Can’t Live without ‘Em

Reflect on your own use of laptop in the classroom.

In many ways I feel as though art class should provide a reprieve of sorts for students, a chance for them to disconnect from their laptops/technology and work with their hands.  As we heard from Joann Deak earlier this week, it is so important to stretch students’ brains to use the weaker modalities.  Since the visual learning modality is often strongest, the time for students to engage their hands in motor and bodies in kinesthetic activities is essential. I designate the majority of my class time for studio work.  However, a one-to-one laptop program is integral to how I organize instruction and plan for and facilitate student learning.

Students use their laptops daily to document their progress on projects.  It is standard operating procedure that students take a quick photo or two of their project with Photo Booth before their set up their workspace and beginning to work.  After a few class periods of studio time students take a class or two to reflect on their work in a blog post (example 1, example 2) and they include their pictures in their posts.  The first time students wrote blog posts I didn’t provide enough support for them, taking for granted that they knew how to troubleshoot, provide proper attribution for pictures, and add tags, links, etc.  In the meantime I’ve developed self- and peer review checklists to ensure that students include all the required elements in their posts.  These have led to a big improvement in the quality of their posts.

I use Google Docs to share rubrics, activity forms, and project expectations.  Initially this was cumbersome as it was necessary to create email lists from our rosters and students would inevitably forget to change the title of the documents, but our school has recently decided to test Teacher Workspace for Google Apps and I’m hoping this solves some of these logistical and organization issues.

Between projects students use their laptops to research art-related topics in preparation for their next project.  I provide specific questions and links to provide structure and avoid random searching.  This has proven to be the most difficult laptop use to manage.  Students are working on their own and are easily tempted to get off-task.  My random check-in’s help curb this, but I know it still affects their ability to complete the research in a timely manner.

Overall, though, the management issues I have are fairly minimal.  I ask that students lower their screens when I am explaining something.  When they aren’t in use, students store their laptops in in designated spaces away from their desks.  I always review and reinforce appropriate behavior and expectations for technology use and I feel that because there is a common message about these expectations from the staff in the middle school, students understand what is appropriate and not.

The careful planning and preparation for the laptop program is a key reason for its success.  Students all receive the same laptop from the school so there are no issues of software compatibility or program access.  They also receive a case which is color-coded by grade level.  It seems like a small issue, but providing the case thwarts a number of problems such having parents find reasonably priced quality cases.  At the beginning of the year students spent one period every day for a week (about five hours total) learning the basic software on their laptop and getting very specific instructions about the care and use of them.  Students are aware that at any time during the day the work on their laptop can be monitored by our technology department.  They are not allowed to use their laptops during breaks and lunch and they were stored at school over winter break.  These measures help maintain a mentality that the laptops are for educational use.

Laptops are an essential component to the work and learning in my classroom.  I no longer have to worry about booking a lab, checking out cameras, and sharing thumb drives because of the hardware available to each student.  The most important part of our one-to-one program, though, isn’t the actual laptop, but rather how easily it connects us to resources.  It’s the ability to share and collaborate instantaneously via Google Docs.  It’s the ability to document and share our learning via teacher websites/blogs and student blogs.  It’s the ability to share and search pictures via Flickr and other picture sharing sites.  It’s the ability to use programs such as PhotoShop, iMovie, and Garageband to create original works.  And it’s helping give students more responsibility and ownership over their learning.

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