Friday, March 22, 2013

Observing a 1:1 School

Today, I had the privilege of observing 7th grade classes that participate in a 1:1 laptop program. I sat in on four periods, Science, Math, Social Studies, and Language Arts, during the school day at the University Laboratory School, a public charter school in Hawaii.

Each student in the 7th grade is given a Chromebook and a school issued Google Apps for Education account.

A teacher at my school initiated this observation in part because our school has been told that we will likely participate in a 1:1 laptop program sometime next school year, as some part of a Race to the Top Common Core Technology Initiative. About all the information we've received so far comes from a local newspaper article, Hawaii joins laptops-in-schools talks (if you can't view that link, the article can also be found at NPR, Main School Laptop Contract To Be Open to Others).

I made the following observations during my visit today:

1. GAFE (Google Apps for Education) is deeply integrated into almost everything the students do during class. 

  • Teachers use Google Drive to display and archive the daily agenda.
  • During a math class, students shared a Google Slide to work on daily math problems, with students working in groups, and groups were assigned to one slide that they were responsible for filling in with their observations, questions, solutions, and diagrams. 
  • In a language arts class, students worked in groups of four and were wrapping up a Google Site full of student generated book reviews and novel excerpts. The students even created their own artwork with photo apps and Google Draw to match their reviews and excerpts.
  • In a Science class, student took a quiz by creating a chart in Google Draw. They then added it to a shared folder with the teacher.
  • In Social Studies, students created their own Google Slide presentation and a handful of students presented a current event they found in the news a few days prior. The rest of the class took notes on the current event in their own Google document, likely shared with the teacher for record keeping. They also created their own Inca Quipus using Google Draw and then turned it into somewhat of a game. They shared their game with another student in class through Google Drive.

2. Most classes took full advantage of the 1:1 program by going completely paperless. However, a few classes where about 50/50. I found this perplexing, because in one instance a teacher would have the students take a quiz in Google Drive, and then they would pull out their composition books and start writing down notes. I suppose this has to do with the level of comfort that teacher has with GAFE.  But why note keep those notes in Google Drive?

3. Work stored in Google Drive becomes an archive and a Portfolio. In a math class I observed, the teacher used one Google Slide for all the math problems the class worked on since the beginning of the semester. The file was shared with every student in the class so that everyone had access to all of the work and all of the notes generated during class. This creates a running record of the learning going on in class and shows how the math they are learning scaffolds through the semester.

4. Parents need to be stakeholders in this initiative. There needs to be some sort of buy-in from parents so that they are comfortable with their child's increased access to technology and the internet both in school and at home. The University Lab School approaches this buy-in by conducting the following:

  • Students are given an extensive AUP and are also required to pass an AUP test before given a laptop. I think the idea of an AUP test is great! It tells the student and the parent, "This document is important!"
  • All students go through extensive cyber-bullying and internet safety training/workshops.
  • Parents also receive workshops on cyber-bullying and internet safety conducted during Parent Nights.
  • Students create safety videos in school and then upload them to Youtube and share them with their families. I love this idea! It allows the students to be creative. It reinforces the training they receive and the purpose of the AUP. And they have an authentic audience.
5. Teachers need Professional Development before they receive the technology! I find this part so extremely important, as do the teachers and leaders at the University Lab School. And frankly, this scares me the most with our own 1:1 laptop program. You can't just give a class technology and expect them to understand it. Well, maybe you can with the students. But not the teachers! I think the approach that this school takes with PD is a great model. Teachers received one full year of PD. Teachers also became the leaders of their own PD and each teacher was required to learn a skill and then provide at least one workshop to their peers. Learning Communities were also set up, and based on the social structure of the school, "Pillars of the Community" were selected to provide the tech support within the school. I see a "Pillar of the Community" as an expert of sorts; someone that the rest of the grade level, or building, can go to for help.

Seeing a 1:1 program in action is exciting! And seeing GAFE integrated into that program is even more exciting! The process isn't easy, but once a school is organized and the students and teachers have received proper professional development and training, the possibilities are endless!

Has your school initiated a 1:1 program? What benefits have you found with you and your students? What pitfalls have you run into and how did you resolve them? Leave a comment below and join the discussion!