Can you see the thousands of dollars?

My year 7 has had laptops now for a few weeks. The class received 12 laptops, which is a costly investment. A colleague once wisely said if that much money was spent you should be able to walk into a classroom/school and notice a difference. You should be able to visibly see that investment’s impact on student learning. So I asked myself exactly that question – Is the learning different in my classroom now? Is the learning better in my classroom now?

I’d like to say yes, and here’s my evidence:
-Students now use their laptops in small groups to demonstrate their understanding, often with higher order thinking skills. Today we explored the properties of magnets. Instead of doing the prac activity from the textbook and writing a prac report, students made a photo story to explain to other year 7s the magnetic properties they have discovered. This took 2 hours. Minimal editing was involved as I wanted the students to focus on the explanation of science, not on fancy video transitions.

-Laptops are used to differentiate learning. Year 7s have been learning about area of composite shapes and expressing area and perimeter through algebraic expressions. Students had to self assess whether they needed more practice in composite shapes or were ready to move onto algebra. Students who selected to refine their skills in composite shapes worked on a self-marking quiz on the laptops while the rest had small group instruction on algebra.

These are just 2 activities where laptops have enhanced learning. When you walk into my classroom, you can see, hear and feel those thousands of dollars making an impact.

Are your thousands of dollars of investments visibly making a difference?



Saying goodbye to the computer room

On Friday I said goodbye to the computer room. The computer room that I have been hogging for at least 4 hours a week since the start of the year. I have spent so much effort making sure I made books as advanced as possible for that computer room so that my Year 7 integrated curriculum class can use it. I felt guilty every time I did that. My students needed to use it, but I also felt as though I was removing a shared resource from other students and teachers. Having taught in a 1:1 learning environment for the past 3 years, teaching only Year 7s this year, where they were not entitled to their own laptops as part of the Digital Education Revolution, really killed me. I was so used to designing learning using collaborative spaces like Edmodo that it felt like all that was taken away from me in the first two terms this year.

However on Friday August 3, my Year 7s received a class set of laptops as part of our school’s middle years strategy and our connected learning strategy. Year 7s received 12 Lenovo Thinkpads, which makes the official laptop to student ratio in my class 1:2.5. The real ratio is 1:2 as some students bring their own devices.

For some people I have talked to, they found it strange that I’m so excited about getting 12 laptops when a computer room offers 20 computers. I would rather have 12 laptops in the classroom than 20 desktop computers that are bolted in a room because:

  • For my Year 7 integrated curriculum class, we used computers mainly for project based learning. So far we have made infographics, science videos and built Parthenons in Minecraft just to name a few. For these projects, students are required to do a mixture of activities that require technology and activities do not require technology. A lot of the times, some students are on computers and other students are working in another area as they are discussing their project or that part of their project does not require a computer. My students will choose the tools that best fit their learning needs at a particular time. Laptops in the classroom do this so much better than computer rooms.

  • Computer rooms are often restrictive learning spaces. They are often built where the only thing you can do is go on computers for the entire lesson. We have 4 computer rooms at the school and I only ever booked one computer room. That’s because this particular room allowed students to spill out into an adjacent area with couches where they can have discussions about their learning rather than being squashed in front of a computer for hours at a time.

  • Having laptops in the classroom allows more flexibility in learning design. Laptops allow the learning to drive the need for technology, not the other way around. When laptops are in the classroom you can use them for lengthy periods of time or in short bursts, depending on the learning need. When computers are fixed in computer rooms, you need to make sure that the whole lesson requires the use of computers so that you’re not wasting the computer room as a resource. You don’t want to book into a computer room if the learning only requires students to be using computers for 15 minutes out of a 60 minute lesson.
  • Laptops in the classroom allows anytime, anywhere learning. If there is a need, my Year 7s can jump on a laptop to go online, to watch an animation that explains a concept, etc. My Year 7s can take their laptops anywhere in the school. They can use it to connect their data loggers to measure features of the environment and they can enter data into a spreadsheet when we are using an outdoor space. If they need to go to a quiet space to record audio, they can take their laptops to that quiet space rather than trying to do so in a computer room with 29 other students. Laptops not only allow learning to drive the need for technology, but it also allows learning to drive the need for a particular style of learning space.

Finally I really hate the concept of computer rooms. To me it’s like going into a calculator room to use a calculator, or a pen room to use a pen. Technology is part of our daily lives now that we shouldn’t have to move to a specialised space to use it. Unless you are doing some hard core 3D animation that requires a high end computer, there should be no need to move to a computer room.

So on Friday my Year 7s and I waved goodbye to the computer room. I have been waiting for that moment for the whole year.

But I like writing on paper …

“But I like writing on paper …”

This was said to me by a Year 10 student. We were discussing how laptops were being used in his classes. He said he liked copying notes and thought that copying notes allowed him to better remember information. He said he felt like he was falling behind because he was no longer required to copy notes in class. A teacher told me they have been asking students who have their own laptops to show them their books as an indication of what the student has done in class and what the student has achieved. It is now the third year of introducing 1:1 laptops in NSW schools. What do these two reveal about students’ and teachers’ perceptions of the place of 1:1 laptops in learning?

Let’s look at the first thing: “I like writing on paper”

With the introduction of 1:1 laptops, we’ve often focused on teachers. However, we haven’t really talked about how the kids are responding to the change. I was reading an article on problem based learning the other day and the article talked about student resistance at the start. The article emphasised how some students are accustomed to transmissive teaching and may find it difficult to adopt problem based learning because it challenges them to use higher order thinking skills and to manage their own learning. This is a big change when they have been used to memorising and regurgitating information for many years (and been very successful at it and rewarded for it). Introducing 1:1 laptops is similar because it changes the learning environment. When used to transform learning, 1:1 laptops remove students from a ‘everyone-look-and-listen-to-the-teacher ’learning environment to a learning environment where students are working at their own pace, at different tasks and they need to take a more active role to manage their own learning. I’ve seen some students really take off with this while others are very reluctant. There has been lots of emphasis on preparing students to use their laptops such as teaching them how to use the software within their laptops. However, 1:1 laptops isn’t about doing work on a laptop instead of on paper. It’s about transforming the learning environment. Perhaps we need to teach students how to work in small groups, how to manage timelines in long term projects and how to self-directed independent learners.

Let’s move on to the second thing: Checking students’ book work

This works on the assumption that the amount of work in a book determines how much work a student has done. This implies that if a student doesn’t have a book, they aren’t working in class. This also implies if a student doesn’t have much text, worksheets and title pages in their book, they aren’t working in class. As educators, why are we still obsessed with book work? In a digital age where notes can be sent electronically or easily looked up on Google, how does having copious amounts of text and cut-and-paste activities glued into an exercise book indicate that you are learning? Why do we still include “book mark” as an indication of a student’s learning? Why don’t we ask students to show their Edmodo pages and see how much they have contributed to discussions, how much they have helped with other students’  questions and how many assignments they have submitted. Why don’t we ask students to show us how regularly they write on their blogs? At the moment we want students to be self-directed and independent learners and critical thinkers in a 1:1 laptop learning environment, while at the same time we want to assess their learning by requesting them to show us how much work they have recorded on paper.

It is now the third year that 1:1 laptops have been introduced to NSW schools and I think there’s still a long way to go before the full potential of 1:1 laptops is utilised in classrooms. I think this requires a lot of change – from students, teachers and what we perceive as learning