10 Things I’ve Learned from a 1:1 Classroom

This year I began a 1:1 curriculum at my school. We threw out the textbook, rolled up our sleeves, and decided to dive into the deep end of the pool by going all digital. Below are my top 10 lessons from the first month of school.

10. Multitasking is a myth (see “Multitasking Doesn’t Work“). It’s tempting to believe the idea, often a common misconception, that students are immune to the dangers of multitasking. According to this misconception students are able to focus on several different tasks at once because they are natives of the information revolution and, thus, able to focus on work, TV, texting, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all at the same time. In reality, students are no exception to the limits of attention. We are hardwired to focus on only one thing at a time.

Application: when giving important instructions or information, have students close their devices. They can’t pay attention to you and their devices at the same time, and no matter how entertaining I think I am, I’m simply not as engaging at a high tech piece of equipment with flashing lights.

9. “No man is an island” – John Donne. Creating a digital curriculum takes work. Alot of work. My partner and I worked through the summer. We were fortunate to have each other and both felt like we accomplished a tremendous amount of stuff. But in reality, it was just the tip of the iceberg. We still meet everyday for planning, going over lesson plans, learning targets, future projects, assessment questions, and technical details to go along with our vastly growing list of web 2.0 usernames and logins.

Application: develop a Personal Learning Network, then use it for all you can. A good PLN can be used to mine for resources as well as that all important emotional support … just to know you’re not alone. Not sure where to start? Check out the #edtech influential Twitter users on wefollow.com (here). Begin a Twitter account, then follow everyone on this list. This will be an excellent first step in building your PLN. A nice second step is participating in some Twitter chats. Check out Cybrary Man’s list of educational Twitter chats (here). There is a wealth of information and help.

8. Accept the fact that it is a steep learning curve. The start of this school year was crazy. The first few weeks students weren’t accustomed to using a device everyday. They didn’t know where to start and, even when they did know where to start, they didn’t know how to use the technology. It took two weeks to explain and demo Google Docs and even after that time there were still students lost in the very basics of Google Docs. It’s tempting to become frustrated and blame the students for not listening, but the truth is that this type of thinking isn’t realistic or fair. Not every student is born with an iPhone in their hand.

Application: accept the learning curve. Understand that it’s alright. It might take a while, but the students will get it. Plan to spend time going over the fundamentals of the internet, then, however long you think it will take, plan to spend more. To help the process, have the students work with each other and recruit students who “get” technology to help assist the other students who don’t.

7. Use a student self-assessment. One of the biggest advantages of devices in the classroom is the ability to get immediate feedback from the students. Teachers can survey the students on content type questions or ask the students to undergo a formative assessment to gauge the students’ understanding. Both tasks provide invaluable data for the classroom teacher.

Application: use online polling services. My favorites are Mentimeter.com and PollEverywhere.com, or Socrative.com, or GoSoapBox.com. All are user-friendly and easy enough to figure out. For student self assessments I like using a Google Form, which provide you the ability to customize your questions to fit exactly what you want. Here is the Google Form I use. Not sure how to set up a Google Form? Check out one of the many tutorials online. This is a good one to start with, but there are many others.

6. Use online assessments for immediate feedback. Every advantage for online polling applies to online assessments, except online assessments have even more potential. Students get immediate feedback on their own performance, and many online assessments offer the ability for students to not only see how they did, but see what they understood. Online assessments also make retakes more practical. Most online assessment tools allow the teacher to randomize the questions and the answers, meaning the classroom teacher doesn’t have to create five different versions of the assessment in order to allow for a retake. This benefit is huge. The immediate feedback helped communicate to struggling students exactly what they needed to study to master the content.

Application: use online assessments such as QUIA or Moodle.  Some teachers also use Google Forms for online assessments. From what I’ve used and heard, all are good. Consider using and refining your assessment practices.

5.  Encourage students to focus on learning rather than completion. We all know the drill – “what am I getting in this class?” The answer to that question usually revolves around the completion of a task. As long as their students are focused on merely completing tasks those students are not reaching their deepest potential. True potential is intrinsically motivated (see Daniel Pink).

