What do mermaids listen to?

Considering the use of i-Pads in an early childhood setting

Course #4 – Technology: A Catalyst for Learning

Research based best practice for the embedded use of technology for learning will be shared and practiced. The focus will be on the habits that provide students with the ability to use technology for its greatest learning advantage.

Course 4 Project

Technology has a significant presence in the daily lives of our children. There is the potential for children to use technology in powerful ways and we are learning ways to interweave it with traditional media to add another layer of richness to expression and learning. A few months ago I asked the Kindergarten classes if we could borrow one of their i-Pads for the purpose of researching the potential uses with 4 year olds.

Which App?

To focus my study I chose one application to investigate. Auraflux is described by i-Tunes as,

“A unique and innovative ambient music creation App for iOS devices.
Create unlimited, generative music by simply connecting nodes together drawing pictures.
With a wealth of options available for each node the sound, frequency, pitch can be changed to your needs or set to random to create evolving music.
With 48 individual sounds and a wide variety of features for how each connection reacts with the next, Aura Flux offers limitless possibilities.
Choose from one of 4 moods and adjust the background ambiance to create new music every time you play with Aura Flux.
The entire screen also acts as a touch instrument letting you play along melodies with any of the 48 instruments included.

Featuring full save and load, keep your favorite scenes to recall and listen to later or tweak to suit your mood.”

I choose this because, more than many of the other Apps already installed on the i-Pad, Auraflux appeared to have multiple open-ended possibilities and could allow for creativity of expression and the blending of multiple languages.

When considering which App to focus on, I asked myself,

–        Will the App be used in many ways, or does it dictate a particular purpose?

–        Will it be used by many children?

–        Does it lend itself to a variety of explorations?

–        What affordances does sit offer?

–        How might the App be best introduced to the children?

Throughout my flame of interest was, and still is, How can the digital languages be connected with traditional visual and poetic languages? What is the connection between children’s expressive languages and various forms of digital technology?

Initial explorations

We are reminded by Giovani Piazza,

“A first encounter for children with materials to explore and act on them is a necessary step in the children’s process of knowing. Through such encounters and explorations, children build an awareness of what can happen with materials, and adults build the ability to observe and support the significance of each particular experience.” (p.13, 2004)

We left the i-Pad in the Mini-Atelier and of course found that the children were immediately drawn to it. Maybe they were attracted by the surprise of seeing an i-Pad at school, maybe it was the beautiful sounds emanating from it, maybe it was the moving colours and designs…We observed the children investigating Auraflux, to see if it could suggest and inspire ideas and to see how it could become a conduit for expression that communicates the children’s thoughts and feelings.


And then…


Some of the children went beyond exploring Auraflux as an isolated experience and infused into their projects. For example, one group built a haunted house from blocks, wire, paper and cloth. To this they used Auraflux to construct the sounds that the ghosts and the skeletons were listening to in the haunted house. The i-Pad was inserted into the construction to add another dimension to the story created. Another group constructed a ‘larva dinosaur world’ where the sounds from the i-Pad expressed what the larva was saying to the dinosaurs.

This was a beautiful series of episodes to observe and illustrated impressive dispositions for learning and social relationships as well as a sense of the aesthetic. It was the intertwining of symbolic, poetic and digital languages that touched the teachers. As the girls worked they drew in the interest and support from others.

It began when Naoimh selected a wooden doll and began to transform it into the mermaid, Ariel. Inspired, Sofia persevered to construct her own mermaid. Needing a place for the mermaids to live the two girls created an underwater mermaid world, combining elements of light as the sunlight streamed through the window covered in transparent yet coloured plastic and carefully positioned stones and shells on the seabed. The mermaids were adorned with jewelry and tiaras made from  delicate beads threaded onto wire. Ruby and Scarlett were invited to collaborate and added more mermaids. Together the girls wrapped wool around pipe-cleaners, anchoring them them with pebbles to become sea weed. It was decided that the mermaids needed more friends, so starfish, seals and fish were hung on very fine thread to appear to be swimming amongst the mermaids.

