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!

Laptop Learning Initiative–Final Assignment

“As your final assignment, due May 15, please update your blogs with a link to your best laptop based project (preferably Web 2.0)…Along with that link, I would like you to describe what it is and how the laptop helped you accomplish this. Share some changes in your work habits that the laptops inspired. Finally, give some thoughts on what kinds of training or initiatives you would like us to undertake as a group next year.”

My Best Laptop Project: Enhanced Podcast of 5th Grade Visit to MCMS (Used Photo Story, Audacity, Creative Commons Music)

I was asked to document one of our new strategies for helping rising 6th graders with their transition to middle school. Our school assigned visiting 5th graders as shadows to current 6th graders for a day. I took digital photos of their visit and then interviewed one boy and one girl along with the 6th graders they were shadowing. We recorded the interview straight into Audacity. I edited the audio in Audacity, utilizing the techniques learned in our workshop with Patrick Keough. I created an enhanced podcast in Photo Story by combining the digital photos and the mp3 track of the interview created in Audacity. I found some Creative Commons Licensed music and created a short edited track in Audacity which I mixed in for introduction and exit music. I also added the music track to the interview, mixing it in Audacity before I created the mp3. Having the laptop really helped because we were able to pass the laptop around during the interview. It has a built-in microphone, the only one we had in the school at the time. I was also able to work on the project over the weekend because it was saved on the desktop of my laptop.

How My Work Habits Have Changed by Using a Laptop: My work habits have changed quite a bit. I take my laptop to meetings and take minutes on the computer instead of writing things down. I have felt much more free to use a data projector for instruction because I can just scoop up my machine and check out the cart with the projector. I don’t have to worry about a computer being available to use with the projector or having to use a very long cable to connect the projector to a desktop across the room. I have used my laptop at conferences to take notes, collaborate, and edit our school’s web page remotely. I have used the laptop with two different groups of science students to teach and guide them through making digital movies as part of a project. It was easier for four students to gather around a laptop at a table in the Media Center and work on their movie than to huddle around a desktop. I watched, amazed, as these students worked together in teams. They were so excited to be using the laptop and a wireless mouse that they were eager to take turns being “in control” on the machine. I have also used my laptop to share ideas with other educators through Skype and Second Life.

Thoughts on Projects for Next Year: I would really like to learn more about:

  • screencasting,
  • using blog software to create my own blog from scratch (I would love to see our school’s website become a blog but we need more control than a free website like Word Press could give us.)
  • using Web 2.0 tools with students
  • using online school programs like Blackboard in a public school

Final Thoughts: I want to thank Joe Poletti for being the driving force behind this project and the county for allowing the purchase of laptops for all tech facilitators in the county. I think we as a group are closer because of the collaboration we have experienced. We have branched out and tried new things. My life is different because of the flexibility and mobility I have with my laptop. It has impacted the lives of students in my school both directly and indirectly. That’s what technology is all about after all: impacting students and aiding learning. If that is the end result at the end of the day, then the money spent was well worth it. I would love to see this possibility open up for our teachers and students in the future as well. I know our teachers would be more productive if they had such easy access to technology and the software we use at school. Using data projectors in the classroom would be so much easier as well because now we have problems with having the correct cables and the distance of the teacher’s desktop from the projector. I have stated my opinions before about every student having their own laptop. I would love to see a one-to-one initiative happen in our county, where every student had access to their own computer. I know computers aren’t the answer to all of education’s ills but I think leveling the playing field in the area of technology would open up a world of possibilities for many students who would ordinarily never be exposed to them.

Digital Writing Wonders

Last week, one of our 6th grade language arts teachers used the wireless lab to have students write a story about a mythological figure.  The teacher was so impressed with the quality work students were turning out.  She actually said that she would have them write on the computer from now on because their work was so much more creative.

Hearing this kind of statement really made me stop to reflect for a few days.  What is the connection between writing digitally and creativity?  Is there a different thought process involved that occurs when we put pen to paper versus typing on a keyboard?  What is the connection?

Now, these stories were not to be published on the web so the students knew there was no audience but their teacher.  According to her, she had students participating and producing in the activity who would normally not engage if the assignment were done on paper.

Is the answer as simple as technology helps kids connect to learning?  Could it be that by simply handing them computers, we are making a bridge between school and the digital world they live in?  Once the bridge is in place, students are able to engage in ways they could not before?

Lots of questions, I know.  There is no hidden agenda here.  I’m not trying to sell anyone on technology.  It’s just that when a very experienced teacher is willing to abandon former practices because she sees technology is making a difference, I sit up and pay attention.

I am very interested in hearing opinions on this one!  If anyone has research on writing with technology, I would love to read it.

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?