Application: use devices in the classroom to help guide exploration and collaboration. Google Docs are an obvious choice for collaboration and student exploration, but there are many other options. TodaysMeet can be a valuable use for in-class blogging and backchannel discussions. My personal favorite is Twiducate, which provides all the collaboration capabilities in a Twitter-like medium designed for teacher control of the discussion.

4. Go offline. I love the 1:1 environment, and I love technology. The ability to have the world in your hands is amazing and has truly transformed the way we do almost everything. But it’s worth remembering that technology is not a panacea. Thee is no doubt that technology is the future. But there is also no doubt that for all the answers technology presents that there are still many more questions. Many experts believe that technology is rewiring our brains (here). This is especially true for the “digital natives” we teach who grew up in constantly connected layers of instant gratification.

Application: there is no substitute for “real world” experiences, especially reading, writing, and speaking. Encourage students to read inside and outside the classroom. Put students into interactive experiences such as small group discussions, large group discussions, and the use of hands-on manipulatives, then have students apply the insights they get from the real world into the ever-increasing interconnected web. As non-digital-natives it’s easy for teachers to assume that students are most comfortable online, but the reality is that students still spend the bulk of their time in the real world and continue to have their most important peak experiences in the real world. No child learned to walk, talk, eat, or love online. The real world is still the true home for humankind, even for the so-called digital natives.

3. Take the classroom out of the classroom. The connected classroom allows incredible opportunities to extend the learning beyond the classroom. Students who learn to be connected in the classroom are more likely to be connected outside the classroom. Classroom discussion, content, and skills can be further reinforced using the tools of technology.

Application: teach students to use the tools of technology to further their learning and become organized. Tools such as Evernote, Wunderlist, Google Docs, Zite, and podcasts can help students bridge the gap between inside and outside the classroom. And in the midst of all these recent tools, don’t overlook the profound impact of a 20 year old technology – email. Students in the connected classroom are more likely to email their teacher outside the classroom, providing opportunities for further questions, discussions, research, and relationship building.

2. Embrace the challenge. Let’s admit this fact: the 1:1 environment creates problems. Students are easily distracted. The wifi malfunctions. The laptops break. The internet site freezes. The teacher attempts to do everything right but forgets to change one minor but necessary setting in the application and the whole program shuts down. Sometimes you do everything right, and still everything seems to go wrong.

Application: both teacher and student need to realize that technology goes wrong. When it does, it’s important to keep a positive attitude. Mistakes are an opportunity for overcoming a steep learning curve. Problems are not only a good classroom learning opportunity, but also a great opportunity to model problem solving, critical thinking, and a resilient attitude for the students. Our most important lessons are learned when everything seems to go wrong. Nothing is more true for the 1:1 classroom. And in the meantime, don’t forget to have an emergency Plan B which can be done sans-technology.

1. Teach content and skills. The 1:1 environment can bring a dangerous temptation. The use of technology and internet resources provide so many opportunities for critical thinking that the classroom teacher can easily come to the conclusion that these critical thinking skills replace the old content-driven curriculum. This tendency is all the more tempting by the recent emphasis on 21st century skills, which rightly put the attainment of skills above the memorization of content. True, skills are important and any curriculum which teaches content to the exclusion of skills is a failing curriculum. However, the temptation to teach skills to the exclusion of content is a temptation almost as dangerous as a content-only curriculum. Students need to learn content in order to learn skills. This idea was expressed by educational cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, who said “teaching content is teaching reading” (here). Don’t believe it? Consider this example, a tutorial for C++ coding. According to the skill-based educational philosophy, someone with a strong reading skill-set should be able to make sense of this tutorial. But in reality even the strongest reader will not be able to interpret this tutorial unless they have a solid content foundation in C++ programming. Teaching skills demands teaching content just as much as teaching content demands teaching skills. Any curriculum which teaches one to the exclusion of the other is doing the students a disservice.

Application: use a schema-based curriculum which focuses on the content students need to know in order to understand the skills. Begin the year with a long introductory unit designed to teach this content. Drill it into the students, practice it, then drill and practice it some more. Don’t stop until the students know this content inside and out. Yes, you will be teaching content at a lower memorization level of understanding, but remember that this is a necessity. Students must learn content in order to learn skills. The key is that you are not teaching content just for the sake of teaching content. The schema unit will be reinforced through the year and applied in many critical thinking activities. True critical thinking builds on a strong foundation of content.

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