I started teaching in 1985, at about the same time the Commodore 128 came out. It was a pretty fancy machine, with its floppy drives and cursor keys, but I didn’t have one. No one in my school did.
I had a typewriter. And there was a ditto machine in the workroom.
A few years later, computers started dribbling into the classrooms. Most of us had one or two, usually parked in the back of the room, and generally used as an extra activity by kids who finished their work. They usually weren’t incorporated into the curriculum. They couldn’t be; there was only one or two computers for an entire class. They were exceptionally well-suited for running Oregon Trail. (Remember dying of cholera?)
The next step was getting a computer for myself. That was around 1990 and it was awesome. It was also huge – it took up most of my desk – but I could actually save documents and keep grades on it.
Then in 1999 things got crazy. A lot of us were awarded “Gates Grants” and received a laptop for ourselves and seven computers for our classrooms. It was supposed to be transformative; enabling students to engage in computer-based projects. But that was the thing: the focus was on projects; not really the core curriculum. Besides, seven computers meant a lot of sharing. And a whole lot of PowerPoint projects. A whole lot.
Then there was my AlphaSmart phase. With a class set of those bad boys, I could do anything. Well, not anything, but my students could type something, download the text onto one of those seven PCs and work on the formatting until they had a reasonably well-produced document. But that was about it.
Things improved dramatically a few years later when the district parked a laptop cart in my room. Twelve computers! Real ones! Finally I began incorporating technology into the core curriculum. We were actually using them as tools in the normal course of the day, instead of making up projects to justify having them. Of course, having those laptops put me on a first-name basis with the district tech desk, mostly because Wi-Fi was in its infancy.
But now things have come together. Two weeks before Winter Break, my class received a set of Chromebooks. Thirty of them! Enough for every student to use all day long.
I can’t say I’ve completely figured out how best to take advantage of these tools, but I’m off to a decent start. Each morning, we pass out them out; everyone gets the same computer each day, which means they get to “personalize” their home screen.
We have math first, and since I’m using a newer version of our district’s math adoption, the students don’t have the newer textbook. But the publishing company has the newer version available on-line, so we essentially use the Chromebooks as textbooks. It works perfectly.
After math we have writing, and as you know, writing is A LOT more fun on a computer. Not only are drafting, revising, editing and publishing happening simultaneously, students are no longer being asked to rewrite five pages of something in which they’ve completely lost interest. And since these are Chromebooks, the default word processor is Google-docs, which allows my students to share their work with anyone; namely me. I can use my computer and monitor their writing not only at home, but also in real time, adding comments, and even modeling techniques or suggesting changes while they watch. It’s pretty cool.
In the afternoon we have reading. When my students aren’t meeting with their reading group they can use their machines to access RAZ-kids, an on-line reading program, consisting of stories and questions. They can also access Scholastic, Newsela, Story-Nory and Moby Max.
At the end of the day my students get onto All the Right Type, a self-paced keyboarding tutorial. Then we collect them and plug them in for their overnight charging.
So that’s where I’m at right now. Like I said, I don’t think I’m completely taking full advantage of this amazing resource, but I’ve sure come a long way since 1985!