Integration of Technology – Sandbox Visualization

Children Playing in Sandbox
Image Credit: Children Playing in Sandbox by Flickr user njsnowdog

There are some interesting parallels between a sandbox where technology is integrated and a classroom where technology is integrated. There is a great article called Seriously Considering Play by Lloyd P. Rieber in which his description of a sandbox as a natural Microworld intrigued me.

A sandbox where
technology is integrated

A classroom where
technology is integrated

Can often be messy but not disorganized A student centered classroom can often seem a little chaotic to an outside observer and can be a little intimidating to a teacher not used to it.  Learning cannot always be quiet, solitary, time-limited, paper-and-pencil tasks.
Tools are just there; no big deal. Technology should also be no big deal in a classroom.  There should not be a “computer lab day” or project where technology will be used (as opposed to other projects).  It should be used much like calculators are now.  Grab it when you need it.  Use it. No big deal.
Lots of cheap but effective technology (tools like pails, cups, shovels, rakes, cones, wood, plastic animals, etc.) Delicate and expensive computer hardware is confined to labs and immobile workstations.  Cheap, mobile, wireless, and durable digital hardware for classrooms is the next barrier to overcome.
Plenty of tools available whenever and wherever children want them (not stored in a tool box somewhere) Classrooms need to be brimming over with these devices just as now they have plenty of paper, pencils, books, etc. Every child has a chair, desk, textbook, notebooks, writing tools… why not a various wireless computing devices, too?
Hands-on Hands-on learning is student-centered and complements constructivism, the scientific method, situated learning, problem based learning, and differentiated instruction.
Social – everyone learning and working together.Discussions going on Vygotsky maintained that social interaction comes first, then learning; that is, learning takes place in the context of social interactions.  Like a sandbox, a classroom should support this view.
Everyone is engaged.Everyone is self-directed. Classrooms should be like sandboxes.  You rarely find children who fail at playing and experimenting in a sandbox.  The sand is the content, the tools are the technology, and the other kids are fellow students.
Adult working alongside the children (not sitting in a chair or at desk) The adult in the picture is not on the sidelines but integrated with the students, working with them, assisting, and probably coaching, suggesting, praising as well.
Hardly any instruction to teach children how to use a sandbox or the tools in it. Sandboxes require almost no instruction before use. Regarding learning technology, my contention is that the measure of good computer software/hardware, educational or otherwise, is quickness and ease with which it helps you to accomplish what you want to do.  If there is a “steep learning curve” you must endure, then the software/hardware is, in my opinion, ineffective.

Further Reading:

  • Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1). Retrieved from
  • Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for integrating technology in teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054. (You can read it online here)
  • Reid, S. & Cash, J. (2009). Microworlds.  Retrieved from the ETEC 510: Design Wiki:
  • Rieber, L. P. (1996). Seriously considering play: Designing interactive learning environments based on the blending of microworlds, simulations, and games. Educational Technology Research & Development, 44(2), 43-58. (You can read it online here)

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