One man’s reflections on going 1:1

The summer term (as us Brits like to optimistically call it) is by nature a good time for reflection. I think this is especially true for high school teachers who tend to be afforded a little more time in the last few weeks of the academic year, mostly thanks to exam leave, to do the things we didn’t have time to do during the rest of the year. Filing being one. Reflection being another. 2011-12 was a year of big changes in the teaching and learning within my classroom, some of which I have discussed in previous posts. But virtually all those changes were either the direct or indirect result of YIS going 1:1 at the start of the year. All the students arrived in August, were given MacBook Pros and expected to bring them to every lesson.

As the year comes to a close, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on the impacts of 1:1 and how successfully I adapted my teaching to make the most effective use of the new tool. In true Coetail fashion, it looks like I’ll be doing my reflecting out in the public. So what follows are some of my reflections. These are not in any particular order or groups, nor are they really designed to serve any purpose. Instead they are merely some reflections that, in some regards, I wish I’d known before we started the 1:1 journey in August. I should also put in here the caveat that these are just my experiences with my high school students and that the list is not exclusive, but merely what has come to mind at this time.

  • Students will find the software that’s best for them. In economics we use a lot of diagrams and this time last year I spent many fruitless hours trying to find the best programme (ideally free) for the students to use for those who wanted to do their diagrams digitally. I was keen to have something installed on all their computers prior to August, but didn’t find anything appropriate in time. I needn’t have bothered. By the end of August, the students had discovered an array of sites and software that did what they wanted them to do in their style.
  • Most students still love pen and paper. I would estimate that 60% of my students continue to write class-notes by hand in a traditional notebook, with a minority using their computers. This still takes me by surprise, as I thought that ratio would be the reverse in the very least. It could be that for HS student, with 1:1 new to them, they are used to pen and paper from their formative years. Interestingly, the grades 9 and 10 students are much more hesitant to use their computers in class than the grades 11 and 12, although I suspect that is anomalous.
  • Students love the collaborative but hate the public capabilities of computers. Students are very good at, almost instinctively, sorting out roles when it comes to collaborative work. It must be because they do so much, each student has a reputation for what they are good and less good at. Students seem to genuinely enjoy collaborative work and it is a great learning experience, but when it comes to making their work public, they really balk. Ask them to put anything on their blog and you get a look in return similar to had you asked them to eat a lemon. I think part of it is that students like the circle of trust between themselves and their teachers – that they could get something horribly wrong and we wouldn’t hold it against them – but, they feel no such circle exists when their work is out in public. I have some empathy with them, as I am still uncomfortable when writing posts.
  • Students will be distracted by their computers. It’s going to happen, but I take a fairly relaxed view on this. At the end of the day, it’s not like if the computer wasn’t there I would have their total concentration 100% of the time. After-all, my lessons are 90 minutes long. It doesn’t matter how riveting they are – and trust me, they are – no-one can concentrate for that long. There are always distractions for the students, be it what’s around them or what’s in their head. I don’t find that going 1:1 has added to those distractions, but merely replaced them. Instead of the student staring out of the window for a few minutes to refresh their brains, they now just go on Facebook for a few minutes. I think it helps that I allow mini-breaks in the lesson, such as what is written about in these Good Education and Psychology Today articles.
  • Laptops are a fantastic ESL tool, and far better than anything I could ever provide. Economics has a language all of its own, which can be difficult to grasp even with a full command of the English language. There is an array of tools out there for ESL students, but if nothing else they can quickly type in words they don’t understand and get an instant translation and/or a deeper definition. They often do it. Again, they find the sites that work best for them so it’s not even something that needs to be set up. The result is I find I don’t spend as much time going over definitions again as the students already know them from their own research.
  • 1:1 eliminates plagiarism, which I appreciate sounds counter-intuitive. Every year of my teaching career I’ve had to deal with a number of plagiarism issues. Every year except this year. It could be just coincidence and it could be because the students have become really good at it. I believe the students realise that if you live by the sword you can die by the sword and, with laptops now constantly in all our lives, that teachers can discover plagiarism as easily as they can copy and paste.

There is no doubt that the teaching and learning in my classroom has improved this year as a result of 1:1. The range of my assessment tools is much larger if nothing else – now including movies, blog posts, public reports and presentations, as well as the traditional essays. The most exciting aspect is that I know I’m really not that close to fully utilising the wonderful tools that are MacBook Pros. I want to and will get better. Coetail has certainly given me plenty of ideas of how to incorporate technology to a much greater extent. Some will work, some wont – but I’ll keep on trying.

Like everyone in this profession, I often get asked why I want to be a teacher. My answer is because I love being a student. I love learning and evolving. Going 1:1 has aided that evolution, and I am a better teacher because of the experience.

