Professional Development for a One to One Laptop Program

We have been discussing the idea of going to a one-to-one laptop to student ratio at our school.  Today we met with our admin team and clarified some of our ideas.  We are talking about beginning the process next school year and phasing in the program over several years beginning with Grade 8 and possibly Grade 5.  Grade 5 would be the lowest grade to participate in the program and it would, over several years, grow to include all students in grades 5-12.

A key issue raised today was that of professional development.  How to we ensure teachers are ready to have every child in their classroom equipped with a powerful learning tool / distraction factory?

Firstly, I should back up and remind you, gentle reader, why we are even considering this idea in the first place: learning.  Today’s learners are “digital natives” who are immersed in technology everyday or at the very least are growing up in a technologically saturated world.  There are few to no jobs any student at our school will hope to have that will not involve computers and technology.  Their own social world is already being altered by chat, texting, MySpace and the like.  The way students live, learn and communicate today is vastly different than the way we did when we were in school.  But our teaching has not changed to keep up.

What our team is proposing is a philosophical switch from viewing technology education as a separate subject with a separate set of skills to an approach that sees 21st century skills as inseparable from the technology tools at our disposal.  We are trying to help teachers see the subjects they are already teaching in the light of the digital world and to use those tools in their units and lessons in a more natural way.  In order to do so easily and effectively we feel that students and teachers will need to have anytime/anywhere access to those tools.

Our first step, then, is to give teachers their own laptop.  You can learn a whole lot more about using a tool if you have one yourself to use at work and home.  Using a laptop to do the things you want to do for enjoyment, like FaceBook, YouTube, email, IM, Skype, etc. helps you get comfortable with the tool and takes away that fear factor when you come to work and have to use that tool in your teaching.

In conjunction with giving teachers laptops is the critical issue of professional development.  Training, not in using the laptop specifically, but in planning relevant, effective units and lessons that incorporate the technology at your disposal.  We have many experiences within our group and have suggested different approaches.  One idea is to buy a curriculum and possibly have trainers come from the US from Intel or Microsoft.  Both companies have well-developed, proven training programs for teachers in technology integration.  Microsoft, or more precisely the Gates’ Foudation sponsors the TLP (Teacher Leadership Program) and Intel has its Teach Professional Learning Program 2007.

What we will do remains to be decided.  That it is vital is certain.

One-to-one?

We had a good discussion today about whether or not our school should go ahead with the idea of being a one-to-one school, that is a school where every student has their own laptop.

Actually, we did not discuss that question so much as we have been over the issue many times before and everyone on our Info-Tech team seems to agree that, in order to achieve the educational needs of the 21st century, technology must be ubiquitous within the school.  If students are really to be using technology as a tool in their daily work, be it science, math, art or whatever, then they need anytime, anywhere access to said technology.  So, we already all agree that we must provide anytime, anywhere access to technology at ISKL.  What we discussed today was when that might become a reality, what kind of timeline we might be looking at and other issues surrounding how we might get there, what we need to do and what some of the questions are surrounding the implementation.

Some questions/issues we raised:

What grades would get laptops?  Not Kindergarten certainly.  So, which students are we actually talking about and which grade or grades would we start with (assuming we can not just jump in and give 2000 students laptops in one year.

What kind of computing device are we talking about?  MacBooks?  PC’s? Tablet PC’s?  OLPC’s? Asus EEE PC’s ($400 mini-laptop)? Alphasmart Dana’s?  Something else entirely?

How will we support them?

What kind of PD will we offer to teachers to prepare them for a room-full of laptop-toting students?

That last question garnered our greatest attention.  Without good professional development and training, laptop programs tend to fail out of the gate.  This is a crucial piece.

More on that next post.

Maglev Train Shanghai

When we arrived in Shanghai for the Learning 2.0 conference we chose to take the Magnetic Levitation Train into town.  It doesn’t actually get you very far into town, only into Pudong but that suited us well enough as we were staying close to the conference which was held at Concordia Interernational School in Pudong.  The picture above is a poor one admittedly, but it is difficult to take a steady picture when travelling at 430 km/h.

It made me think, briefly mind you, about China’s leap into this century and the way that it is trying out new technologies.  We lived in Shanghai for seven years and the changes we witnessed were dramatic.  New is a veritable religion there.  The Maglev train was very new and a very exciting development when it began being built.  But as I rode on it for the first time just this weekend, It struck me that it still doesn’t really go anywhere.  It makes a 40 minute taxi-ride into a five minute train ride but when we got out we still had to take a cab to our hotel.  It stops short of taking you into the heart of the city and has never been expanded or added to.  Its a bit like they said, “Hey let’s build a bullet train” and once they had done it they moved on to something else.

Perhaps it is just that, a sample bullet train.  A tourist attraction.  A cool way to welcome visitors to China and then let them off at a station at which they have to choose a real destination.  That was fun, but what are you really here for?  Maybe the government learned what it needed to and moved on.  Maybe they will build one to Beijing next or to points west.

It made me think of technology teaching too.  Often we go for what is cool and what is cutting edge.  But does it stand the test of time.  I tried teaching fifth graders to use a wiki last year.  They thought it was cool and I had high hopes for it to offer them a publishing medium with instant editing and feedback potential.  But it didn’t catch on.  The classroom teachers did not see the benefit or the relevance.  We never got back to it.  It sits there still, with all the enthusiastic comments made by students on the first day.  I often check to see if it has been spammed or hacked but it seems not even a desirable target.

Now I am trying blogs and podcasting.  That seems to be catching the teachers’ attention a little better.  Not blogs so much.  They are not quite getting the “log” or journal aspect.  But many teachers are seeing the benefit of the podcast.  Students too are listening to themselves reading and speaking and wanting to improve and do it better.  It is frustrating at times because I want to move on and show the next thing, but this one thing, hearing their own voices, is grabbing their attention in less of a “wow that’s cool” kind of way and more of a “do I really sound that way?  I think I can do better.”