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Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Power of Fun

My class erupted this week. We are learning about the Medieval times and we took a break from content and focussed on one particular siege weapon, the trebuchet. The class was broken down into 5 groups of 3-4 students with one assignment, build a trebuchet. We watched a short documentary by NOVA in class yesterday and today it was go time. I spent about $40 on materials yesterday at the dollar store and Home Depot. For two days the students are in a fierce competition to design and create a trebuchet that can throw the farthest with the best accuracy.

I absolutely love this project and so do my students (or at least 95% of them). We are one week away from finals week and I cannot think of a better time to ramp up the fun.

Projects like this make me ponder the power of fun. Everyone is engaged, everyone is participating, and everyone is learning. It's a $40 well spent (I still hope my department chair reimburses me).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Power of Tutorials

Creating tutorials is starting to revolutionize the way I instruct my class. Teaching in a one-2-one environment allows for a lot of tech instruction. At the beginning of the year we go through the process in making french fries at McDonald's. Inevitably they forget to list all the steps and end up forgetting to take the french fries out of the plastic or they forget to start the timer. I call that "burning the fries". The point of the exercise is to drive home the fact that even a simple process like making french fries demands the workers follow a specific series of steps. It becomes a small joke when a student mess up a series of steps and cannot complete a task. I accuse them of "burning the fries". Then as a any teacher would, I gently walk the little angels through the steps again and again if needed.

Recently I have decided to create tutorials of the step by step instructions. This cuts down on the amount of class time needed to set up accounts or learn new programs. Since I am constantly reinventing projects using different programs, websites, etc... I am also constantly teaching and re-teaching the new methods. In the new system I make a quick tutorial and the students or fellow colleagues can access it at any time as many times as they need. It's exactly the same instructions that I would give them if they raised their hand and asked for help. Now I say, "watch the tutorial and if you still don't understand, watch it again."

The program that I can recommend is CamStudio. It is an open source program that can be found at


Friday, December 4, 2009

Classroom Instruction in One-2-One

Early on in my one-2-0ne teaching days I was excited about my students typing their notes and adding maps and writing and coloring on those maps and printing news articles and highlighting on those articles and...and...and. Most of my instruction was lecture based with a short activity at the end of class. I would pride myself on being an activity based teacher but that was not the reality. I would lecture for 30 minutes and then the students would surf the internet for 20 minutes (hopefully where I told them to go) and I just assumed this was the best way to get the information into my student's brains. After a year or two of this I decided to change. I view that time of one-2-one teaching as my 1.0 days.

I like to think that I have evolved since that time. I am still fighting my natural inclination to stand and spout. Some of our subjects lend themselves more to the lecture format (I teach Human Geography, Western Civ., and AP Government) which constantly provoke us to stand there and talk at our students. This cannot be the main form of instruction in the one-2-one. Lecture has its place at times but it must be complimented on a regular basis with an interactive activity.

As I get closer to becoming the 2.0 version that I wish to be I am constantly trying to find ways to engage my students without lecturing. The article linked below has been helpful in getting me to think beyond the lecture.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Open Source vs. Proprietary Software

I don't know many people who prefer to pay for things when they can get the same or better absolutely free. Microsoft has done an amazing job at making sure their software is distributed on almost every single computer that is made on the planet (even macs these days). When I tell people that I am using Ubuntu exclusively in my class they usually have no idea what I am talking about. When I use Moodle instead of Sharepoint I get an interesting reaction. When I use Firefox or some free website to facilitate discussion in my class, I am greeted with curiosity. Most do not even know how to think outside of the proprietary world. So why do I use mostly open source? Nine times out of ten, open source works better or simply good enough when compared to proprietary software. I cannot justify paying for something that only works slightly better or looks better.

When evaluating open source software I apply a two part test.

Part 1 = Functionality.

The functionality of the proprietary software must be better. Much better to justify some of the prices. A tie (or even a close call) in functionality goes to open source because it's free.

Part 2 = Cost. The functionality of the software must justify the cost. One example of this can be found in the Adobe products. While GIMP is good, Photoshop is great. I would pay for the Adobe Creative Suite over the open source options available.

Here is a must read if you have not already, The Top 50 Proprietary Programs that Drive You Crazy — and Their Open Source Alternatives.

