Can 2nd Graders Use Netbooks? You Betcha!

I spent an hour in a second grade classroom, observing and assisting them with their first experience using the new Dell Latitutde 2100 netbooks.  The class was led by our school’s technology coach and the classroom teacher.

We explained to the students that bringing these computers into their classroom is like bringing the kids to the computer lab, and that the log-in process was exactly the same.  These younger students appeared much more apprehensive than the fifth graders I observed being introduced to the netbooks last week.  The older kids were really jazzed up about the machines, while these little ones seemed a little nervous.

I can understand their nerves, especially since most of them had never worked on a laptop before.   When we surveyed the class, we learned that the majority of their experiences on computers had been with desktops and mice.

The first challenge for the class was distributing the machines in an efficient, organized manner.  If this process takes too long then we are defeating one of the main purposes for 1:1 computing in the classroom:  Transparent, seamless computing and research embedded in the regular instruction of a lesson.

The students were called up to the cart by their “magic number” (their alpha number in class).  They were instructed to carry the netbooks back to their seats with two hands like a tray of food, and the were told not to open them.  I only saw one boy start to open his.  Otherwise, they were very good about following the directions.  At this point, I could start to sense the excitement building in the classroom.  Distributing the machines to all 21 students took six minutes.  Not bad!  It takes longer to walk the class to the computer lab and get everyone situated at a machine.

The key to the success of the initial launch of netbooks in the classroom, it appears, can be summed up in two words:  Organization and Simplicity.  The classroom teacher must develop an organized system for distributing, collecting, and charging.  Time cannot be wasted, or we will be defeating the purpose of using these computers in a classroom instead of a lab.

Keeping the directions very clear and simple also will help ensure the success of 1:1 computing in the classroom.  For this class, the students were instructed to remember four simple steps for logging on to the machines: 1.  Open; 2. Turn on; 3. Control, Alt, Delete 4.  Log on with the school password (which was written on the board).   We need to use the four step approach in every classroom and in every grade, and soon, the kids will have these four steps memorized .  Within a matter of a few lessons, the students will have this down pat, and they will be doing this completely on their own.  I watched 21 seven-year-olds logon for the first time, and it only took 10 minutes.  Eventually, this should take no more than two minutes.

The fact that most of the students had never worked on a laptop did not impact their ability to navigate around the machines.  I was amazed how well they took to it.  We did not train them on the use of the touchpad; the kids figured it out on their own.  By playing for just a moment, and by showing each other, they took to the pad quickly (digital natives in their comfort zone?).

The first part of this lesson on the use of the Dell netbooks with second graders was successful, and it got even better when we asked the students to open Kidspiration 2.  We instructed the kids on how to open a new project, insert new text bubbles, and type in the text bubbles.   Then, we taught them how to save their new projects in their student folders located on our district server.  Again, we made it as simple as possible, with the knowledge that the concept of saving on a school server can be complicated.  Finally, the students were able to quit and shut down without a problem.

I believe the potential for netbooks in the classrooms (even in primary classrooms) is great.  I can envision a time, maybe a month from now, where the students are able to independently use these machines at their desks without direct assistance from an adult.  I can envision a teacher working with a small group of students at the back table, while the rest of the students are successfully navigating around the netbooks, completing authentic projects that they can share with others (like Photostory, Voicethread, blogs, or wikis projects).

As we are quickly learning, the key to the success of these machines in classrooms is to establish a systematic, organized procedure for distributing and collecting the computers, and for teachers to very clearly articulate their directions in simple terms.

I can’t wait to get back into that same second grade classroom in a month to see the improvement the kids have made in using these machines independently!


One thought on “Can 2nd Graders Use Netbooks? You Betcha!

  1. One great functionality you can add to your 1:1 netbooks is “Virtual Clickers”. Instead of paying lots of money for hand-held clickers, you can get clicker sotware to put onto each netbook to aid in classroom participation and promote discussion. Take a look at http://studentresponsenetwork for more on this. Hope yor initiative continues to go well!

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