Friday, February 18, 2011

Putting Things In Perspective

My Netbook use is quickly becoming "old hat" to me. I use it every day, so I think nothing of it most of the time as I go about my daily tasks. Today, Grandparents Day at our school, I was given the job of demonstrating our Netbook program and our Mimio electronic whiteboard tools to the grandparents who visited our school. I use a Mimio tablet all day long with my Macbook Pro. Today, I combined the Mimio and Netbook and brought only my Netbook to school. The Mimio software was running and visible on the whiteboard, and in the background Pandora provided music over my self-installed little Bose speakers. Of course, we played some "grandparent" music which the kids didn't particularly like (they're 10 years old), but the grandparents were impressed. With all of this set up, all I had to do when a student brought in his grandparents for a demo was to hand them the Mimio pen and let them "play" on the "board". The students did the demo while I visited with their grandparents.

Today, I learned my lesson for the day during conversations with the grandparents. Many of them are my age (I'm the proud grandparent of a 2-year-old), but several are a decade or so older than me. They reminisced about some of the same memories I have of fifth grade back in the day. However, some came from a two-room school, some attended a country school they had to walk to through snow and rain, and several other "old-fashioned" stories were told during the morning of visits from grandparents.

They were amazed and delighted to see the students demo our "21st Century Chalkboard." Later in the morning I used email, first on my Netbook, then later I followed up on my smart phone, to coordinate the retrieval of a forgotten student netbook with the parent of a child who had forgotten his when he went to McDonald's lunch with grandma and grandpa. I began to realize how much things have changed. The "good ole days" are gone, and we're in a new age.

Even though I've been using these tools for quite a while now, I'm still amazed at the changes that have occurred over just the past few years. Maybe some of the older grandparents will never go on the Internet or send an email, but their grandchildren carry a Netbook to school like we used to bring our books; and, they think nothing of it because it's just part of their growing-up experience. My grandchild was born into a home with two wireless laptops, and he comes to see grandpa, who has several laptops running 24/7/365. He'll likely never smell chalk dust, maybe not even Expo dust from a whiteboard. He does have his own set of Crayolas, though, so some things from the "good 'ole days" are still with us.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Two Weeks Under Our Belt!

We've been using our Netbooks for two weeks now, and it's going pretty well. We still have some things to set up, but we're not waiting until we're all tweaked to get some work done.

Morning Routine
The students now have a new morning routine, beginning with their email. I've been sending a daily "good morning" email with information they need for that day. After they read their email they write down their assignments, which are available on our school's online calendar. We still write them in a paper planner, as we want to be able to access our assignment when we're offline. However, rather than looking up at the screen in the front of our classroom, students now can access their assignments on the Netbooks. Then, they log into their AR Log, now a Google doc instead of a paper log. When they finish a book they email me and request my electronic "signature" to acknowledge their progress. They keep a record of pages read each day, both in-school and at home. This routine takes up our first 30-40 minutes each day.

Accelerated Reader
We're an AR school, and our kids take AR tests after they finish their books. Before Netbooks, students would have to ask permission to use one of our three desktop computers to take a test. Now, they log in via their Netbook and get the test up and ready. Then, I type in the "monitor password" and they're taking the test. I'm thinking this should improve and increase our test-taking. It sure is more convenient!

Daily Work
We've experimented with our Netbooks for some assignments. I sent a template to the kids via Google docs and they "make a copy" of the document. Then, they "share" it with me and begin their work. So far I've tried a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet where the students fill in the blank with a correct word or phrase. We had a few glitches with Google docs, but otherwise this routine worked. In get all their "papers" via my Google docs "documents" in a list format, and all I do is sort by their filename. I use a format that looks like this: 00paul math page 3. That way, I can sort by their student number from 01 to 25 and easily see who's missing, who turned theirs in, etc. I've used that system with our school's student server for years. Now, it's working well with Google docs, too. Next, we'll try it with Dropbox and Open Office. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting Started

Although we started our 1:1 Netbook program in January 2011, my class has been using Google Docs to collaborate with "cloud computing" tools since August 2010. Before that, I had two other fifth grade classes using Google Docs to collaborate on projects and assignments. Sometimes, it has been as simple as the student doing their work and "turning in" the finished product by sharing their documents with me. That's the way Google Docs works, and any document that's shared becomes available for either viewing or editing by others with whom the author "shares". Now, my students have 24/7 access to their documents online -- those with wifi at home -- and this access has begun to make my students more prolific in their writing.

We began a week ago by simply getting to know our Netbooks, setting things up -- the trackpad settings, power options, and the like -- to make them run efficiently all day on a battery charge. We gave the students a set of minimum specifications including Windows 7, at least an 8 hour battery, minimum processor speed and RAM, and the like. Many purchased the Asus Eee PC we recommended, but others came in with Toshiba, Dell, Gateway, Acer, HP, and others. A few came in with Windows XP and have since upgraded or replaced their Netbooks with Windows 7. One is holding out with Mac OS. For the most part, since we're using open source software, this conglomeration is working so far. We'll see how it goes over the long haul.

Since I'm their homeroom teacher and also their "computer teacher", we used some class time in our first week for setting up the Netbooks. My partner fifth grade teacher and I all piled into my classroom for 4 sessions during the week of from 30-60 minutes. Plus, I used my two 40-minute "computer" class sessions for additional set up. This week, we're spending less time in school with setup and we've asked the children to download some things at home: Firefox, Open Office, and Dropbox. We're hoping we'll have all this initial setup finished by the end of this week so we can get down to the business of teaching and learning with our Netbook tech tools.

Next week, I head off to FETC in Orlando and I'm looking forward to using Skype to communicate with my students as they work with a sub on Tuesday through Thursday. Many of my kids are anxious to use Skype at school, as we've told them it's a no-Skype zone from 8-3 until we have a reason to use Skype in class. Next week, they'll get their first chance!

Stay tuned. More to come...

Monday, January 24, 2011

What's A Netbook Teacher?

I'm a Netbook Teacher. I use a Netbook in my classroom as a teaching tool. It's plugged into a Viewsonic projector and everything on my Netbook screen is visible on my whiteboard in the front of my classroom. I use Mimio software and a Mimio pad to "write" on the board. Beginning after Christmas break 2010, my students all came to school with their own Netbooks to use throughout the day. Many received theirs as a Christmas gift. Our school installed WiFi before Christmas, and we can all move about the campus and stay connected wirelessly to the Internet. It's a brave, and strange, new world at our school these days. So, a Netbook Teacher -- my definition -- is one who uses a Netbook to teach; and, one whose students also use Netbooks to learn. This blog's purpose is to chronicle our journey of teaching and learning with Netbooks in a one-to-one (1:1) environment: one student per Netbook for instant and always-available Internet access. There's more to describe, and I'll be doing that in the entries that follow. I hope you'll follow along!