What should or could you do with laptops or handhelds in your classroom? Sure, you can take notes or research on the 'Net, but what else? Guest columnist John Raymond highlights easy-to-implement Web-based activities for K-12 classrooms. Included: A half-dozen classroom-tested activities and software programs.
"It's hard enough to manage a classroom of 20 kids! Now you want me to give each of them a laptop? No way!"
That is perfectly realistic -- and even reasonable -- reaction from a teacher who has just been told that her school is moving to one-to-one computing. If you've been there, you know what I mean. But what might seem reasonable in the context of an initial reaction will appear to be downright reactionary as the benefits of one-to-one computing make themselves known in and out of the classroom. Take a moment to consider
It's hard to dismiss the learning benefits of a class of handheld-toting 5th grade students conducting onsite data collection.
Imagine the pond behind the school. With the diminutive-but-powerful machines and a scientific probe or two, students can capture real-time water quality data, import it to a spreadsheet that they then can transfer to the classroom computer, and then upload it to the Web. See an example of this type of project at Cold Spring School in New Haven, Connecticut.
Conducting real research, collecting real data, publishing in a real public space (the Web)What can be done only partly with previous technologies can be done easily, seamlessly, with handhelds, while making students into scientists, publishers, enthusiastic discoverers.
How about the history classroom, where instead of listening to a teacher lecture about ancient Athens, students take a virtual tour and then use 3-D design software like SketchUp to build a simple model of a Greek temple as a way to internalize classical principles such as balance? Students can explore remote historic locations, construct projects based on historical values and principles and view each other's work with ease.
I include those two brief examples as evidence of what I believe is just the tip of an iceberg -- an iceberg that will not sink great ships, but rather will make learning (and teaching!) a more dynamic, engaging, reality-based process. Just imagine what you could do in your classroom if all students had computers. Yes, of course they could take clearer notes (those who type fast enough, that is), but think beyond that.
They could present today's weather report directly from weather.com, incorporating barometric pressure, warm fronts, the jet stream and all the meteorological topics you have been discussing during the week.
They could speak about the different headlines of the day's Wall Street Journal and the Tehran's Iran Daily and hypothesize on why the angles in the lead stories are so different even though the topics are the same. Visit the Newseum for a resource that will help you with this activity.
For their statistics class, they could import today's coastal water temperatures and run weekly, monthly, and yearly analyses on the changes using a spreadsheet program.
And that's still just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.
I have conveniently ignored the management and technical challenges inherent to one-to-one computing. Those undoubtedly will show themselves, and they must be faced and addressed. But I also have not spoken of the myriad productivity and communications benefits of one-to-one computing. All of those are fantastic, almost worth the cost of admission alone. Truly, it is the potential learning benefits of the type of environment in which each student has his or her own machine and teachers have the vision, patience, and skill to implement learning activities that exploit those opportunities, that make one-to-one computing worth the trouble, the cost, and the frustration.
Article by John Raymond
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