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.


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  3. Thank you for your positive comments! If you would like to see examples of how the students have been using their laptops this year, click on the Pages links to view our class websites.