Monday, February 20, 2012

1:1 Laptops in Schools. Is it Necessary?

This week I went to Chaparral Elementary in Ladera Ranch and observed a 1:1 laptop school.  At this school, kids in third, fourth, and fifth grade bring a laptop to school each day. I have to say I was very impressed with what I saw.  Kids were engaged in meaningful learning activities, positive about learning, and excited to show us what they were working on.  The focused commitment to learning independently (or in groups - depending on the classroom) was inspiring.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I advocate for using technology as a tool for differentiation in today's 21st Century classroom.  I see great potential if each student has 100% access to a computer during the school day.  This year, my class has done many wonderful, tech integrated projects.  We've made Animotos of the US Regions, Vokis for Character Analysis, Blogs for journaling and responding to literature, and Glogsters to showcase our values.  And these are only a few of the things we've done. My kids are learning, collaborating, creating, and engaged!  The biggest barrier we have is access.  Waiting a week to get back into the computer lab drags out the time it takes us to complete a project and move on.  Or rotating kids through a computer center during language arts, doesn't allow everyone to have enough time to type their final drafts, or comment on other students' blogs.  Many students have to complete their technology related tasks at home due to restrictions of access to computers.  And that just isn't consistent with my philosophy of "no homework other than math".

But is it necessary?  

Immediate Access to Information
I am a firm believer in 21st Century Learning.  To be successful in an unknown future job market, kids today need to learn to be critical thinkers, collaborate with others, communicate effectively and clearly, and create new products. As an educator, I believe these are the skills that will be most valued in our future society. If our children are to really change the world, they must think of things that have never been thought of before. They must be producers and innovators. That means our kids must think "outside of the box" and the textbook merely becomes a resource as apposed to content to be memorized and regurgitated on a test. Gone are the days where all you need to know comes out of a textbook.  Additional information is readily available online and much of it is free.  Computers make access to information immediate so students have the tools they need to ask as many questions as they can!

Kids today learn through Technology.
Kids are already using technology at home.  How many times have you seen a toddler using an iPhone and been impressed with how well they manipulate the applications at such a young age? They are growing up in an age where technology is everywhere, so we should be using that technology for education, not just play. If we bring computers into the classroom, we can educate students about social and safety issues related to being in an on line environment. We can also use computers to engage students and motivate them to learn. Think about how much more motivated kids would be if instead of telling the students to open their social studies book, teachers tell them to open their laptops and view the files and websites that are uploaded to the class wiki!  This is an example of how personalized instruction can be using the computer. And it's already happening at Chaparral.

But won't they be on the computer all the time?
Different kids learn in different ways.  Each has their own set of talents and interests.  A knowledgeable teacher finds out what inspires kids to want to learn and differentiates lessons accordingly. So while the computer certainly inspires many students, there should be other time set aside to incorporate hands-on learning. The computer should enhance learning, not replace everything in a classroom.  Kids need to be well rounded and spend time developing other skills, too. I recently saw and interview with Dr. Mimi Ito that addressed this topic. When discussing how to use technology in education, she said, "It's not that we should abandon formal learning, but that we should get those working together in a much more coordinated way."

What about Social Media?
Dr. Mimi Ito also addresses a concern that kids spend too much time on line. Although most kids in her 3 year study "hang out" on line, she identifies a smaller group of kids who use media literacy as a jumping off point. These kids are using online environment to create, or develop more specialized interests. She advises us that schools have an opportunity to support all kids using technology and direct them towards specialized learning.  Most of my class this year falls into this smaller, more specialized category.  For example, we use Edmodo, an on line educational tool, for chatting and hanging out, but also to post videos and links that connect to content we are studying in class.  I've been impressed that when the kids go home, they find resources on their own and post them on Edmodo to share them with others.  When they are online browsing for connections to curriculum, that is true, independent learning facilitated by technology and it should be encouraged and guided by educators. 

Necessary?  Absolutely.  Welcome to the future of education.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Following My Students

My students have blogs. They really enjoy them because they have a real, authentic audience (besides me of course!).  They are always excited when someone from far away comments on one of their posts.  This is the first year I have used blogs so heavily in Language Arts, but I have to say I am loving the result!  I've seen a lot of growth, which I believe is because they have an authentic purpose for writing.

Today, we read a comment from a pre-service teacher at the University of South Alabama.  She said she was assigned to watch our blog for her class!  I was so excited to see that others are watching what my kids are doing online!  Not too long ago, I sat in their shoes, up to my eye-balls in Master's classes.  I was so eager to have a chance to implement all that I was learning about technology, problem solving, and critical thinking with others.  Well, today I am so excited that (at least one person) is looking to me and my class as an example!  Emily had posted on my student's wall so I felt obliged to post on hers.  Here is what I posted on her blog:

Hi Emily,

You posted a comment on one of my student's blogs at We read it today and we are so excited that you and some of your classmates are following our kids. Thank you so much for taking the time to post!

I would like to comment about your #4 21 Century Learning. I have not seen the video you refer to, but I understand your conflict over how much time students should use the computer. In your comment, you state that kids still need time to interact face to face. I agree with you and can assure you that the students in my class cooperate, collaborate, create, and inspire each other while using the technology. It is so gratifying as a teacher to look on a class full of students who are all engaged, all learning, all problem solving and thinking critically about their work and helping each other. They are helpful and they share resources and links with each other. In addition to our blogs, we have a class Edmodo. The students are only allowed to access it from home, as its purpose is to connect what we do in class to our homes. Kids post articles, websites, and videos that I did not ask them to find, just because they love using the technology and want to know more. Now, I have to confess, not all my students access from home, but those who do are enriched for doing it.

One of our favorite things to do is read a novel and create Voki's based on the characters in the story. The kids complete a character analysis worksheet and then once they are done they use it to make a voki. But not all our projects are integrated with technology. Some are integrated with visual or performing arts, or whatever creative thing we come up with. It's about problem solving, thinking critically and creating that are important, not the technology behind it. Technology is merely the newest, coolest tool.

Good luck with your studies. I was doing something similar to you in my master's program last year. It's really cool that you are following my students!

Jennifer Diaz

PS. Here is the link to our classroom blog that highlights some of the projects we are doing.

Thank you Emily for making my day!  Good luck to you!