Reflections on our 1:1 Computing

Our first year of 1:1 computing (1 laptop per child) has finally come to a close. Wabash City Schools district started in grades 6-8 this year, and next year we are expanding to grades 4-12.  Its strange, this year went so fast, yet it feels like we have always had computers for everyone. The days of scheduling my class in the computer lab seems so distant. It feels like 10 years ago when we learned with textbooks and paper and pencil, but its only been a year... and what a year it has been!

Macbooks in everyone's hands has completely changed our school culture from one of slow growth and general complacency to one of exponential growth, creativity, increased communication, and evaluation of every part of the education process.   As a staff, we are communicating on a whole new level.  Everyone has a mobile computer, so checking email is easier and more accessible.  Google Apps for Education, specifically Google Docs, has dramatically decreased our paper consumption and increased how we collaborate.

Our classrooms have changed more this year than probably the last 5 years combined.   Teachers are looking for new ways to teach and assess.  Most of our teachers are taking (or have already taken) project-based learning training and are now asking for other professional development opportunities.   We are developing a digital curriculum and moving away from using a single static resource (textbook).  Students are engaged and many are creating incredible projects or at least researching on a whole new level.  Personally, I have been working toward this for a long time, so this wasn't a major transition for me.  Our 1:1 initiative has allowed my curriculum to work as I intended.  However, for some teachers this change to digital project-based curriculum will take a few years.

This is not to say we haven't had our struggles.  One thing we need to do a better job of is communicating with parents about 2 things: class activities and how to use the computer.  We are going to have a parent night right before school starts to get parents familiar with the computers and explain how to keep track of class activities.  Many teachers want to use (and have everyone use) a LMS such as Edmodo or MyBigCampus.  While I don't think this is a terrible idea, I think students need to experience a wide range of learning models.  Forcing everyone to be on one system too closely resembles a 20th Century model and goes against the Digital Age grain.  In addition, 21st Century education should be about diversity and creativity, not standardization and conformity.

Other stuggles have been self-inflicted.  During the first few weeks (months?), students were so excited about their Macbook, all they wanted to do was play.  Many of us (myself included) gave them way too much rope and many students hung themselves with it.  So, as a school, we cracked down.  We blocked games, chat sites, websites, wrote discipline referrals, gave detentions... we over-corrected.  The answer was not to block and punish.  The answer was to engage them in learning and guide them through their mistakes.  You can't block all the games, chat sites, etc.  There are too many and the kids are too smart, they will find new ways to waste time (don't we all?).  We can't teach digital citizenship with censorship in the same way you can't teach sexual responsibility with an abstinence-only program.

We ended our year with great success and excitement to start over in August.  The success extends beyond our students.  Teachers are now learning at a rate I've never seen before.  We have become students again.  We are learning new technology and the pedagogy and assessment to match it, guided by new standards and expectations.  This is one of the great keys to a successful education institution.  For decades, students were the only ones learning in schools.  I think to be better teachers, we need to be better students. 1:1 was a massive domino that began a major change in our school corporation.  I am so excited about our future.

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