Webcams in the Classroom, Part II

In the midst of computer deployment, I was able to catch Mrs. Fitts’ 6th grade social studies class using laptops to tour the world in 80 clicks!  I wish I had my camera at the time.  These students were so excited!  They were literally jumping up and down in their seats as they watched ships traveling through the Panama Canal.  They discussed why it would be dark in Tokyo when it was daylight here in North Carolina.  They learned how to decipher 24 hour (military) time.  The room was literally buzzing with learning opportunities! 

Her students also placed some very interesting comments on the school blog entries “Kid Nation” and “Favorite Activities.”

Kudos to Mrs. Fitts’ for bringing this experience to life with her students.  Next time, I’m bringing my camera!

Laptops as Tools

I trained our staff on how to use our laptop cart today.  (For those schools who are light years away from us when it comes to using tech tools, we must seem like we’re in pre-school.)  I was excited.  We did a pilot with the lab last week and it was fantastic.  The students were so well-behaved but, more importantly, they were totally engaged in the math lesson.  One student even looked at me and asked, “Can I stay for the next class to help them with the laptops?”  What a moment!

Since almost no one had signed up for the lab yet, we wanted to try to dispel the fears and get them familiar with how the lab is set up and how to set it up in the classroom.   It seems to me that there are several teachers who are terrified to bring the lab to their room because they don’t want the students to break the laptops.  That’s understandable but I saw in the pilot that if you train the students how to handle the computers, they respond because they are so eager to use them.  The test group was better behaved than I’ve seen students act in the computer lab.  Believe it or not!

I showed the “Did you know…” video.  The context I was trying to set was “the world is different than when many of us older folks were in school and change doesn’t stop so we need to change too.”  I hope it opened some eyes.

One thing I forgot to say in the heat of the moment that laptops and technology are tools.  This quote from Jerram Froese says it all for me:

The pencil is a tool, just like the computer is a tool. Just because a student receives a pencil to use in class, does not mean that they will score higher on a standardized test. Granted, they will be able to TAKE the test, but their score will only be impacted by the learning processes that they undergo while at home and at school. The same holds true for a laptop. It has no ‘provable’ impact on student achievement, only the teacher and how he/she teaches will do that. The difference that the laptop/computer offers (as a tool in a classroom) is that a teacher can now design LESSONS where students can output products never before imaginable, where students can locate information never before accessible and where students can develop social networks of knowledge never before possible. BUT, it isn’t the laptop that does that – it all comes down to HOW the laptop is used. It all comes down to the teaching.

My concern now is the teaching aspect.  We have a little more technology but do we have the know-how to use it and to create meaningful lessons that use technology as a tool?  Do I have what it takes to show teachers how to do this?

MCMS Response to Sunday’s Editorial

Following is the response to Sunday’s editorial in the Carteret County News Times titled “A Wise Decision?”  It was composed by myself and my principal, Sue Kreuser.  We also included valuable input from our staff.  Special thanks to Amy Bruce, Margaret Ann Chalk, Michele Davis, Rhonda Scibal, and Bill Newman for helping us with content and editing!

Morehead City Middle School is grateful that our community is discussing the need for schools to increase the accessibility of technology for our students and staff.  We would like to clarify our school’s plan to increase the use of technology across all content areas.

Morehead Middle School serves around 500 students.  Our two computer labs are used for many purposes.  One vocational classroom lab is used to teach the NC Standard Course of Study.  In these classes, students learn basic keyboarding skills, as well as more complex skills, including applications such as word processing, database, spreadsheet, desktop publishing, and multimedia presentations.  Our second lab is used on a rotating basis by our entire staff and their students.  North Carolina requires teachers to include computer and other technology skills in their lessons.  This lab is continually in use as our teachers create exciting and new ways to use technology in projects and everyday lessons. 

MCMS has a need greater than our current computer labs can meet.  Therefore, we have moved forward with a plan to bring technology into more classrooms.  This plan is supported financially by our parents and students who sold chocolate bars and magazine subscriptions so that we could lease a portable lab.  This lab will be in the hands of our students within the next several weeks. 

Our portable lab has a three year warranty on parts and replacement, just like the desktop computers funded by the county.  These laptops are stored in a secure cart which remains locked when not in use.  When the lab is rolled to the classroom, students are assigned a specific laptop.  Thus, if problems arise, the situation can be handled properly. 

Essentially, the only differences between our portable lab of laptops and the desktop computers sitting in a lab (both have the same productivity and security software) are mobility and flexibility.  Laptops give teachers and students the ability to use them in a variety of ways, such as outside labs in science or grouping students into stations in a classroom for cooperative learning projects.  Laptops allow more accessibility without the capital outlay to build more labs.  We can “make do” with the facilities we have by turning any room into a computer lab.

Rest assured that our students and staff will be trained in the proper care and use of this computer lab, just as they are with all computer inventory at our school.  Improper use of technology equipment is dealt with as any other infraction would be.  On the other hand, it is our policy to teach students the behaviors we want them to exhibit.  We are confident that, with the proper training, they will treat this portable lab as well, if not better, than any other equipment they handle in the school.  It is our hope that students will feel a sense of ownership and pride in this lab since they helped earn the money to make the lease possible.

