Jun 07 2008

Creating an environment of personalised technology choice

Published by under Laptops,My class

The last few days have been pretty important for us at Priestsic Primary School. For the first time we have been able to offer our year 5 kids the opportunity to use their own laptop to work on. It is not a permanent 1:1 solution as yet, but it is an option we have. There are now 16 laptops in the cabinet in my room and this is the same for the other year 5 class across the corridor and for the two year 6 classes. Since we have begun this project both the year 6 teachers and ourselves have taken the opportunity to pool our year group laptop resources to increase the number of machines being used in a session. The children sat down to their geography projects, logged into their Google accounts and did not really notice. For me it was the first time we could organise it in this way.

In this blog post I want to begin to communicate some of my first thoughts about what a 21st Century classroom could look like for a UK primary teacher and my thoughts on creeping ever closer to a full compliment of laptops for every child in my class.

A while ago I decided that it is futile to try and apply some of the structures and practices that US and international schools have in light of their 1:1 personal computing setup. I spent time bookmarking online information about the topic. Most of it is fine in theory but fairly difficult to apply in my primary school. Much of what I read is to do with an older age range and far different environments than our own. The sites included “blueprints to 1:1 computing” and complete “guides” suggesting, just from the rhetoric of the titles, that one size (may) fit all. Although we may learn lessons from what other teachers, schools and districts have been doing it seems we will have to discover our own UK primary version of what a 1:1 classroom looks like.

Many years ago Dave, my headteacher, and I sat and talked after hosting our first NCSL SLICT training day about the vision we had for ICT. Although we were in the midst of embedding IWB use in teaching and learning, we talked about a personalised technology choice. We have long discussed the idea of creating an environment where technology is on tap if the children want it. Dave always says choosing technology has to be as easy as turning that tap on. We have had this same thought, this same concept as the keystone to our vision ever since. Now that we are beginning to see it slowly materialise a personalised technology choice remains at the heart of what we do. A simple example that has occurred this year would be when we set children a task to plot a journey from the UK to India (with a series of stopovers in different cities) The children chose to complete the task in different ways. Some chose to use technology, Google spreadsheets to calculate the mileages etc Google Earth to investigate the locations along their journey and to measure their path. Whereas some chose to use a paper atlas and a calculator – their was a choice and the outcomes reflected that choice.

But having a choice and knowing which choice is the most appropriate, technology or otherwise, is something different.

Our children do no take the laptops home with them, but they feel that the equipment belongs to them and the class. They have taken on huge responsibility to look after and work with the laptops available – their approach to it has been amazing. You have to step back and put the onus on the children after all it is their learning space, you may have to manage and plan for the use of the laptops but the children need to own it. They must feel comfortable, responsible and at ease with it in their learning environment. Our children are 9 or 10 years old and they have full responsibility for setting up laptops and replacing them in the cabinet. We have modelled behaviours and they clearly understand how to ensure the laptops are safe. But owning the laptops has to go beyond “they are part of our classes resources.” The children have to begin to take steps to have ownership over the choices that they make and this is where the previous points crosses over.

The biggest challenge for us this year has been to look at our existing, changing curriculum and understand where the use of technology can best support learning outcomes. I have been fortunate (perhaps due to my own determination to understand what edtech learning tools are available) to be able to harness some powerful tools to support learning this year. But there is a awareness issue. How many teachers really know about Voicethread or Google Docs – I get masses of fliers through the post at school from software publishers, they seem to spend an inordinate amount of money on it. However we never receive mail about free tools. I have realised that with a greater permanent access to technology in the classroom that structured speaking and listening can be easily accomplished. For example a Voicethread as a science assessment on a new unit (we did last Thursday) or a Photostory outcome on a tour of the town (persuasive unit earlier in the year.

I always ask myself, “Is this the most appropriate resource to be using for this learning outcome?” There is so much changing about our curriculum at the moment (in our school) new literacy strategies and skills based work that a 1:1 curriculum may look very different in other schools. We need to know what other tools are available though, tried and tested, that is essential to a better choice after all.

Age range
The level of maturity my children have shown has been crucial to the smooth running of 1:1 operations in my class. They understand the practicalities of working with the laptops and take full responsibility for their use. During any given task they understand that if they have a problem that initially they may be able to solve it themselves and what to do if they cannot. I am not running around troubleshooting. When one of their peers has a technical or procedural problem in an application they help each other out. I have watched the children work so well as a team this year, pulling together, helping their classmates and offering support and advice even when none is requested. Would this be the same with 8, 7, 6 year olds? Most probably not. In my opinion, (and feel free if you have a permanent 1:1 laptop resource in the early years to shoot this down) the adults would spend much much more time then I have done managing the resource and troubleshooting. This view has been supported by early years teachers at work. That is not to say that their is not a laptop solution for younger children – perhaps something mobile, shared between classes.

There has to be a balance between how much technology use there is in the classroom and just getting out into the world. We spent a whole science session up at the school allotment measuring the broad bean plants the children had germinated, weeding and looking after the other vegetable beds. Before half term we spent a couple of sunny hours playing kwik cricket on the field. The children enjoy using technology but they also enjoy variety and a balance of different activities. Just because the governing body of the school has invested tens of thousands of pounds into the resoure does not mean it has to be “on” all of the time. Sometimes the tap has to turned off. I made every effort to help build an appropriate, judicious IWB use ethos in 2003 when we installed them across the school, helping teachers to appreciate they need to be aware of when it is time to switch it off. The same applies for a laptop resource and in many ways the children’s choice. When we get 30 laptops in our classes we need to remember what was successful without them and approach it as just another tool at our disposal.

