(This is another post in a series of posts about 1:1 computing in the elementary school.)
I took over a fourth grade classroom the other day. Just me and 22 fourth graders. No classroom teacher, no technology director, no teacher’s aide. Just me and the kids.
No big deal, right? I have spent years in classrooms. I was a fifth grade teacher for many years before becoming a principal. So why write this post?
The difference is that I used the new Dell Latitude 2100 netbooks as part of my lesson. The students in this class had maybe 45 minutes of introduction to and use of these mini-computers before it was my turn to teach with the machines.
I figured the only way for me to really understand the power of 1:1 computing in the classrooms was to plan and teach lessons that utilize a class set of netbooks.
For this lesson, I wanted to ensure that the netbooks were used as another tool for learning, and not as a special event, a time waster, or just for fun. I wanted this lesson to be connected to the class’s daily work, and I wanted to show the students how the computers can assist them if used correctly.
My goal was to develop a reading lesson which focused on reading non-fiction material. The students were in the middle of reading different books about such topics as volcanoes, the coral reef, and rain forest animals. I wanted to pick up where they left off.
My objectives for the lesson were to teach and provide practice narrowing a search on the internet, using search engines other than Google, and comparing facts found in a non-fiction book to facts found on a website. I started the lesson without distributing the computers. Instead, each guided reading group met with their books to develop two guiding questions from the text.
Then, I spent about 15 minutes demonstrating how to narrow a search so we don’t end up with 5,000,000 sites on Google. I was able to narrow my search from 5 milion down to 620. Not too bad!
After distributing the netbooks, I had the students searching for answers to their questions using different search engines (Google, AltaVista, Yahoo, Answers.com). There was no clear choice among the students regarding which was the best search engine, but those using Google seemed most comfortable. I was pleased to see that the students were challenging themselves to narrow their searches to eliminate unnecessary sites. This actually became a little competitive among them! I also reminded the students to avoid “Sponsored Links” which are just web-commercials.
Finally, I asked the students to start looking at certain sites to find some answers. I would have to say that this research experience was far less frustrating than I had experienced in the past. The students were excited and engaged in looking for the best sites to help them, and they were actually reading the information that was presented. As I walked around, I noticed that the sites they had found appeared to be legitimate and worthy of further study. Most of the students agreed that the information on the websites was better than in their books. Although the books we have are good, the kids liked the videos, pictures, and links on the websites. They were more willing to extend their research on the computers verses in the books.
So, what did I learn from this experience? First, as we all become more comfortable with the netbooks in classrooms, the easier it is becoming to distribute and collect them. I do envision a day when teachers are “flying solo” all day long with these computers. Right now, most of the teachers want the safety net of another set of hands in the room.
Second, the students are becoming much more proficient at starting them up and shutting them down. I am impressed with how quickly the students are taking to the concept of having information at their fingertips. I hope to see the day when each child has a small computer on his desk all day long. It would be a standard school supply, ready and waiting for him to access information and communicate with the world at any time during the school day.
Also, as I watched the students work on their machines, I started thinking back to my teaching days when we had a cart of clunker Apple laptops (c.1994) that lost power after an hour, and were good with word processing and spreadsheets, but not much else (remember saving to disks that were forever crashing?). My fear, for now, is that teachers are going to use these machines with their students for typing stories and papers, instead of completing research and communicating with the rest of the world.
Keeping that from happening will be one of my biggest challenges as I work with teachers and students using netbooks.