Tuesday, January 24, 2012

6 Reasons Why You Should Use 6 Laptops in Your Classroom

The 1:1 student to computer ratio initiative is a great goal for schools to have. I mean, what school would not want each of their students to have access to a personal laptop computer? The problem is that most schools can't afford to spend the kind of money that it takes to provide each student with a laptop, especially when the nation is trying to climb out of a recession. Moreover, lots of schools are not budging on their Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, preventing students from bringing their own technology devices to school such as their phones, ipods, tablets, e-readers and laptops.

As an advocate of project-based learning and student-directed learning, I wanted my students to be able to use computers to create projects using the many different webtools that are available on the internet. There was just one problem ... I didn't have any working computers in my classroom.

In the beginning of the year I was frustrated, because each grade level team in my middle school has two whole carts of laptop computers that they could use when students needed them for projects. The teachers schedule their classes to use the computers so that every student can have his or her own individual laptop for various assignments and projects. There was never an opportunity for me to borrow the computers because the teachers were constantly rotating the carts amongst themselves.

After trying several different avenues to borrow laptops, I finally addressed my administration and requested six laptops for my classroom. That's right ... not a cart ... not one for every student ... six! I realized that by using just six laptops, my students could create amazing projects, and practice their workplace readiness skills by collaboratively working in groups.

There are some teachers in my school that don't have any computers in their class for their students to use. This is where my 6 Computers Idea comes into play. We currently have enough computers in my school to reallocate at least a few laptop computers to every classroom teacher. The great thing about this idea is that we still have four large computer labs full of 25 desktop computers in each room. If teachers need to do projects where every students needs to use a computer, then they can easily schedule a time to use one of the computer labs.

Action: After the order for my six laptop computers had been placed, I began writing curriculum that required problem-based learning in teams of four to five students. Each team would be able to use one laptop computer for their projects. In each team I created different roles for every student so that their team operated like a mini-business. This instructional strategy differentiates the responsibility for each student by ensuring that every student has ownership of their particular contribution to the project.

The roles in each team consist of the following:

Multimedia Specialist

Below is an example of my STEMtrepreneurship lesson that I assign to my TECH students.  My students created everything in this presentation, including the Prezi, all with just one computer for each group of students.

The main reason to incorporate collaborative group work in the classroom is to increase students' workplace readiness skills.  These type of skills include "decision making, problem solving, values clarification, communication, critical thinking, negotiation, conflict resolution, and teamwork. It provides a structured learning experience that can prepare students for the realities and diversity of the workplace, working with people with different skills, cultures, approaches and from different places." [1]

Below are 6 Reasons Why You Should Use 6 Laptops in Your Classroom

1.  Better Communication
The exchange of ideas can act as a stimulus to the imagination, encouraging students to explore ideas they would not otherwise consider. In addition, students with knowledge relevant to the problem can communicate that knowledge directly if they participate in solving the problem. This also helps students to resolve conflicts within their group, thereby strengthening their communication skills. [2]

2.  Greater Output
Groups of students can bring a broad range of ideas, knowledge and skills to bear on a problem. This creates a stimulating interaction of diverse ideas which results in a wider range and better quality of solutions. [2]

3.  Increased Risk-Taking
Shared responsibility makes students more willing to take risks. The discussion of different points of view also helps the group to be more realistic in assessing the risks associated with particular courses of action. This helps to stimulate and reinforce critical and creative thinking skills[2]

4.  Higher Commitment
When goals are agreed it gives a common purpose to the group, within which students can gain a feeling of self-determination and recognition through their contribution. Students who have contributed to finding a solution feel a greater commitment to its successful implementation. Positive group pressure can also encourage students to accept that change is needed. [2]

5.  Reduced Bias
The shared responsibility of a group in arriving at decisions can encourage students to explore seemingly unrealistic ideas and to challenge accepted ways of doing things. Individual biases and prejudices can be challenged by the group, forcing the students to recognize them. [2]

6.  Differentiated Learning
Students are empowered to take ownership of their learning during group projects. Students have the opportunity to learn via their readiness level, interests, and preferred mode of learning. Students are additionally empowered with the responsibility of demonstrating concept mastery in their preferred learning style.

If you find yourself in a school that is nowhere close to a 1:1 student to computer ratio, I challenge you to request that your administration equally reallocate the computers that you do have to each teacher in the school.  This will ensure that every teacher will be able to provide opportunities for his or her students to use the laptops as a learning tool in the classroom for various lessons, activities and projects. .

You Might Also Like

  1. Benefits of Group Work: http://sydney.edu.au/education_social_work/groupwork/docs/BenefitsOfGW.pdf
  2. Group Work: http://www.tuition.com.hk/groups.htm


  1. I like your blog. :)

  2. I love the way you are looking at constraints as an asset here, and I really think that they are in your very capable hands. Your ability to challenge just what is possible with 6 laptops makes it seem as though there really are NO EXCUSES for not connecting your classroom.

    I'm also very intrigued by this notion that fewer laptops/devices means more collaboration. I think that many of us seemingly are searching for the 1:1 device ratio without questioning just how valuable it is to do things together on a machine. I also think there is a real opportunity for not only different roles as you have outlined here, but also for mentorship from one student to the next as they walk each other through their thinking.

    One of the things I struggle with most in much of our movement toward personalized learning is in the isolating nature of a truly personalized education (i.e., if it is unique to me, then how can anyone else possibly take part). I think that you are reaching for the balance that allows for students to make choices about their learning but in the context of the community of learners within the classroom. I wonder how you would frame your "differentiation" in opposition (or perhaps support of) personalization for learning?

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here: http://bit.ly/C4C15

    1. Hi Ben,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to write such a thoughtful message. I actually wrote this post about two years ago when my school struggled a bit with providing enough mobile devices for our students. I simply did what I had to do as a teacher to advocate for my students and do the best that I could with the materials that were available.

      Now I am at a school with a full 1:1 program of multiple mobile devices (tablets and laptops). While this program does provide more opportunities for "personalized learning" and differentiation, I still think that the pedagogy and instruction is most important in any teaching environment. If teachers empower students to ask their own questions and provide them with resources such as space, tools, and thought-provoking challenges, I really think that our students can thrive in an authentic learning experience (regardless of how many devices are used).

      While I believe that students have an advantage from having access to more tools and devices, the type of instruction and facilitation by the teacher is by far most important to the success of student learning.

      Thanks again for your post, and best of luck with your project!