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.