I manage my classes using 1 to 1 laptops through a mixture of movement and motivation. I have had more luck using low or no tech techniques to make sure students are on task whether they are using paper and pencil or a laptop. Two years ago when I first bought my iPad and was testing out how I could use it in my classroom, I came across an app for LanSchool. I imagined using the app to make sure students stayed on task and to have them answer questions using their laptops to check for understanding during the lesson but eventually I went back to my low tech management techniques.
In my 4 years of teaching students using 1 to 1 laptops, I have come to accept the short time delay it takes students to open their laptops, turn them on and connect to the network. During this time I have them use paper and pencil to do a warmup problem and ask questions about the homework. By the time the last homework question is answered most students are ready to download activity files from Moodle and get started with their 1 to 1 laptop activity.
After testing the LanSchool app for a semester I realized the software was having a negative impact on learning in my classroom. Students had to log on to both the network and LanSchool and the school’s network could not keep up with the bandwidth use by LanSchool. The time delay between the start of class and students using their laptops to explore mathematics was now longer and I was still not seeing all of the class laptop screens on my iPad. I also realized that a student response system which consisted of multiple choice answers was not giving me enough information on what problem solving steps individual students were getting stuck on. In the end I decided it was faster for me to walk around the classroom and look at students’ steps in their notebooks and their laptop screens at the same time to ensure they were on task and understanding new material.
My management on the move is sometimes made more difficult due to other technology I use. SmartBoard’s were in most of the classrooms when I was first hired even before AISB had a 1 to 1 laptop program. With a SmartBoard I can show students how to use their TI-84 or TI-nSpire calculators by using emulators that display the calculator key presses on the SmartBoard as I use the calculator. The SmartBoard also made it easier for students and myself to demonstrate problem solving steps and ideas using virtual algebra tiles, Sketchpad and Fathom. Recently the department has also purchased licenses for FluidMath software that will give myself and students the ability to write mathematical notation on the SmartBoard and convert the handwritten material into graphs, sliders and function tables. The use of the SmartBoard has made my management on the move method more difficult as I now have to run between the SmartBoard at the front of the class and back to students at their desks as I teach.
Using a SmartBoard and 1 to 1 laptops both present management challenges but the benefits outweigh the challenges and I hope to find other tech solutions that will eliminate the SmartBoard’s effect of tethering me to the front of the classroom. Last year the school purchased a Fujitsu Q550 slate for me to test as a teacher laptop. I also bought a Vianect Air TV USB adapter so I could manage on the move and still control what my students saw on the SmartBoard by using a wireless video connection between the slate and projector. The atom processor on the slate could not keep up with the processing needs of the SmartBoard, Sketchpad and AirTV software running simultaneously so I reluctantly gave up on controlling the SmartBoard remotely. This year the rest of the math department teachers received a ThinkPad X Convertible Tablet which has an Intel Core i5 processor that should keep up with the demands of running a wireless video connection. One of the department’s teachers has borrowed my AirTV adapter and we shall see…..
In the end managing a classroom is easier when students are motivated. As I mentioned in a previous post about flipped classrooms, student access to 1 to 1 laptops has changed how I teach. My students use their laptops to discover math concepts and construct their own understanding of mathematics using Sketchpad, Fathom and their calculators. In my robotics classroom the students use their laptops to both program their robots and learn new programming techniques using Carnegie Mellon’s RobotC curriculum. I believe that using 1 to 1 laptops as tools to help students understand course material results in more motivated students that are easier to manage while I move around the classroom. And if I am wrong at least all my movement in class might help me keep up with my Colombian wife’s salsa moves on the dance floor!