In this week's blog post, we're to consider the essential question: What are ways to manage the use of laptops in a classroom environment? However, first I see it's important to consider the assumption in the question: that we have (or should have or will have) laptops to manage in the classroom. What underlies the assumption is that having laptops will improve student learning, given that our administration is celebrating the accomplishments of the grade 6 program and looking ahead to where ISB is going with the laptop plan. Jeff Utecht, our IT Coordinator, announced ISB's plan just recently at a faculty meeting: "9th and 10th graders getting their MacBook Pros in 2012-2013 and the 11th and 12th graders the following year." So, ready or not, here we come...
So, instead of answering the essential question itself, since I'd have defer to the experts themselves who have already incorporated laptops into student learning, I'll make no claims on 'how to manage' anything in this post. But I do want to consider managing that and 'everything else' and especially consider the underlying assumption that laptop use will improve student learning. In 'Blending Computers into the Classroom,' for example, an experimental program in the US is going on to see if we can discern such a difference in a digital over a traditional classroom. 'Blended learning' as it's called is being researched in the 4th grade whereby two hours per day are being devoted to 'laptop' instruction. The Department of Education (New York) is planning on spending $30 million over the next three years to reach 400 schools:
"Yet there is little hard evidence that the movement will have any lasting effect. There's been a lot of experimentation in the past with technology that hasn't produced a lot of learning gains," said Robin Lake, associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, who has been studying the DOE's efforts."Nevertheless, as these decision-makers know, you don't know unless you try. They're relying on an Israeli-based vendor, Time to Know Inc. that is supplying ready-made 'blended learning' curriculums and are boasting of a trial program in Texas where verifiable improvement has already manifested. Ideas on how to differentiate and meet the needs of a range of students apparently is part of the program. Sounds convincing. And given that we're forging ahead, we need to get our hands on such programs fast. I'd say we don't want to waste time and money figuring out details about how to do good daily lessons using the laptops, or sorry to say admin, figuring out what the newly-written ISB tech standards mean and how to apply them to daily lessons and actual teaching.
But, let's also consider that there's more to student learning and achievement gains than adding laptops, good programs and even teacher training. I just read 'How to get good grades' in the recent Economist. What first struck me was the chart: 'Class, not mass' that shows Finland and Singapore, in particular, significantly ahead of the US in education spending and student performance. We at ISB tend to emulate education programs in the US in particular, so for us to be forging ahead with a country showing mediocre standings like those of US schools is a bit scary. So what else is going on to maintain high standards, if not technology? Teachers. Remember us?
"Countries where schools have already attained a higher standard should become pickier in choosing teachers. Another study by McKinsey in 2007 concluded that making teaching a high-status profession was what boosted standards.... When it comes to getting the very best grades, it seems that teacher still knows best."What's interesting here, is that we at ISB make claims to 'best teachers.' We're told 'we're the best in the world,' so maybe this variable is already taken care of? But do we have enough numbers of 'the best'? This might be something we'll come to find out soon enough with the laptop plan underway.
What else? Well, I say we need to take a closer look at what's going on in Korean and Finnish schools. How about this for a title: 'World's best classrooms are light on technology.' This got my attention. The old standard chalk board reigns in these classrooms, with old PCs stuck in the back of the room—with overhead projectors being celebrated as something to take with you if you got stuck on an island and had to bring the most important item to teach with (I guess the island would have electricity!). Old-fashioned lessons, with full engagement of students without digital distractors are found. What is also found is longer studying hours and old-fashioned values for learning—in S. Korea anyway. In Finland "kids have one less year of schooling than their American counterparts, do less homework, and rarely take standardized tests." So, what gives? It's back to the teacher making the difference. It's probably back to teacher training at university I'd venture to say as well. Further in 'Brilliance in a box,' "[m]ore importantly, perhaps, school systems in Singapore, Finland and Korea recruit 100 percent of their teacher from the top one-third of the academic cohort, according to a 2010 McKinsey & Co. report in 'Closing the Gap.' One 5th grade US teacher claims that what her perfect classroom would look like is not gadgets, but another skilled teacher in the room!
So, let's see if there's a bottom line here. If we do have top teachers at ISB, at least for the most part, and we do have money and means to invest in proper, achievement-tested tech programs, and we are willing to admit that coming up with tech standards will not necessarily determine what teachers do to improve student learning, then just maybe we can make claims to being on par with the best schools in the world—even with the techy-rich environment. Will 'blended learning' help or hinder student performance at this caliber? We know we're going to forge ahead and give it a try regardless!