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.