Engagement, Empowerment, Enthusiasm – Part One

(This is another post in a series of posts about 1:1 computing in the elementary school.)

The week before winter break I saw a “flurry” of activity with our netbook computers.  As I see teachers starting to feel more comfortable with 1:1 computing in their classrooms, I am  becoming more excited about the possibilities of using these machines each and every day in our classrooms.  Here are three examples of how netbooks were used in our school in December.

  1. In a second grade class, the students are studying map skills as part of a social studies unit.  They decided that we did not have a good map of our school for visitors to use, so the students asked if they could create a giant map to place in the lobby of the school.  The teacher, recognizing that some of the very best ideas come from the kids, readily agreed.  With a lot of behind the scenes planning with our technology coach, she worked with the students in her class to develop a large map that would include all of the mapping elements taught in class.  They used a plain, generic map of the building which they digitally scanned and placed in a shared folder so each student had access to it.  Then, working in teams of three or four students, they divided up the building into zones, with each team taking responsibility for a zone.  Using the scanned map and the netbooks, the students planned out what their zone would look like.  Much whole-class discussion took place to ensure that there were commonalities from zone to zone, and then the students created their large-scale sections.  When they return from break, they will start to assemble the sections into the large map of the school.  Interestingly, this project is an example of technology being used as one of many tools available to the second graders (along with crayons, markers, glue, and paper!).  The authenticity of this project engaged and empowered the kids to work hard on this project.
  2. In a fifth grade class, the students were interested in science careers, so, using the netbooks, the teacher sent the kids to hunch.com where they each took a survey to determine what science career would suit their interests.  Then, the students decided that they wanted to be scientists and research a topic within their career choice.  The teacher took the students through the entire scientific method process starting with a question to be answered, continuing with an experiment of some type,  and ending with some form of communication of the results.  Much of the work was done on the netbooks including the data collection and analysis.  This was another terrific example of authentic, student-generated work that fit perfectly with the fifth grade curriculum.
  3. In another fifth grade class, the teacher taught the students the “Socratic Circle” method for discussion something that the students read.  In this case, they were asked to read an article about the most interesting inventions of 2009.  They took notes on the article using Post-its.  The next day, they completed the Socratic Circle activity.  In the inner ring were the students who were discussing the article, and in the outer ring were the observers who were using the netbooks and a website called Etherpad.  This is a site that allows people to work on a shared document, similar to Google Docs.  The students in the outer circle held a quiet discussion on Etherpad in which they critiqued the participation of their peers in the inner circle.  Afterward, the Etherpad discussion was shared with the entire class providing valuable feedback to those in the inner circle.  A few days later, the two circles switched places.  This use of a terrific communication tool along with the netbook computers could (and should) be taking place all year if each child had a netbook on his or her desk at all times.

In all three of these examples, the technology did not supersede the instruction.  Instead, it enhanced the teaching and learning.  As I have said many times before, teaching the 21st Century skills is NOT about technology.  It is about authentic learning, self-directed learning,  problem solving and critical thinking skills, and collaborating with people.  The technology is but another tool used to reach the goal of developing 21st Century learners and workers.

Adults in the work world are using technology all day long to assist them in their productivity on the job.  The students should be doing the same, at school and at home.  Students who are provided with a laptop, who attend a school where the internet is open and available to use, and who are allowed to bring the laptop home,  have a distinct advantage over their peers who attend a more traditional school.

I will have some more thoughts on this topic soon…


One thought on “Engagement, Empowerment, Enthusiasm – Part One

  1. As a former elementary school principal, it is great to see people talking about the implications that technology can have at the elementary level. You made an extremely important point with the following comment.
    “In all three of these examples, the technology did not supersede the instruction. Instead, it enhanced the teaching and learning.”
    Technology is definitely not the answer if it is not combined with good teaching!

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