The teachers wondered what the mermaids might be listening to. The girls had many ideas, ‘The dolphins’, ‘The seals singing’, ‘The mermaids sing songs to each other’, ‘The sounds of the little fishes eating the coral’


The girls wanted to find a way to integrate sounds into the mermaid world. They had explored the application, ‘AURAFLUX’ on the i-Phone and the i-Pad. AURAFLUX provides a platform for creating evolving music by connecting nodes together rendering delightful dancing images and sounds. The aesthetics of the sounds and the visuals seemed to be important to the girls and enhanced the imaginary mermaid world they had created.

Vea Vecchi reminds us,

That the pursuit of beauty and loveliness is part of species in a deep, natural way and constitutes an important element in our humanity.” (p. 10)

This ongoing project demonstrates how creativity and expression interweave and complete each other and the use of digital technology added another layer to the girls composition. They have made many different ambient sounds on the i-Pad to bring life to their mermaid story. The integration of the digital sounds and the mermaids shows the social relationship between the mermaids and their underwater friends.

George Foreman proposes that,

“Children learn about the world by creating relationships between different languages.” (p.349)

Although we are still wondering about ways we can realise the potential of digital media, such as the inclusion of i-Pad applications like AURAFLUX, as another of the children’s Hundred Langauges, in ways that add to the learning, rather than taking away from it, the enthusiasm and ease with which the children use this language to express themselves cannot be ignored. The story is sure to continue.


Importantly Auraflux had the ability to fascinate, to involve others and to enchant them a little. There are many apps available for i-Pads and I think I need to exercise caution in deciding what could be offered to children.  Over time I hope I will develop a deeper understanding of the potential of i-Pads with young children. Perhaps with careful attention to the process of documentation we are learning to make meaning of unfolding evolving ideas. We keep track of fragments of ideas and continue to examine them together as teachers and children until they begin to make sense. A space that could be rich in technology, that is prepared and supported by adults with intentionality, the children could have a relationship and an exchange with technology and cultivate the growth of awareness among adults to support it. Observing carefully and listening to the children helps us to understand the ways of learning with materials that the children develop so that we, in turn, can support them. I intend to continue to research into the use of the digital languages in an effort to better understand how the digital experience becomes part of the process in children’s construction of knowledge, and as a consequence, find appropriate strategies to use with them. The conversation remains open and it opens the door for our next encounter and exchange.


Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Foreman, G. (Eds) (2012) The Hundred Languages of Children:The Reggio Experience in Transformation Praeger: California

Vecchi, V. (2010) Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia: Exploring the Role and Potential of Ateliers in Early Childhood Education

Gandini, L., Hill, L., Cadwell L., and Schwall C. (Eds) (2004) In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia


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4 Responses to What do mermaids listen to?

  1. Jamie Raskin says:

    “I love it. It’s funny, I just read Travis Ion’s post Apple`s iPad – the new McHappy Meal?” link to iontravis.com and was writing a comment about how the devices seem to me to be primarily beneficial for modes of consumption, rather than production. Then here you are with a gorgeous example of the opposite. I think one element that stands out for me here, that goes the opposite way from so much leading thought, is the availability of only one iPad. I wonder if and how things may have been different if they had had access to one each? At what developmental point, if there is such a thing, to these sorts of devices begin encouraging rather than discouraging collaboration. Maybe it’s not developmental, maybe it’s just the culture and environment in which it’s used.

    Anyways, what really stood out for me was your series of questions when selecting the app. Those were really insightful. Also the introduction of a single app, as opposed to the device with a range of them, might in ways promote deeper exploration.

    Really interesting! Thanks for the post!

  2. Avatar of Clair Wain Clair Wain says:

    Thanks Jamie
    And if you have any suggestions for more open ended, flexible and creative Apps I’d love to hear about them.

  3. Kim Cofino says:

    Awesome! I love the way the students have taken this new tool and just woven it right into their existing methods of learning in the ELC. I agree with Jamie that the use of the tool really does depend on the environment. It’s clear that your environment promotes a creative approach, bringing many elements together into a “big picture” of learning. It’s exciting to see the way you’ve been able to explore with just one app, so many different uses. I can only imagine what you can come up with when you open it up to other apps as well. I hope you will also begin to use your PLN to discover and determine which apps are most appropriate. I know others would certainly appreciate your insight and recommendations!

  4. This is a wonderful learning story and not only is this a great tale of children’s learning but also a great teaching resource. Thanks! This is an excellent example of exploring technology for education and I can’t wait to have a play with Auraflux.

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