Thursday, July 5, 2012

1 to 1 Schools Part Two: 3 Things I Would Have Done Differently

To be honest, my 1 to 1 experience was fairly positive the first year. I had really taken the summer to play out what would work, and what would not. Much like any lesson or activity you do in your classroom, there are always items that you wish you would have done differently. Here are my top 3.

1. Easing the Students Into the 1 to 1 Environment

When I find something that I think works in the classroom, I can tend to jump right in. Usually this eagerness works out well, but in the case of 1 to 1, I wish I would have spread what we did the first few days into a week or two.

Common knowledge tends to suggest that middle school age students are technological wizards who will dazzle you with their knowledge of anything electronic. In my opinion, that could not be further from the truth. Each of the students I have may process a specific technology skill that is unique to other students depending on their previous technological experiences at home or in school. For example, one student I had in eighth grade had an extensive knowledge of Quicktime, and in fact, showed me a different way to make my online videos for my YouTube channel. Excellent, right? Well, it turns out that same student had never used email before and took twenty minutes to figure out how to log in. This is what you get with middle school students and technology...a lot of skill, but not a lot of consistency across the board.

On the first day of school, I went over my expectations, and with the last thirty minutes of class, I gave the students a list of items they would need to do with a computer. This list was lengthy, but consisted of tasks that I assumed that middle school students could do already (log onto email, save a file, share a Google Doc, upload a video to a practice YouTube account, etc.) What I ended up doing was unleashing a beast that took a week to corral (maybe a month for the sixth graders). This is normally how I operate in my self-paced classroom, but that responsibility and modeling of collaboration takes time. My decision to open the flood gates gave me a migraine for a few weeks, and it all could have been prevented if I would have implemented the new technology at a slower pace.

2. Parents and the Computers at Home

Our school hosted a 1 to 1 rollout for students and parents, and many topics were covered. The local authorities discussed cyber bullying and the danger of sharing information online. Our principal talked about different school policies and the purpose of having our 1 to 1 program. The technology coordinator went over how to properly take care of the laptops. Each discussion was very thorough, and one would think that everything was covered.

When all the paperwork was signed, students took the computer home, and for many parents, the dynamic of the home instantly changed. Granted, most of our students probably already had a desktop computer somewhere in the home, but having the portable laptop caused problems for families. I am certainly not here to tell anyone how to be a parent, but from what I gathered from parents who saw their 1 to 1 experience as a success, these would their echoed suggestions.

A. Do not leave your student alone with the computer. Have students do their work in a place where family congregates.

B. Always ask your student what school related activities they are currently working on with the laptop.  The laptops can be used for recreation, but school comes first.

C. Create set times where students are using the computer for school work. Do not be afraid to take the computer away at other times.

This laptop should not change how a family operated previous to the 1 to 1 initiative.

3. Planners and Organizers

In previous years, students have used a physical planner to record assignments and other notes of interest. Parents got into the habit of asking students to see there planner, and in many cases, signing it. With the beginning of the 1 to 1 initiative, planners were not purchased, and student relied on their laptop to record assignments.

At the end of class, I would ask students to close their computers to make sure I had their attention. At this time, we could go over anything that was due, and to reflect on the class period. After we had our short discussion, I would dismiss the students, often assuming that they were going to type the assignments in later. I did not give them enough time to record assignments in class, and that is a problem that I need to fix for next year. With the paper planners, they could listen to me and have the planner out because the planner did not serve as a distraction, where the computer option does. I need to come up with a better system. My idea is to have the students keep their computers open, but have whatever they use for a planner to be open on their screen. I talk from the back of the room, so seeing their screens is not a problem.

Another situation I faced with the online organization tools was making sure every student had a system that worked for them. I thought about recommending that every student use the same recording tool, but with such a variety of options, I did not want to restrict anyone from finding something that worked well for them individually. We started the year mostly using the sticky note problem included on the laptops, or Google Calendar, but expanded as new programs or apps were located. I like the variety, and I need to spend more time in class explaining each new online organization tool as it is discovered.  I need to personally validate that each student has a method of recording that is effective as well.

Final Thoughts

As a district begins to implement a 1 to 1 program, there is no possible way to brainstorm every peril or pitfall that will occur. Research and discussion can help, but each school's situation is slightly different. Each of these points seem like a common sense item to me in hindsight, but what is important is that you learn from past mistakes, and make improvements every year for the sake of your students. Please feel free to comment below and start the discussion about these unforeseen events, or anything else relative to 1 to1.

Clayton M. Edwards
Middle School Math
Grundy Center Middle School
MA Middle Level Mathematics
Ed. D. Curriculum and Instruction (current)

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