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BRIAN PUERLING

a National Board Certified Teacher and graduate of the Erikson Institute, is the director of technology education at Catherine Cook School in Chicago. He is a former preschool teacher with Chicago Public Schools and has also worked as an early childhood teacher coach, a curriculum reviewer, and a professional development facilitator for Chicago Public Schools, Rush University Medical Center Science and Math Excellence Network, and Rochelle Lee’s Boundless Readers. Brian participated in the Erikson Early Mathematics Project, is active in the Chicago Metro AEYC, and is a member of the NAEYC Tech and Young Children Interest Forum, which works to provide early childhood educators with high quality implementation and research resources. Brian also shares his knowledge on trends in early childhood education and technology movements with the Sesame Workshop Teacher Council. Brian was a recipient of the PBS Innovative Educator Award and PBS Teacher’s Choice Award in 2010. Visit Brian’s website:bpuerling.yolasite.com.




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Brian Puerling is the author of Teaching in the Digital Age: Smart Tools for Age 3 to Grade 3. Read on to learn more about his favorite hangouts in Chicago, his current gadget of choice, and his top tips for using technology in the classroom.


Your book, Teaching in the Digital Age: Smart Tools for Age 3 to Grade 3, is coming out this May. Where did you write it?
Brian and his wife EmilyThere were two places where I wrote my book. One spot was at one of two 24-hour Starbucks coffee shops here in Chicago. There, I knew I could write and write and write without anyone tapping me on the shoulder to say, “Please finish your venti caramel macchiato because we are closing in fifteen minutes.” I found that I was most productive when I was able find one of their large, oversized leather armchairs.

The other place I would write was in my office at home, where I could put my feet up and write in my pajamas. My amazing wife, Emily, was great about providing me a constant supply of fruit, water, cashews, and, of course, coffee.

While writing, I would use my iPod touch to listen to all sorts of artists depending on my mood. One day I might listen to Ambulance LTD, Lykke Li, or Psapp. If I was in the mood for something faster, I would listen to Florence and the Machine, James Yuill, or Pony Pony Run Run.


What surprised you about the book publishing process?
One thing that really surprised me about the book publishing process was how well I got to know my editor, Kyra. Kyra is an amazing person, and I am glad to have worked with her. I remember the first time I met her, at the Chicago Metro AEYC Conference in January of 2011. She attended a session I had done on iPads. She was one of the last people to come up to me, and I swear, when she did, she hopped forward and said, “Hi, I’m from Redleaf Press!” in the most cheerful voice. Our conversations continued after that—over the summer, through the fall and winter, and now through the spring, we have worked together to create this resource.

Your book is filled with strategies and ideas to help early childhood professionals bring technology into classrooms. What sparked your interest in this topic?
I have always been one to seek out new and different ways of doing things. When I was teaching and heard about the iPad coming out, I started brainstorming ideas of what the possibilities could be for teaching, learning, and documenting.

After getting four iPads for my classroom, I was turned on to technology! I started searching for other technologies. My principal at Burley School, Barbara Kent, suggested getting a projector and a document camera. She, too, started seeing the possibilities. I acquired those two devices and put them to use. My interest kept going. I acquired a digital camera and a digital voice recorder using a grant program called Donors Choose. Soon, I found myself using all these different devices at different times for different reasons. I noticed how my teaching changed and how the children’s genuine interest in learning changed. Since then, I have continued to learn and explore new strategies.

Teaching in the Digital Age talks about integrating multi-touch mobile devices, webcams, and more into the classroom, and you’ve had hands-on experience with all of those technologies. What is the number one can’t-live-without gadget in your personal life? Can you tell us about your first gadget?
Brian at homeThis is difficult to answer. I want to say that an Mp3/video player and a cell phone are my number one devices. Luckily today, I can get both of them in one device. I used to have to carry them separately—a Nokia 5165 and a Panasonic 10 Second Anti-Shock Discman.

Today, I carry my HTC HD7 Windows Phone, which allows me to do everything on one device. It’s like Window’s version of the iPhone.

electronic deviceMy first gadget was a Nintendo Gameboy®. I still have it and enjoy playing Tetris®. In fact, I just changed its batteries this past weekend.

I love music, and have always had quite an extensive library of it, whether on my computer or a compact disc. Back in 2005, when it came time for my three month trip to Australia, I needed to find a way to bring my music library with me—all 7,000 songs! I was lucky enough to find a 30GB mp3 player, the Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra® by Creative Labs®! It was practically the size of my Gameboy, and I remember each time I turned it on, it sounded like I was starting up a desktop computer. But it was great for the time!


What is the best advice you can give to a teacher who wants to bring technology into the classroom?
If you are just starting with technology integration, start small.

For example, you can use an audio recording device during a small group activity. Replay it later to listen closer to the types of questions students ask. Or, try taking some photographs of the neighborhood, placing each on a poster board, and inviting the children to write or draw responses to the photographs. This will help you learn about the children’s background knowledge and connections to their surroundings.

These simple strategies will help you develop some foundational confidence using technology that is necessary to try other, more complex, strategies. Communicate and collaborate with your colleagues to learn about what they have tried. You will be amazed about what you can learn just by asking!


Any myths you would like to bust about using technology in the classroom?
I wrote a fact sheet for the Chicago Metro AEYC that addresses this very topic. You can read common concerns and responses here.


Chicago is home to attractions like Wrigley Field, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and more. As a Windy City insider, can you share your favorite off-the-beaten-path Chicago hangout?
The Coffee Studio, in the Andersonville neighborhood on the north side of the city, is a great place to hang out. This coffee shop has delicious quiches, local artwork for sale, and board games. It can get busy, but that’s only because so many people enjoy it. I would recommend stopping by if you ever come to Chicago. I wrote a few pages of my book there.


Do you have a favorite memory from your days as a preschool teacher?
I have several favorite moments, but one memory stands out.

After introducing the many fun and playful styles of authors like Todd Parr, Angela Johnson, Mo Willems, Kevin Henkes, and Karen Beaumont, I invited children to write and draw their own stories.

A three-year-old girl got to work and later ran up to me with her handmade book. She joyfully announced, “Look, Mr. Puerling! I made a speech bubble in my book. I am just like Mo Willems.”

In that moment, I saw her identify herself as an author. That experience provided her with the authentic interest and motivation to learn new and challenging literacy skills. I have since seen this girl move through kindergarten and into first grade, and she has continued to grow as an amazing writer.