Laptops empower students to get to the thinking faster

I have two favorite quotes from Pamela Livingston’s excellent book, 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work. Here's the first one:

If it takes 40 minutes for an environmental science class to gather weather data from atlases and almanacs and turn it into pencil and paper charts, how much time is left to think about what the chart is saying? How much time is there to consider “what if” scenarios, such as, “What if the mean temperature rose by ten degrees?” Equipped with a laptop computer, access to the Internet, and a spreadsheet/graphing program, however, students can quickly find and analyze current data. They can plug that data into spreadsheet templates and prepare charts for half a dozen different “what if” scenarios in the same amount of time it would take to make a pencil and paper chart. [Laptops] allow students to get to the thinking faster. [emphasis added]

We waste so much time in school doing things on paper that are more efficient on the computer. One of the primary reasons that adults use computers instead of paper is enhanced productivity. What could teachers do with all of the time that we’d free up if schools made a significant shift away from paper and pencil?

If you haven’t checked out Pamela’s book, it’s well worth the read!

11 Responses to “Laptops empower students to get to the thinking faster”

  1. While hardly innovative or anywhere close to cutting edge, we’re starting with laptops for teachers so they have an increased opportunity to “get it.” With focused professional development, training and time to share, we hope this leads to an awareness of the power of technology to transform teaching and learning.

  2. We have used Pamela’s book as a guide line to help set up a wireless netbook special ed classroom. If will be fun as we continue to integrate technology into the curriculum.

  3. Last year, we signed up for a service that allowed our journalism students to keep their drafts of their work online in the cloud. This not only reduced printing costs, it let students work from home (or anywhere), and it reduced mistakes and lost assignments.

  4. “Cutting edge” isn’t always the best prescriptive medicine for the situation is it? My guess here off the top of my head is that you based this approach on the current level of savvy of your staff.

    In that case, dropping hundreds of laptops or other devices recklessly into the hands of kids would have resulted in little transformation of the curriculum for the better. You would have also likely suffered more push back from the very staff you wish to empower. Certainly, you would have had kids who were able to hit the ground running… and perhaps even a percentage of your staff.

    However, from what I have seen, most districts do not get the return on investment that they are looking for (and no- I am not talking just about standardized test scores) when they launch all for one.

    I am sure this is a contentious viewpoint especially for those who have emerged victoriously from just this type of implementation. However, the level of support and resources available to a school going 1:1 with all staff and students in one year is just… terribly rare. Adult learning is a different thing. In my experience with professional development and implementation of new curricula… it is a costly mistake to skip over the lead learner (teacher) in the classroom.

    A smart, short, staged implementation helps build the skills and attitudes required to move students into a realm of learning they haven’t yet experienced in their formal schooling. And that should be the goal.

    Don’t think you’re not “cutting edge.” You very well may not be… but you also may very well be taking a smart approach.

  5. And just to clarify… (I added that quickly) I AM in favor of 1:1 environments. We are quickly but steadily moving there in my school as well. I am just not in favor of moving to 1:1 all at once in all situations. I think you have to know all of the parameters of your situation… particularly the pulse of your professional instructional staff.

  6. I think I agree with your premise, Scott, but don’t find it to be a major reason to push 1:1 computing environments. You said, “What could teachers do with all of the time that we’d free up if schools made a significant shift away from paper and pencil?” Schools HAVE started to go away from paper and pencil. Typewriters, books on tape and reel-to-reel projectors have been around a long time. LCD projectors can be viewed as the next iteration of the overhead projector which replaced some other medium that I’m probably too young to name. 🙂 You mentioned “enhanced productivity” in your post. I think I’d argue that schools have been enhancing their productivity for quite some time now. Because of this, the federal government, via initiatives such as NCLB require our students to “become more efficient at memorizing facts.” With even more productivity, won’t our students, in the current paradigm, merely be required to “know more stuff”? Just as our education leaders should be rethinking “how” our students should be learning, we should be rethinking “how” our students and teachers should be using with today’s technology tools in the classroom. Merely putting them in the hands of students doesn’t imply that a much richer learning experience will take place. Your “what if” spreadsheet scenarios are a nice example of “doing things different,” Scott, but not for the sake of becoming more efficient. Rather this flexibility and adaptability makes learning fundamentally *different* from what it looked like ten years ago.

