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Laptop programs need proper preparation

By Murray Bourne, 04 Jan 2007

This article from the Washington Post, For some schools, using laptops simply doesn’t compute [no longer available] sounds to me like some school administrator decided it was a great idea to implement laptops and then the thinking came afterwards.

Staff had no idea what to do with the laptops:

“It was like, ‘OK, teacher, here’s the laptop − go with it,’ and (teachers) were like, ‘What do you mean, go with it? Is there a Web site I go to?’ ”

In mathematics class, the comment was:

Sometimes students “have benefited from certain things I can do with a computer that I couldn’t do before,” math teacher Mercedes Huffman said, but computers can be less efficient than paper in a discipline that often requires writing out problems or drawing figures.

She goes on to say:

“There’ve been times when a geometry class said, ‘Couldn’t we have just done this on paper?’ ”

Yep, what you have to do is completely re-think what the students need to learn and how they are going to learn it. It does not work to try to do paper-based activities (like curve sketching, or solving algebra problems) on the laptop. What does make sense though, is to do some investigation of curves ("what if" analysis), some maniuplation of statistics, matrices, algebra, or whatever.

This reminds me again of the ex-company trainer who joined academia who was horrified at how behind the academic world is when it comes to learning using technology. Shades of the 1990s?

See the 2 Comments below.

2 Comments on “Laptop programs need proper preparation”

  1. Jamie Tubbs says:

    Thanks for comment on my blog. I really like reading squareCircleZ, particularly for the upper-level (at least for this fifth grade teacher) math I learn about here.

    I've been compiling some websites about one-to-one programs and their advantages/disadvantages. It seems like people are on one side or the other with this issue. What the folks who don't like laptops for all kids seem to have in common is a complete misunderstanding of the technology: they have no idea how to use these tools effectively so their students, who have no direction, use them for all the wrong purposes, namely social activities. Then these teachers speak out against them.

    Although as a math teacher I can find myriad uses for computers in my classroom, I'm sure there are many others who can't. There is one tool though that is appropriate for all grade levels: the spreadsheet. On many occasions, I have had my students investigate topics from means and outliers all the way to quadratic functions.

  2. Murray says:

    Hi Jamie.

    At my institution, all students are required to buy laptops. We face the same situation you describe: "so their students, who have no direction, use them for all the wrong purposes". I must comment, though, that social activities are an important element of any online learning, especially since the face-to-face element is missing if some activities are done in distance mode.

    I agree that the spreadsheet is a useful tool across all grades. Further to that, did you catch my Browsing Visualizations post? The key is to get students to manipulate and visualise data, so that they can extract some meaning from it.

    It's great that you are getting your students to do outliers and quadratic functions!

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