So I was asked to speak at a meeting on March 21st at our Education Building about my experience with the tablets this year. I took this opportunity & responsibility very seriously and spent several nights preparing what I think is a pretty good speech (of course, I'm slightly partial). Unfortunately, I never got to give it because my car battery decided to give out on me that morning and leave me stranded at a grocery store about 15 minutes from where the meeting was which left me scrambling for a way to get to work and left little room for anything else. Awesome timing right? Yeah, tell me about it. A new car battery and $100 later, I still have the speech and have decided that I would post it in the blog so that I could still get my message across. So, here it goes:
Before the tablets, I was a pretty standard run-of-the-mill science teacher. I did some labs, hands on activities, lots of notes, and lots of worksheets. All pretty standard stuff. Isn't that what they teach us in college? I can honestly say that having these tablets, has made me a better teacher. But before I get into that, let me start by saying that I applied for this technology with a few narrow-minded goals in mind:
- Less time at the copy machine
- More online labs and interactives
- Easier access for student research
What I didn't realize was that this technology would totally change the way I think about teaching and student learning.
Last summer, I researched all sorts of interactives & virtual labs & couldn't wait to let my students go crazy with them.. What I quickly realized, once the semester started, was that one of the biggest flaws with the tablets was that anything with Java or any interactive (including virtual labs) could not be done on them. I was IMMEDIATELY discouraged. I also realized there was going to be a lot of wifi connectivity issues. One class period the WiFi worked and 20 minutes later it wouldn't. Passwords and IDs would go back and forth between working and not working which, as you can imagine, became frustrating for eager kids & a teacher with a lot of ideas. It was also impossible for students to save work on a USB flash drive or their student ID numbers & quite a task trying to find work that got saved on the tablet itself. However, from those ashes came a few sparks:
POSITIVES: I became much less of a control freak & much better at working on my toes. I always have a back up plan & my kids became much less impatient & much more flexible. The students also quickly figured out that they could find ANYTHING when their grade depended on it. Shocking. Even though it was much more difficult to save stuff, it could still be done.
I feel like I got too easily discouraged with the tablets simply because they didn't necessarily work for everything I initially wanted them to every time I wanted them to.
- Great for research & leads toward a student-centered class where they take an active role in their learning
- Grade for portable access to technology and/or apps to get outside the class (Example: Geo caching to learn about latitude and longitude)
- MUCH faster boot up compared to the laptops, which take an average of 5 minutes to load up.
- They allowed me to have a virtual classroom centered around Edmodo where they, as the student, take more responsibility for their learning. This also helped take the pressure of missing/make up work off me because everything we ever do in class in on Edmodo.
- Allowed me to teach 21st century computer skills and fun new presentation skills (even my non-teacher friends have benefited from this experience!)
I was very worried that the constant WiFi and Java issues would overshadow anything positive my students could get from having the tablets in my class. It was quickly brought to my attention that even with all the flaws and issues, my students got a LOT more out of the experience than I ever expected. I have had so many of my students come up to me to get me to remind them of a website or tool that we used for a project in class that they want to use in another class. I can tell that it has boosted their self esteem because they are producing higher quality & more creative projects than students with less technology skills. I've also had teachers telling me how awesome one of my former students' projects are because they use websites and/or tools I had shown them or taught them in class. I could not have been prouder!
Having the tablets has given me back my lost motivation to create more project/inquiry based activities and to move towards a more student centered classroom. I may have had a lot of technical issues with these tablets, but I feel like for that motivation alone, if nothing else, is why these tablets have made me a better teacher.