  7. Hi Matt,

    I agree with you that enhanced productivity should not be the primary reason one moves toward 1:1 computing / learning environments for students. That said, however, it is a benefit that can’t be ignored. Teachers ALWAYS say they don’t have enough time to do what they want in the classroom. Anything that gets us to the learning faster is worth considering (and I would argue that laptops get us there much faster than the other technologies that you name)…

  8. Hi Scott and all – yes, this is getting the idea from the book. If the process to pull together the resources is shortened and if no one has to “distribute” the resources and then “collect” them later, then students can get to the critical thinking and solve problems and own the results.

    How much time in every school is spent every single day while students wait to get something from the teacher – a book, a handout, wait for the TV to be brought into the room. So long as school is divided into 40- and 60-minute blocks this will be a factor – but distribute those resources to every student and you get right to the thinking.

    It is true that teachers need to feel comfortable with this changed environment and not threatened by it and that continual investment in Professional Development should be the norm.

  9. Hi Scott I have to agree with your reply post to Matt. I currently teach digital arts courses and the administration is wanting me to do:

    Bellringers based on A,B, or C
    Silent reading (at the END of CLASS)
    Open responses (so they write on PAPER more)
    and then I teach art, photography, sculpting or video.

    The thing is. I started using a private microblogging community this year and I now have a computer lab with a 1:1 ratio and something amazing has happened. THEY ALL DO THEIR WORK. I’m getting collaboration, responses, and well good feedback.

    I can PROVE I do my job and PROVE students are working/ learning.

    Oh the fringe benefit is it’s quicker than stopping class, getting their attention, and ‘talking’ to get these ‘things’ that are add ons for classes that weren’t hands on to begin with.

    In a nutshell your ‘RIGHT ON’ with you discussions on this.

    I NEED more time and the kids WANT more time. If I have them put art up to read quitely for 10 minutes they end up ‘hating me and reading for that matter’. I’ve decided to do it at the beginning of class (during roll) with LINKS to artists and honestly its a hit.

    Who said learning couldn’t be fun!

  10. I know this post is getting old, but I’d like to add my 2cents – just starting this year with our 1:1 program – one of the first projects I did with middle school students was a project where they were learning about economic indicators – their first job was to gather data quickly and put it onto a table so it could be more easily analyzed – however that was only a miniscule part of the project – they had to analyze the data, mark it on an online map, put it into an interactive powerpoint that they narrated, uploaded to SlideShare onto our wiki site and then use each others slide shows for info to complete larger group projects. In the overall sense, the data collection into that table was nowhere near the biggest or most important thing. So I was really surprised and frustrated initially at how long the kids were dragging their feet on that part. What should have taken them a class period or so was taking forever! When I finally just called them out on it and asked what was up they all, in different ways, basically said that usually just building a table WAS the project and it was SUPPOSED to take a long time. They were pacing themselves the way they had become accustomed to doing for “old fashioned” data collection.

  11. This blog, “Laptops empower students to get to the thinking faster” brings up a really great point that a laptop can help someone to do more in less time. It is a great idea to have laptop computers for students to use.

    Wheels speed up transportation. Calculators speed up arithmetic. In regards to production variety, an electronic keyboard can produce far more sounds than a conventional piano.

    It is important to be sure that those who use a computer for certain tasks in the learning world understand the concepts behind the production end of the operations done by a computer. For example if a student does not experience the process of drawing a pie chart from raw numeric data, will they understand the visual concepts of a pie chart if a computer does all the work? It would be important for the teacher to be sure students understand the basic concepts behind the operations of the computer. When the student does understand the concepts, the computer can be a wonderful tool in creating high quality images that are accurate. The computer facilitates experimentation and quick editing.

    Music notation has been revolutionized by the computer. A composer can use a computer to notate a musical score by playing parts of the music in layers. Layers can be added one at a time. Then with the press of a button, the composer can hear all the layers of the composition played back in a composite form by the computer and with any variety of instrument sounds. This gives the composer a chance to immediately hear their work. In the old days, a composer might have to wait to hear their work until an ensemble was available to perform a complex composition. Writing out the notation for each instrument is a very laborious process. A composition notated on a computer can easily print out entire instrumental scores. In regard to the title of the blog, “Laptops empower students to get to the thinking faster”, computers allow composers to do the real intellectual work of composing, compared to spending their time on the labor intensive processes of the past.

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