Sunday, April 25, 2010

Students learning with laptops

Five years ago our School District embarked on a project to provide a class set of laptops to a students in each of four K-5 (elementary) schools and the year after expanded to include five 6-8 (middle) schools.  Our focus was on improving the writing process.

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I know, this is nothing new now as many schools around the world have run similar initiatives.  But we wanted to learn for ourselves how providing this technology in a one 2 one format to students could impact their learning, specifically writing.  We did not undertake a formal research project but rather through anecdotal feedback from teachers, parents, and students we now believe that all students can benefit from this type of access.

At the beginning of each school year we require parents and their students who are in a one2one classroom to come to a one hour evening meeting to learn about this program. 
A key message in this presentation is to talk about what’s changed in our world.  What is compelling us and families to provide laptops and other digital devices to support learning?  We discuss the fact that the District and Schools will never be able to afford to provide laptops to all students but rather, they will likely become school supplies as the cost approaches “zero”.  We talk about the value these tools bring to learning embedded in classrooms contrasted with the “field trip” to the computer lab.

We have great debates at times with parents that believe technology has dumbed-down children.  Comments such as “they can’t seem to spell very well”, “they don’t like to read as much”, and “they don’t think critically about what they find online”.  This really feeds nicely into the argument that schools have a tremendous role and morale responsibility to help kids use technology in effective ways to support their learning.  It’s not necessarily the fault of technology but perhaps the adults in kids lives are not guiding them effectively in their use of technology.  Digital natives don’t intuitively get how to use technology to support their educational experience – they need to be taught and supported.

The following two videos include teachers and students from two of our K-5 schools sharing their experiences in the program.  They talk about how it helps them write better, edit more, and how kids teach their teachers.

Alderson Elementary One2One

Central Elementary One2One

This story from one of middle schools shares shares how students, especially boys, write significantly more with laptops than without. 

Maple Creek Middle One2One

The teacher in the video shared with me how he has all of his   students write “works in progress” during the year.  He then uploads their short stories to a print on demand website and produces short runs of the “works in progress” book (over 250,000 words) – kids love being published.  He used to do this without laptops and has found kids writing 4-8 times more with laptops.  It’s just easier for kids to write, edit, and refine electronically than it is on paper.  He also shares how technology can connect his students to the world outside his classroom.

I like Dave Truss’ presentation “The POD’s are Coming” where he talks about the need for educators to get ready for this reality as personally owned devices (PODs) are coming to our schools.  He shares stories of how educators are allowing POD’s into their classrooms and how kids benefit.  I believe this is a huge wave that is coming faster than we are likely to get properly prepared for.

In our District we have over 1000 students bringing some form of POD to school – we have a policy that allows this to occur.  It is causing us some challenges as I outline in “Digital Natives Need Infrastructure”.  We really need to manage the use so that the majority is for good educational purposes.  But, it is the right thing to open up to – kids bringing their own digital learning device is the only affordable way.  Remember when schools wondered how to provide class sets of calculators?  Kids bring their own now.  PODs are the new pencil and notebook.  Devices like the iPad may replace textbooks and novels.  I talk about device choices in “Device Wars” but just read a post by Will RichardsonThe End of Books (For Me at Least?)” that is pretty convincing that paper-based books may be on their way out sooner than later.

So, where will this all end up?  I think that the next five years will be challenging for schools, educators, and Districts to grapple with the pace at which PODs will enter their schools.  But, the PODs are coming so… We need to be sure that parents understand the value of PODs for their children’s learning and how to monitor and support their use of PODs at home, our teachers are prepared to leverage PODs for their student’s learning, and our principals and District leaders are prepared with the tools and policies to address socially irresponsible online behaviour.

What advice do you have for parents…  for teachers…  for principals…  for District leaders…  in preparing for and embracing this reality?