14 January 2010

Netbooks in the Classroom - Part 1

As part of the evolution of my teaching, I have been looking for ways for my students to become more connected with learning in the classroom using technology.  At the end of last school year I requested a small class set of netbooks for this school year.  I didn't necessarily want the computers on an 1 to 1 ratio since I wanted the students working cooperatively face to face as well as online.  The twelve were delivered to me at the end of the summer and I set up a mobile lab for use with my classes (I teach in several different rooms, and I also wanted them to be available to other teachers.) by placing the netbooks on a cart with several power-strips.

Initially, I struggled a little trying to find good uses for the hardware (mainly due to the hectic nature of the beginning of the school year, I didn't have a lot of time to sit down and think about how to use them.)  But, as the school year progressed, I began experimenting with them more and more.  The two easiest ways I found to plug them into my classrooms were to use them with my class blog and Google Docs.

With my class blog, instead of having to make all then assignments done there as homework (which I had done previously due to a lack of computer availability), students could use the netbooks to post to the blog.  I would give them some primary source documents and/or video to view and they could work (in pairs) to answer questions and respond to each other's posts.  This was a great way to then foster further discussion on the topics in class.

The second way I have been using them involved Google Docs.  Students would work in groups of three or four to complete an online graphic organizer on the topic we were investigating.  In each group there would be two netbooks, one would be used to post the group's research to the shared document, while the other was used to conduct research using my website, other links, and web searches.  The third person in the group would add information using a traditional source like our textbook or a printed primary source document.  In this way, the students were creating a collaborative document with all of their knowledge that they could then later print out at home.  A similar process could have taken several days of class (where this took only one) and not gotten as good results. (see a very rough video of one of my classes made with our recently acquired Flip camera below)

Despite this major success, much of what I was doing with my classes with the netbooks was limited to single day exercised with little follow up or expansion.  So as part of my push to create a more authentic, project-based, critical thinking learning environment in my classroom I have rethought my use of netbooks as well.  Beginning students in one of my classes began a major project using Ning, Google Docs, and VoiceThread.  They will be using the netbooks for a major part of this project.  More on that in Part 2 of this posting.

If anyone else would like to share ideas for using a small set of netbooks in the classroom I would love to hear your ideas.

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