1:1 Primary: The first few weeks

September 26, 2009

I had every intention of blogging on our 1:1 computer project every week, with specifics of what we had done each day. However, time has run away with me for these first weeks of term and I now find myself three weeks in and starting to think in a more reflective way about what we have experienced so far.

My overall feeling of the first few weeks is that it has been a positive experience, but one that has possibly had more learning curves for myself than for the pupils. We have had some great successes, a couple of mini disasters of lessons, and quite a  few niggly problems that need to be ironed out. Most of the issues could have been expected, a few of the technical ones were not predicted, but overall we have done some good work, and are starting to adjust to meaningfully use 30 netbooks as part of our classroom environment.

Successes

I decided to begin our work with the laptops on the first day of term by having a class discussion about the use of them, and how we should look after them. The children in our school have access to a lot of technology, so I took care to explain just how unusual it was for 8 year olds to be working with 1:1 laptops, and that we were really experimenting for something that people in other schools may decide to pick up. Suitably impressed with the responsibility that entailed, the children devised some guidelines for looking after the laptops. I was impressed with the thought they put into this, and they brought up issues which I had not considered, such as how to safeguard against pets damaging the laptops.

We then handed out the laptops and I allowed the children to explore what they could do with them, giving them free reign to use anything they could find on them. As our internet connections had not been set up this was predominantly the built in games, but I really think giving this time to explore and play with the ‘new toys’ was beneficial. I could have expected umpteen technical problems and user difficulties at this point, but in fact the only difficulty I had to help with was “Mr Quinlan I am stuck… I just can’t jump over this high wall to complete the level!”.

Their computer skills have on the whole impressed me, although I have found it important to spot those who are not confident and give them extra support. A couple of the class who do not use computers at home obviously felt overwhelmed and a little scared by the laptops, but with some encouragement they seem to be warming to them.

The next activity we looked at was tutpup – a competitive maths game. As many of the children had been drawn to the games on the machines I thought this would be a good way to channel this enthusiasm to more educational pursuits, and they have been really engaged by it. The game is based on basic maths drills, but it allows you to play against children from across the world, and if you set up a class league for the children to join they can compete against each other.

The first proper lesson we used the laptops for was our introductory history lesson on the Tudors. I began by setting up a wall using wallwisher, and asking the children to come up with questions that they would like to ask about the tudors. We then got out the laptops and the children used a selection of website I had collected to find some answers to these questions. Many children strayed from my links and began to search using google, and as a result came up with some interesting facts that I had not considered discussing. Some of the children found it difficult to multitask on the computers and switch between researching information and inputting it, but on the whole it was a successful first lesson. The wall we created can be found here.

Another  success was using the laptops for a PE lesson on Tudor dance. Having had a couple of fairly standard lessons looking at dance steps, my colleague decided to give each group a laptop and have them independently analyse a youtube video of a dance and try to emulate it. I also gave this a go in our lesson, and aside from a few problems with wifi reception in the school hall it worked quite well, and fulfilled the evaluation objectives for PE far more comprehensively than simply peer evaluating a few dances at the end of the lesson would have.

The laptops have been used for independent research on a number of occasions and, despite the huge possibility for them to go of task when using them, they have so far been very motivated to complete the tasks they have been set. We have been working on encouraging their independent skills, and they have thought of some great possibilities for using the laptops in spare time once they have finished tasks in other lessons. Lots of my pupils are now starting to access the resources we are using at home, with several of them spending lots of their free time on tutpup, and some updating facts on our tudors wall once they have gone home.

Challenges

Unfortunately the first few weeks have not been without significant technical problems. From the start many of out laptops were not charging, and this was narrowed down to a buggy version of the BIOS, which then had to be upgraded on all of the machines. This was then followed by a problem with the wifi access, with many of the machines forgetting the wifi key and being kicked off the network. It has taken some time to get all of these sorted, and I am still waiting to test wifi access of my class set at the moment. This has meant that we have not really had a whole class set of laptops yet, which has hampered some of the activities I had planned to do, although hopefully it should be sorted very soon.

I would urge anyone who is looking at implementing such a project as ours to look very carefully at the machines they are planning to buy and research the possible issues through support forums before taking the plunge. I am pretty sure that the issues we are seeing are largely due to the Acer version of Linpus Linux that is installed on the machines, which I am not very impressed with. However, it does start up very fast which is something that is very useful at our current stage of experience. I think eventually we might look at installing Ubuntu on the machines, but for now we are sticking with Linpus for speed and simplicity, at least for the end users if not for those fielding the technical issues.

For me the biggest challenges have been the over enthusiasm of both myself and the pupils for these new toys! They are obviously a great novelty to the children, and this has lead to some class management issues in my class, with it being difficult to gain and maintain children’s attention during and after laptop based lessons. I have had to implement fairly hardline rules about listening when asked to when the laptops are around, and although I hate to do it I have had to have several children working on paper, and once stop the whole class from using the computers. Hopefully soon the novelty will wear of somewhat and these issues will become easier, something which is especially likely once they have been allowed to take the computers home as planned.

My over enthusiasm for the possibilities of the technology has also caused a couple of lessons to go rather wrong. With so many possibilities it is easy to forget I am working with 8 year olds who sometimes need very clear step by step instructions to be able to achieve the ideas I have in mind. One such lesson was our introduction to Edmodo, which I had planned to use to manage the digital aspects of our classroom. This turned out to be rather complicated for the stage we were at, and I decided to revert to using a more static ‘class homepage‘ to distribute links and content. I would very much like to get the children involved in something with more two way communication, but I feel we need to start simple for the moment and build up to that when both myself and they are more experienced in working in this way.

So far this homepage has had the added benefit of being open to our pupils’ parents, several of whom have shown a great interest in keeping up with what we are doing through the twitter feeds and rss to our class blog.

So, the first few weeks have not been without significant challenges, but overall I think we have taken some good steps towards starting to adapt to using 1:1 computers. I really think it is once the machines become less of a novelty and more a core part of the way pupils participate in the classroom that they will really come into their own. In the next week I hope to introduce the class to google docs, at which point we will be able to start looking at using them more in our literacy work and for collaboration.

I feel like this post has turned into a bit of a ramble, but I hope it has been of some interest. In future I might try to post a bit more regularly and specifically on how we are using the netbooks. However, being 3 weeks into my NQT year I am facing many other challenges, so blogging time is a bit squeezed at the moment!


Where’s Klaus?

September 24, 2009

On Tuesday I went to a conference for NQTs newly appointed to Birmingham LEA. Once of the sessions focused on using new technologies in a school context, and the presenter showed us this video aimed at encouraging parents to become aware of esafety.

I am a bit conflicted about this film. On the one hand I really don’t believe in scare tactics with regards to esafety, and I think trying to scare people who do not fully understand the benefits of new technologies is likely only to lead to over the top blocking and rejection of these technologies. For me, blocking is not the final answer to this, as I can only see it leading to ignorance up until the point young people are finally let loose on all the unsavory content the web has to offer. Instead I strongly feel we need to educate people to be responsible internet users. Some of them will access this content later in life, but the least we can do is educate them so that this happens out of choice, not out of ignorance.

On the other hand, people need to know just how horrific some of the content on the internet is, and at least through films like this they can do so without actually stumbling across it by accident. For this use I thought this film was brilliantly executed, although perhaps needs to be tempered with some discussion of the likelihood of some of these scenarios happening, and the easy steps that could be taken to avoid them.

It’s such a tricky thing esafety; you want people to understand and appreciate the dangers without turning them off to the hugely beneficial aspects of the technology that makes those dangers possible. I guess all we can do as teachers is try to reach the right balance.