At Morehead City Middle School, we are preparing our students to be 21st century learners who are inquisitive, collaborative, responsible, and independent in their learning.  Technology is one of the tools they need now, not just in the future.  We live in a technology rich environment.  To ignore that fact and limit our schools to pen and paper activities would be a travesty and would put our students at a serious disadvantage when competing for jobs and college admissions.  Additionally, we must prepare our students for the North Carolina Computer Skills test which is given in the eighth grade and which all students must pass to graduate from high school.  Students must be exposed to technology as much as possible to learn the skills well enough to pass this test.

Our staff welcomes the public to visit our school to see this exciting tool for learning!

Wireless Lab Thoughts

  

Our school continues to grapple with the issue of very limited time in the computer lab and outdated machines. There has been quite a bit of discussion about exploring a wireless lab (class set of laptops on a cart) as a solution to our dilemma.

As I stated in a previous post, our school has one decent lab and another relatively decent lab of computers in the Media Center. After much brainstorming on the most fair way to sign up for lab time, teachers came up with the idea to assign each teaching team (7 in all) one week per 9 weeks. The last 2 weeks of the grading period would be left on a first come, first serve basis. This system seems to be working for those who couldn’t sign up early enough to get the lab. On the other hand, a team’s week doesn’t always coincide with that brilliant unit on frog dissection or the Civil War. If a team can’t swap a week, they sign up for the Media Center. Using the Media Center as a computer lab does put a little strain on classes using the Media Center for research. There have been a few times when the MC seems like Grand Central Station with multiple classes doing circulation, research, and computer projects.

The bottom line is–WE NEED ANOTHER COMPUTER LAB!! The next question is where are we going to put it?? We don’t have any more classrooms. The only other option is to go wireless.

I’m doing some research and I found some great articles. Here they are:

I’m just getting started. Apparently there’s a lot of factors involved and a lot to think about.

Does anyone out there know of any grant possibilities for something like this?

Computer Lab Lockup

So much to say and so little time to say it in…

I keep hearing that we as educators and technology facilitators need to tell our stories. Here is a current story that we as a staff are enduring for the past 2 weeks: Computer Lab Lockup!

With the new online version of the NC Computer Skills Test came unforeseen tie ups of our school’s main computer lab for a 3 week period of time as well as the “lab” in our Media Center for 1 week. I will admit that I am a bit befuddled about how to conduct this review/testing next year. I really hate telling teachers that they’re going to have to wait to do that fabulous Internet activity for a month or that their class can’t blog or create a newsletter for several weeks. There has to be a better way to do this stuff!

We have one “good” lab of machines that is used on a regular basis for projects, online activities, etc. The Media Center computers are used mainly for research but classes can use these machines to do other activities. About half these machines are top quality, with the rest being not so slow. The other lab we have is full of donated machines from Wachovia. They were donated several years back when Wachovia refreshed their own inventory. These Pentium II machines will run our math and language arts remediation program and do a little word processing but that’s about it. Donations like this are wonderful but over time they fall prey to advancing technologies and become increasingly limited in what they can do.

It seems that we are behind when it comes to having updated labs. I’ve heard that other schools have wireless labs–a class set of laptops in a lockable cart with wireless capabilities. I think that would be a great way to bring the technology to the classroom and put it in the students’ hands where it belongs. Come to think of it, outside the school I see technology everywhere, at people’s fingertips. So why is it that technology is in a separate, special location in a school?

I guess this is leading up to a description of my dream classroom. Ok, Mr. P, here’s some futuristic thinking for you: a classroom that has wireless Internet service, every desk/table has a retractable platform for a laptop computer (sort of like the old sewing machine tables where you could close the lid and the sewing machine disappeared inside and all you saw was the cabinet on the outside) so that students can toggle back and forth between using a flat surface or their machine (when not using the laptop it would be safely tucked away), the whiteboard at the front of the room is not just a whiteboard–it’s one huge flat screen monitor, sensitive to the touch (a lot like a Smartboard) but connected to the teacher’s workstation. The whiteboard would act like an erasable whiteboard but at the same time it’s a desktop computer with shortcuts to items the teacher wants to open and use in class. Maybe there are icons to a multimedia presentation or a United Streaming video segment or a web page or outlines typed in Word on this board. The teacher could hop from one activity to the next by just double touching the icons on the board. Maybe students could export their documents or digital projects from their desk laptops to the board for presentation to the class. Imagine a videoconference or live chat with a scientist in another state or country! The scientist (or the chat) is projected on the digital whiteboard and students are typing in questions from their desks. Of course, mixed in with all this high tech education are collaborative activities with partners or groups and all the other hands-on activities or oral discussions that go on in a traditional classroom as well.

Ok, enough dreaming. I have to keep my feet on the ground for now and brainstorm some creative ways to do lab scheduling and find money to update one of our labs so that as technology use increases in our school (as it should), teachers have resources to make that happen. Our students deserve a “no vertical limits” philosophy when it comes to using, integrating, and applying technology at school. They are facing a future where technology is the vehicle for creativity, financial security, convenience, and knowledge. In fact that vehicle is already waiting at the curb.