Incorporating the new with the old

4 Comments

  • May 10, 2012 - 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Just some thoughts I would like to add to your post:

    You bring up some interesting issues that have been on my mind as well. Currently our HS is all laptop, and next year our middle school will be as well. My daughter, who is in 8th grade, got a used Macbook last year, and I am not sure if it has benefited her as much as one would hope. She is less focused than she used to be and uses a lot of her time to surf; something she says her peers do during class as well. You mention that your students are not always focused on your lessons; and that if they are somewhat distracted by their computers, that is okay as if it was not for computers then it would be something else. I agree with your point, though some of my students have a tendency to be distracted throughout the entire class period. I don’t necessarily put it down to dull lectures (which I try to avoid) but that people because of technology interact with their environment differently these days, and one of the consequences of the internet and its immediacy is that attention spans tend to be much shorter–too much information overload. It is an issue that all teachers face, and depending on which teacher, some will crack down on the use (for example) of Facebook during class time more than others. I like the idea of giving students mini-breaks–this may resolve the issue.

    I also teach General Economics and I struggled to find programs that I could use to create demand curve graphs that the students could easily use. Excel seemed to be the obvious choice, but a number of students had no idea how to use it and I found it to be overkill. Eventually I found a couple of websites for kids to use, but what has ended up being the easiest for both my students and myself has been using Google docs. My students were able to figure that one out fairly quickly, and even improve upon some of the functions I demonstrated in class.

    Finally in reference to plagiarism, this seems to be a growing problem at our school Students really fail to see how copying and pasting someone else s’ words as opposed to paraphrasing someone else s ideas qualifies as plagiarism. To them it is the same thing. They don’t see the distinction and so when they do it, they often will defend themselves and state that they did not know about using quotes and when does what something one writes qualify as another individual’s ideas. You are correct–they DO not understand how easy it is to find out if a work has been copied from someone else, and despite the fact that they see their peers caught for doing it, many students do it anyway in the hope the busy teacher will not have time or incentive to check their work. I am not sure how to resolve this issue, but I warn my students that universities will probably look less favorably and be less prone to forgive essays that are copies and presented as original works. I hope it seeps in.

  • May 13, 2012 - 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed your points, recognising some of your experiences and observations being close to my own. The references to students being reluctant to self-publish made me grin. Sometimes I find that quiet students in my classes write (and publish) more confidently than their more garrulous peers – it’s certainly been a useful way to appraise their reflective abilities. By contrast, I’ve found the Grade 6 students are often competing to see whose blog has the most visitors… whether this is to do with being less self-conscious than their teenaged peers or being of a different digital generation, I’m not sure. I wholeheartedly support your final paragraph :)

  • June 1, 2012 - 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post! I agree with your points about plagiarism possibly being _decreased_ in a laptop environment.

    I don’t know if this is related to what you’ve experienced at all, but: I like to think that the nature of tasks students are expected to do will end up changing in response to our online-all-the-time environment, just as, for example, I’m sure math exercises changed after the advent of the calculator’s ubiquity. For example, earlier this year some students copied and pasted their information for a certain part of a history project.

    I was annoyed when I discovered it, but more at myself. Looking back, that segment of their assignment had essentially been: “Make a slideshow that describes the history of the _____ Empire”. Of course they copied their texts for that section, I realize in retrospect. It wasn’t a task which had been set up to require higher-order thinking, it was more like a request for a historical timeline. I had set them up to copy, in a way – not that plagiarism is acceptable, but in the sense that my task had been as boring and ripe for cut-and-past answers as asking a room full of students with calculators to tell me what 12 x 12 is.

    If I were to reformulate that part of the assignment in a different way – something as simple as asking them to write fictional diary entries of people living through the most significant events of a certain empire, rather than just re-presenting historical data – I’d be essentially making plagiarism on that impossible while at the same time making the assignment more interesting. Oh well… there’s always next year!

  • June 9, 2012 - 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Glad to read your reflections here, Adam. It sounds like you’ve had a very successful first year in our CLC. What I’m really interested in is seeing what our current grade 6’s are like when they get to high school. Like Madeleine, I see them competing for page views, tracking their visitor stats, and completely uninterested in doing anything on paper if they can avoid it. I feel for the high school students who have spent the last 10 years of their life learning how to “play school” and now we’ve changed the game on them – albeit to help them develop the skills they need to be effective life-long learners, but different nonetheless.

    I also wonder if there are certain efficiency and organizational skills they they haven’t developed in the digital sense that we kind of expect them to already know. If we could develop, for example, note taking structures that would help them be more organized and effective in this new medium, maybe that would make them more comfortable using it?

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