I reflect on most of these topics throughout the course of the week just as part of what we are doing day to day. Even though I have been thinking and theorising what a 1:1 class might look like in my school (and in my head) for a long time, much of what you have read are raw thoughts which need further discussion. I hope to continue to reflect on what 1:1 means to us, but whether I can begin to pin down some key elements of what a 21st century (UK) primary classroom is like we shall have to wait and see.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Creating an environment of personalised technology choice”

  1.   Danielon 07 Jun 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I think this is very much the ideal for Secondary too. ICT as a tool to enhance learning either when the student deems it appropriate or when the teacher does. You’ve summed up the problems quite well, much of the time students and teachers either don’t have free and regular access to the technology or they don’t know it exists.

  2.   Jenny Lucaon 07 Jun 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Great how you map out your thinking so clearly Tom. Your use of Google Docs is excellent- if students have a desktop and internet access at home there would be no need for the 1:1 program. We have 1:1 in our primary school at Grades 5 and 6 but are currently rethinking this practice to more of the model that you are running now.

  3.   Rafa Ribason 08 Jun 2008 at 9:11 am

    Although I work in a secondary, international situation, I have been reading your latest posts with great interest. Perhaps I would like to add one point to your checklist: support. Support from the school authorities, which in your case is obviously there but that sometimes is lacking (there goes the loony techie teacher again). And especially support in terms of a solid, reliable technical infrastructure in terms of maintenance of equipment, bandwidth, etc. These, while outlined in your post, are sometimes the biggest obstacles in delivering an IT-based curriculum in a 21st century way. Thanks again for a great post.

  4.   Simon Bourneon 08 Jun 2008 at 9:19 am

    Well done Tom, Keep up the good work. It is great to hear where you are taking you pupils. I’m sure they are learning skills that will stand them in good favour for the rest of their lives. I also agree that the number of free web2.0 technologies is amazing and many of them are not utilised enough in an educational world. As we enter a new phase in children having their own learning networks, it is essential that children have the ability to “turn on the tap” to use the correct tool for the job.
    Why spend time colouring in a bar chart when it can be made and printed in a few moment? Why draw a cress seed germinating when you can make a video or if? Empowering the pupils for their future is the key.
    As a teacher of year 4 I feel that many of my pupils are ready for this technology, infact many of them are using it already daily at home. We must harness and encourage the children in finding the correct tool for the job.
    I remember having a discussion with a year 3 child, aged7, about MSN. She told me she had been using it for several months, I was amazed! She had choosen a tool for a job. She was empowered! a true 21st century learner/user/consumer.

  5.   Sheryl A. McCoyon 08 Jun 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Tom, my colleagues recommended your work with children, technology and education, and I agree it is excellent. Dave sounds like a great headteacher, and I think you are both correct about technology needing to be so accessible that using it is as easy as turning on the tap.
    There is a multitude of interactive programs, and I am sure you are working to figure out which are best in your program.

  6.   mrkpon 09 Jun 2008 at 2:13 pm

    I keep reading your posts with interest Tom. It’s crazy how things are moving on so quickly even compared to a few months ago!

    I agree whole heartedly with your thoughts on the need to reflect on our use of technology. As has been commented many times befor I think that the most important question that we must ask ourselves is why we are using particular tools – what is the educational benefit for the children? It’s very easy to get sucked into playing with new toys!

    I’m also interested in your thoughts on 1:1 because when I move jobs in September all the children in years 5 and 6 will be using ultramobiles in the classroom!

    These are exciting times that remind me of the quote “the only future you can predict is the one that you build!”

  7.   Rodney Turneron 13 Jun 2008 at 3:19 am

    Wow, what insight as to the use of laptops and the responsibility that students need to be given. I really appreciate the point about being able to turn the “tap off” when it is needed. Every teacher needs to learn that every year as well as learn how to turn it on no matter how hard it is to get to the tap.
    I’m going to keep reading your posts. Keep up the great work and sharing with all of us!

  8.   Anonymous205on 13 Jun 2008 at 3:25 pm

    You talked about how when your students seeme to have a question on some things that they tend to be more apt to ask fellow students. DO you think that this is strictly when dealing with technology issues.I feel that it is a very good thing that the students are becoming more dependent when working on these technological works. Do you agree and is that a good thing? DO you suggest doing more group or more individual technological lessons?

  9.   tbarretton 14 Jun 2008 at 9:52 am

    Thanks for all of your comments.

    @Rafa Ribas
    I completely agree that support is a key element which can impact on the success of such a project. We have a great part-time technician who has such a determination to get things right that it creates a good environment to concentrate on the learning. I am aware that with more laptops active on a daily basis in the classroom, the likelihood of problems increases, so perhaps we need more technician time. In my opinion you have to educate the children who are using the technology to solve simple technical problems too. Although the bband connection is supplied from our local authority, and is maintained by them, we have had no other support either technically or pedagogically from them. It has all been off our own backs.

    No matter how much tech we all want to see embedded within the classroom teachers need to also appreciate those times when it is not appropriate to use it. It is not necessarily about just switching the tap on or off, in terms of tech use, but being aware of why and reflecting on the appropriateness of the decision.

    Technology in my classroom is just another tool that is becoming more and more pervasisve. It is a good thing that they help each other when solving problems. But I think that you have to encourage a sense of community and a supportive ethos in a class anyway – without technology. To me that teamwork approach is important to instill in what the children do whatever the task. Group or individual tech lessons are both important, the former to develop ongoing teamwork skills and the latter to offer freedom to develop their own creativity and personal tech skills.