The Year In Laptops

I thought it would be interesting to review how I used laptops in kindergarten from October through June. I am talking about using them as a classroom teacher, not a tech integration specialist, although many schools have such a person on staff to train and support teachers in their tech work. I had the next best thing. I had a parent, Jessica McC, a sweetheart of the first degree, who was knowledgeable in the ways and uses of Macs, and boy did she help me along the way. Without her support, I think I would have failed or at least been discouraged enough to limit their use.

I had no prior experience with Macs so the learning curve was pretty steep. It remains so to this day, but I can now navigate through many more obstacles with less support. I wouldn’t even call myself an intermediate user yet. I understand that once you become proficient with the platform and its shortcuts, you’d never go back to a PC. I still run into too many hurdles that can’t be simply and easily worked through.

Before the class was even introduced to the Macs, I depended on Jessica’s help. She took the time to work on the COW so we could have our own account and desktop, dedicated to the needs of my students. There were many things Jessica had to setup and attend to and she enlisted the support of our Tech leader Kim from the regional high school, as well as, our custodian/tech guy Steve. They helped her to navigate the Norris School world of permissions and updates. As a result, I had a nifty desktop, ripe and ready for new sites.

My next step was to tell Jessica what sites I wanted on the desktop. The first was This Is Sand. It is an easy program to launch and although once you have arrived, you think it isn’t loading, by holding the mouse down anywhere on the page, you see sand falling. It was excellent practice for the first use of a mouse. Oh, I forgot! We didn’t use a mouse, we had a touch-pad and this provided excellent yet simple practice in doing that. The children enjoyed the site tremendously and would ask to use it all year long. You can change colors, delete, and save to the gallery, albeit finding your work later is a bit tricky.

wildselfThe next site added was BuiLD YouR WiLD SeLF. The children needed a little help as the site has some text and most of the children were not readers. At the end of the lesson, some of the children saved their characters as their desktops and since we assigned them by number, they were able to see their creation again. What a positive experience for them in creating something lasting on-line that they could enjoy in the future.

I should point out that our school has always been a PC environment. Over the past few years, we have added several Mac-using Smart and Promethean boards for the upper grades and library, as well as an entire Mac COW which now holds about 25 laptops. These are the laptops I signed up to use on a weekly basis. The block of time set aside was 60 – 100 minutes, one day a week. Early in the year, we started mid-morning and limited the teaching of new tasks. By the end of the year, the laptops were on their desks first thing in the morning and they proceeded with simple directions, often without any projector in the room to guide them.

Here’s the drill:

  • clean keyboards with wipes

  • log-in to our class desktops

  • watch demonstration via projector

  • practice what we learned

  • watch another demo

  • practice with more new sites & skills

  • watch another demo or move on to some previously practiced activity

  • visit a just-for-fun site like This Is Sand or PhotoBooth

  • log off all open sites so the next user won’t have to

  • shut down completely and carry laptop to cart

kidblog

Near the end of the year, we introduced student blogging through Kidblog.org This was a clean portal with few tools and lots of privacy and moderation for young writers. Keep in mind that the process was and is the most important thing here, as the students had only started Writer’s Workshop a couple of months earlier.

You will find many sites that are the just-right fit for your grade of students. I wanted to provide easy access for younger students, and easy navigation for our lessons. To that end, I started to develop some pages for my blog that fit into the categories of Math and Literacy. By making these pages and not posts, I was able to keep them in the header of my blog. I could teach the students how to easily reach the tools. For their part, they needed to know at least some of their letters, early concepts like top of and after, and they needed to listen closely to the instructions I was giving.

One strategy I found most effective was to say, “put your hands on your head.” When they did that, their hands were off the laptops, they were focused and ready for the next instruction, and most of the time, eyes were on me and the projected image ahead of me.

In the students’ minds, word_fam_2this was all about fun and they wanted to listen to get to the fun part. With 3 adults ready to help, I instructed them on how to do the games of the day. I would show 2 or 3 easy games on the same blog page and then let them explore. Through experience, they learned what happens when you click on a side link and can’t find your way back. They also learned much more about the sites than I was ever going to teach them. That meant they could share with enthusiasm and we did that often. “Would anyone like to see something cool Emma just discovered?” Then they would hurry back to their seats to try it out or to find something else to share. Their independence was remarkable and I was impressed by how quickly their fresh young brains picked up the skills and retained the information.

The added benefit was the children had tools online for them to use at home. I got a kick out of emails from parents begging me for information on how to get to one site or another. All of this information was provided in the weekly newsletter but the children were the real connection. (note: Repeatedly tell them that they can visit these sites at home if their parents can bring them to our blog.) The children had learned how to reach the pages they wanted through the desktop icons and familiar blog page so they rarely needed extra parent support at home.

I recommend you have a few extra hands in the classroom when you start this. Give yourself plenty of time to experience the process and grow in your own skill development. It will open up a new world of student learning.

Here are the links to the pages on this blog that I taught the children to use. Many of them came from Kathy Cassidy’s Grade One blog and Joanne McMahon’s kindergarten blog. They are wonderful teachers who love to share with others.

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