More and more schools are starting to throw off their proprietary "chains" to embrace the open source world. Open Office, Mozilla, and others are making it easier for us to do so. I encourage any school considering a one-2-one environment to take a serious look at free, open source software. It will drive down the initial costs of implementation immensely. The students will adjust. Now for the teachers, I will leave that for another post.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Changes

There are too many changes to document them all but here I will list and explain the big changes. It is so important that school administrators prepare their faculty for these changes. Trust me the students will not be your main obstacle to implementing one-2-one computing in your school.

1. Information

The way the students gather and distribute information must change. Their main source of information is no longer the textbook, or their teacher for that matter, in a one-2-one environment. You can't, nor should you, compete with the endless supply of good to great resources available online. Many teachers will not be comfortable no longer being the smartest "thing" in their classroom. We used to pride ourselves in giving extra facts that the textbook's authors "left" out. I guess we did that to to make our students think we were really smart. In one-2-one your role in teaching changes completely. You have a rough idea of where the information is. You probably know where the best information is but that is not the only place to find good information on the topic.

Old World:
STUDENT: Mr. Bishop, how many people live in Brazil?
TEACHER: Look on page 429, there is a chart of all the Latin American country's populations. (Note: our book was published in 2007; Brazil added about 10+ million people since)

One-2-One World:
Mr. Bishop, how many people live in Brazil?
TEACHER: Go to CIA World Factbook, Type 'Brazil Population' in Google, use World Database, go to the United Nation's website, etc...

The gathering of information is a skill that I really don't teach any more. The information is just there. The skill that I have to teach more now is how to filter for quality information. I guess I always did that but I spent so much more time teaching my students how to actually find the information. I much prefer the way it is now, even though I can no longer claim to be the smartest in my classroom.

2. Activities

Say goodbye to poster-board projects. Your students will never walk into a presentation with a piece of cardboard in their entire lives (unless they sell boxes). I remember having piles of tri-fold poster-boards laying on the floor in my classroom after a day or two of in-class presentations. After about a month of reminding the students to come and pick them up I put them outside my classroom for the janitors to pick up. They always enjoyed carrying those bulky things down to the dumpster. I must say, I don't miss those projects for one minute. The types of activities that your students use in the one-2-one classroom almost never deal with material items. Everything is digital for the most part. Whether they are creating a simple PowerPoint, making a movie, designing a brochure, or whatever, they are doing it on their computer and sending it to yours. This is one area that I am continually looking to grow in. I am always looking for ways to incorporate new and exciting ideas into my classroom.

Here is one example:

OLD WORLD: We watch documentary on Genocide in Darfur. I watch the movie before hand and prepare a viewing guide to keep the students focussed on what is important. They answer the questions and are graded on their correctness or completeness. I pause the movie periodically to ask more questions to see if they are following along.

One-2-One WORLD: We watch a documentary on Genocide in Darfur. Before the movie starts, I create a chat room at I never stop the documentary because during the movie we are communicating and I am asking the students how they are feeling in real time or whether they understand what is going on. They are also able to help each other understand more. They may receive a grade on their contribution to the discussion.

3. Everything else

Everything else has changed in my classroom. My gradebook is open to students and parents instantly. I encourage chatting in class. All of my tests are automatically graded (objective portions) and the students receive instant feedback. I make no copies whatsoever. I am completely paperless! I am constantly unsatisfied with what I am doing and I am always looking to add the next best tech idea to make my assignments more enjoyable and effective. One-2-one computing changes more than I can ever write. Which is why I have decided to get my thoughts out on the web. Technology is synonymous with change. If you don't see it now, just wait 6 months.

The Beginning

The beginning actually began about four years ago when my school began distributing tablet PCs to freshman. Four years later we now have complete 1-to-1 computing. I started this blog to document my learning process over the last four years and to solicit feedback from any and all who care about 1-to-1 computing. I must say that it has its trials but there is no way I would go back to just books, paper, and pen. Trust me, there are plenty of naysayers but for those of us that have completely embraced this new way of educating, the evidence is clear. Our students learn in a far more entertaining and engaging way than the students that I taught 5 years ago B.T. (Before Tablet). I plan on laying all bare (or most bare) here for others who are considering such a drastic change in their schools. I can say with confidence, the change will be well worth the pain and suffering.

So, please enjoy and contribute!