How is that 1 to 1 laptop program working out for you?

This is the zone for personal computing at our school.  It is a study zone, or a Help Me! zone.

This is the zone for personal computing at our school. It is a study zone, or a Help Me! zone.

I was so excited to be moving to a school with a 1 to 1 laptop program.  Finally!  I could do all those things that I have always wanted to do.  I could make my class truly interactive.  I could truly change the world! But some things are just not working out like I’d hoped.

First to dispel the negative assumptions: 

Kids are not in front of their screens all day long.  At any given moment in my school, kids may or may not have out their computer.  They might use it to do a warm up activity and then put it away.  They might have to do an online quiz then they shut their laptops and have a discussion.  Rarely are kids on a computer for an entire period, let alone, all day.   And if they are not asked to get out their computer…no one complains.  There is no pressure put on the teacher to use them.

I do not have to fight my students to close their laptops.  In fact, I have to ask them to get them out.  I even have kids who, believe it or not, forget their laptops.  My old school did not have a 1 to 1 policy.   Yet, I felt like I was always fighting the laptop to start class.  I was at war with the screen.  My 10th graders were the worst about this.  Everyday, I would walk in and have to ask them at least 3 times to close their screens before they would do so.  You’d think after a while they would have had Pavlovian reaction to me:  I see teacher, I shut my screen.  But nooo…the power of Tumblr, Facebook, games, was just too great.  “Miss…Please just let me finish level 62.”

I don’t see kids watching TV or movies on their free periods.  I do see some 7th and 8th graders playing games at morning break time.  But we have told them that this is allowed.  Grades 6-8 are not allowed to do this at lunch.  Lunch is a time to eat and interact with their peers.  Again, in my old school, when students had been allowed laptops at school, I usually only saw them sharing cat videos, TV shows, and Tumblr, during lunch and free periods, rather than sharing statistics, notes, diagrams, and tutorials from YouTube.

The Positives:

Kids have the power of the Internet at their fingertips.  For example, my students were reading about the use of Poison Gas in World War I from their.  One of them asked, “Could you smell the gas?  Or were you just overtaken by it?”  Funny, I had never thought about this before.  I could make assumptions, but why?  “Steve, why don’t you look that one up and tell us?”

I don’t need to copy off handouts.  I can post them to the school information system for kids to download.  I don’t have to create cards of information for the kids to use, the kids can go directly to the source I got the information from.  I don’t have to print and grade quizzes.  Kids can take the quizzes on line and check for their own understanding.  I don’t have to do all the work to get an activity ready.  All I have to do is show them were to go, where to find it, etc.

When I want my kids to type up their assignment and send it electronically I don’t get,  “Um miss? I don’t have a computer at home.  Um, miss? I don’t have the Internet at my house.”  All kids, whether or not the Internet works at home, have a laptop to use at school and home.  At school the Internet IS working.   Students also have a place at the school that is always open and ready to help them solve their technology problems.   Kids have access; kids have technology support.  No excuses.

The Real Negatives:

When the laptop screens are up, the kids shut down.  Well…they are learning, just not interacting with each other, or interactive with me.  Yeah, yeah…I know all about those cool interactive websites like Google where kids can interact virtually…but HELLO!  They are sitting right across from each other.  Talk about it!

We expect students to have certain skills and they don’t have them.  So we need to teach them.  We can’t expect them to skim and scan for information on a website if we have never taught them how to skim and scan with any text.  We cannot expect them to know where to find excellent images to use on projects if they have never been shown the resources available to them that are better than Google.  We cannot expect them to cite their sources if we, their teachers, never do.

Finding the Balance:

I want to utilize the laptop in my classroom as more than just a word processor.  I want to utilize the laptop in my classroom as more than just a research tool.  So the challenge now is: how do I keep my interactive classroom, truly interactive?  I want students to be able to collaborate to find information.  I want students to feel like they are actively engaged in their learning.  I refuse to be the fountain of knowledge for them.  I want my class to be loud with discussion and I want learning to take place.

So I will carry on.  Trying, failing, succeeding, and learning from my students and colleagues.

Any tips on what you do to engage learners in a 1 to 1 environment yet at the same time maintain interaction?

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