Living the 1:1 Laptop Life

Today I took part in an #edchat on Twitter about what I would build if my school was bulldozed.  I wasn't really interested in this topic (meaning it wasn't the one I voted for), but I wanted to see what others would say.  After reading other people's input, I quickly realized that I should be pretty thankful for what I have.

I am in my fifth year of teaching at a middle school (7th & 8th grades) in Pewaukee, WI.  We are a small suburban community where the whole district is on one campus.  The middle school has had a 1:1 laptop program for the last two years.  This means that I have taught in both environments.

Before the 1:1 laptop program I had a bank of 11 desktop computers in my classroom.  There was always at least one that was not working and I would have given anything to have a printer in my room.  All of my computers would print to the classroom across the hall.  I can only imagine the disruption that was.  I also remember being mad that I only had 11 computers; this wasn't enough to have even half of my students work on them at a time.  This meant that I had to schedule the students to use computers in shifts for a third of the class period.

Another option I had during that time period was signing up for a computer lab.  My school had three computer labs, but one was signed out everyday due to the computer classes that took place.  This meant that there were only two computer labs for me to sign up for.  I realized my first year that planning well ahead of time for the use of technology in my curriculum was a must.  There would be people who signed up for the computer labs months ahead of time.  And boy did I get angry when they would sign up and then not show up to use it or if someone erased your name and wrote their own over it.

Well now it is very different.  Every student in our building has a school-issued laptop.  Last year, we piloted this program with just our 8th graders.  I moved into another classroom with a printer and a bank of 12 desktop computers (I know... an upgrade).  The only thing was that I didn't need a bank of desktop computers anymore.  I taught all 8th grade and they all had laptops now.

The year before the students got their laptops was interesting.  The school district's wonderful instructional technology director had the teachers get laptops the year before the students did.  This meant we spent a year getting used to the laptops and go through training on how to use technology effectively in the classrooms.  I was able to explore tools like Moodle and OneNote.  I also became familiar with Web 2.0 tools like Animoto, Prezi, and Xtranormal.  I liked having the year to explore and play around with lessons and add in technology when I felt like it fit. 

Last year only our 8th graders had laptops and I was able to implement some of my great technology ideas into my lessons.  I learned a lot from this group.  I learned that classroom management took on a whole new look when everyone has laptops.  I wasn't battling the pesky notes that were being passed.  I was now battling the emails that would fly back and forth or the online games that were so enticing.  Some of you might be thinking that online gaming would be a big problem to having a 1:1 laptop program.  I understand that idea, I once thought that way too.  I was having a conversation with a colleague about this and he compared online gaming to the bathrooms.  I was completely confused until he explained that there used to be a problem with students spending classroom time in the bathrooms.  Some teachers were upset by this and wanted to regulate each students' bathroom use.  My colleague said "There is something wrong if the students would rather spend their time in the bathroom than in your classroom."  The same thing goes for online gaming.  I also learned that technology cannot be used just to be used.  It needed to be embedded into a lesson authentically. 

This year, all middle school students have laptops and I am refining my techniques and use of online tools.  I am realizing that if you walked into my classroom you would see many different things happening: students scattered all about for charging and comfort purposes, students on various websites like google docs, and my learning targets projected at the front.  I am still learning how to best use technology in my curriculum and I am sure that I will be learning this topic for the rest of my career. 

One of the biggest differences between before and during the 1:1 laptop program is that before I would have given anything to have a printer in my classroom and now that I have one, I never use it.  Really, I just had students print their historical papers last week and there were many kids who said that they didn't know how to install a printer because they don't ever print.

After the #edchat conversation today, I reflected on the fact that not everyone has the resources that my school has.  I think I started taking that for granted.  If I were to bulldoze my school I would change a lot about the building itself, but I am happy to have the tools that I already have.

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