID, it had carried this like, extra urgency to you know, to communicate with grandma and grandpa are people foreign friends for even your best friend that you just live down the road and you can’t go play with. And so those those, you know, to call it a lesson plan, it’s really like six weeks of programming that I’ve designed, you know, where you start out small and you think about who you’re going to write to and what sorts of messages and you know, eventually you shift over to actually creating letters and writing addresses but, but you get to really lead on, you know, up until this point, kindergarteners, first graders, their primary audience has been themselves and their peers and maybe their teachers. And suddenly, if you’re writing for grandma or grandpa or or aunt or uncle or cousins, they can’t read first grade or Messi invented spelling writing. So there’s suddenly a new reason to up your game a little bit. So it’s been it’s been really fun and effective.

Kevin Oates 13:54
So reflecting back on our conversation of online play and offline play, I love for both of you to share what you would pass on to the next generation of renegades and Mavericks that want to go on to be educators, how would you want them to discover the importance of play and technology both in and out of the classroom?

Josh Olin 14:11
Well, number one, you got to love it. Because there are going to be days that if you don’t love it, you’re gonna leave. I’ve made it 25 years so that I beat the odds, I suppose, because I really do enjoy it. I’d so much rather hang out with the kids. I guess I’m drawn, you know, then then hanging out in an office. That just sounds like a nightmare. You know, the other thing that I would say is you’re gonna be handed a lot of pre packaged curriculum material, you know, you’re gonna get when you get your first job, most likely someone’s going to say, here’s what you teach in math, here’s what you teach in reading, here’s your writing. And you know, you’ve been you 45 minutes of this and 60 minutes of that and and this is your day and plug it all in and And that is just a dead end. I mean, because what’ll happen is three years later, you’re going to get the next package. And then two years later, you’ll get the next package. And you know, these things go in cycles. And it’s it’s exhausting to try and continually go to professional development and learning the newest reading and writing program. So I think that you have to find some things and make them yours. Some of my best you asked me what my suffer a couple of the curricula that I’ve been teaching a couple of programs, and I’ve been teaching for a while that I enjoy. And, you know, I’ve been doing those forever, and they don’t fit in everyday math curriculum. They don’t fit in Teachers College, these are very well known programs. You don’t fit in, you know, Writers Workshop, or readers workshop or any of that stuff. But I I make that I make it work. And I’m and because I enjoy those things. The kids see the enjoyment in it, too. It’s not okay, everybody open up your workbook, turn to page 124. I mean, I have to do some of that stuff. But I also get to be myself, teach things that I really do love and care about.

Maria Bradley 16:20
Let’s, let’s use these tools to say okay, let’s use our class time together smarter. Let’s be more efficient, like we are in everything else we’re doing in our lives. Let’s be more efficient in the classroom and not spend the time. Looking at, you know, stuff we already know. We can move on. We can be critical thinkers we can learn together. I think technology brings engagement to it again, not the whole day. But I do it does bring a level of engagement with the students and what they’re learning and they get excited about it.

Kevin Oates 16:52
We’d love to hear your feedback. What are your thoughts about technology in the classroom from kindergarten to fifth grade? You can comment your thoughts on this episode’s post on Instagram. You can follow us @renegadesandmavericks. Discover Maria’s program and app recommendations, plus Joshua’s innovative play-based lesson plans at our website, And now, it’s time to thank a teacher.

Benn Marine 17:22
I’d like to thank my fifth grade teacher, Mr. JACK, Stephen jack, I should say. Mr. JACK, you lit my passion for history you made learning so fun and so inspiring. And I’ll never forget it and I truly appreciate your care and passion for your students. And it had a lifelong impact on me. So thank you so much. so grateful for you, and and all your talents.

Jeremy Glass 17:55
I just want to say thank you, miss. Yeah. You showed me the importance of reading in between the lines of history. As I was looking forward to class. Also I had a big crush on you. But you probably knew that.

Kevin Oates 18:09
To submit your thank you to a teacher to be featured on an episode of Renegades and Mavericks, you can email your audio recording to us at Renegades & Mavericks is a production of Dirigo Collective. Hosting and scripted by Kevin Oates and project management by Claire Closson.