Top 8 Educational Uses of Laptops

With budgets as tight as Ebenezer’s purse string these days, I can think of no better topic to reflect on. Questions filled my head and I find it hard to turn off. In this post, I have pulled together my favorite educational uses of laptops in the classroom.

8. Graphic organizers.

Our laptops have an organizer application installed. I will not mention the name. There are several solutions available for schools. They let students know what they are about to learn or experience. Graphic organizers help students focus on the learning. They can also be used for review or summary tools. However, my personal favorite graphic organizer is not created on the laptop. Cheap paper plates, markers, poster board, and some paste works like a charm. However, to make enhance the use of graphic organizers, try this tip: Export the graphic organizer files your class creates as images. Our students upload them to our student’s password protected wiki. On their wiki page, students in the class are encouraged to provide positive feedback, or co-edit the wiki page containing a specific graphic organizer.

7. Wikis.

Since these are web based, browsers and Internet access are ultimately required. Like most 1 to 1 schools, not all kids have Internet access. One of my students shared that when her mom took their dog to the veterinarian, she sat in the truck and composed her wiki posts. She did not have wireless access at the vet’s office. She used her text editor app on her laptop to type her book report. Then, when her mom went to Walmart to buy groceries, she accessed their free wifi and copied and pasted to update her wiki post. Most of my students seem to have cell phones, but they only use them as a Pager. They only text each other much like old pagers. Currently, our student’s wiki does not support cellular device access. We are still a few steps away from convergence of these technologies.

6. Rubrics.

Providing ongoing feedback to students as to the status of their learning is essential. The more specific the better, and the more criterion-referenced the better. What is the best rubric maker? I do not have a “dog in this fight”. Some of my teachers prefer one over the other. I have tried all of them in the past. I know lots of teachers that prefer to create their own. However, sometimes it is nice to have a model to follow.

5. Digital Storytelling.

Non-linguistic representations are fun and effective uses of instructional time. Providing mental pictures along with language works. Representations can also include images and concrete representations. Students use their built in digital cameras, or cameras teachers check out from the media center in our school. Still images and video clips that students generate help students hook what they are learning with prior knowledge. Our students are learning to use iMovie to tell digital stories. One resource I have used is Discovery Education: Streaming. The AFI resources fit well with high school students. Students viewed the online tutorials and created their own storyboards, scripts, and shot the videos. Editing and finally presenting their movies to parents at a school function highlighted the learning activity.

4. Homework.

Not all our laptop users have elected to pay our user fee and qualify to take the laptops home. We call these users “24/7 Users”. IMHO, homework is a necessary evil. However, it must be relevant and aligned to the course of study. The practice moves a student to mastery of learning. Homework is one way to extend the practice. A key to retention of the learning is practice. In our 1 to 1 program, teachers can assign homework, but they must offer an alternative assignment for non-24/7 users, also known as– “day users”. This complicates homework assessment. As a teacher, I would consider it a challenge to modify homework assignments for an additional subset of learners. However, that is what separates master teachers from the rest. However, technology is not really worth the investment if it is just replacing what teachers want students to do on paper. Our district has invested in a blog and email-hosting product. We are hosting it on our servers. This January, we will be introducing this tool to our 6th graders in our 1 to 1 program.

3.  Pat on the Back.

Sharing instructional slide shows, movies, and posters reinforces effort and helps give praise to learners. Walking through our school, I have noticed how teachers are constantly posting student work. Some teachers call it cutesy and not important. However, using laptops to help share student work is important in the larger scheme of making learning relevant to learners. It is their “5 seconds of fame”. Some parents post their children’s work on the refrigerator. I try to post photos of groups of students, without names, on our school web page. Athletic teams, and such give a quick pat on the back for students. Our student wikis host movie clips from students. They have learned how to export slide shows as movies. One skill we need to focus on is how to include voice annotations with the slide shows. They have mastered adding music and nauseating transitions. Maybe I need to share this clip of presentation designer and internationally acclaimed communications expert Garr Reynolds, creator of a popular Web site on presentation design and delivery on the net — presentationzen.com

2. Notetaking and Summarizing.

Do students even know how to summarize and take notes? Such skills allow students to organize a lot of information.  They can then figure out the most important information to use. Synthesizing information is an essential skill for high student achievement. All I see students doing is copy and paste. They Google the question provided in the handout, and copy and paste whatever comes up first. They do not evaluate its validity. Speaking of Google, one of their apps is Notebook. They even have a mobile app. Some email/blog applications offer a “digital locker”. Students can post notes and summary documents on their student wiki. Teachers like this strategy because these files can be opened and contents can be checked. Teachers can save the work on their desktop and while students are working on individual or group assignments, a face-to-face conference can held.

1. Comparing, contrasting, classifying, analogies and metaphors.

Blending these skills into a lesson is a challenge. However, old school thematic units can help with this process. Projects that are well planned and executed engage learners and build those brains one dendrite at a time.

The laptop does not magically fix any of these problems or challenges. With all the money issues- the best magic is leadership.

My hope for all the readers of this blog is for Peace on Earth.

One more thing…Why 8 instead of 10 or even 12 Educational uses of Laptops? We could only “afford” 8. wink, wink!

Comments

  1. Joe Brennan

    RE: Digital storytelling. More specifically, you can do a search on “afi” in Discovery Education streaming to find the 2.5+ hours of Sean Astin narrated videos and the accompanying manual. There are also plenty of tips at ScreenNation: http://www.screennation.afi.com/Learn.aspx

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