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Bishops Diocesan College

Reflections From Experience: Renewing the 'Buzz' of Being a Teacher

Adapted from Transforming Learning, An Anthology of Miracles in Technology-Rich Classrooms

By Michael King, Bishops Diocesan College, Cape Town, South Africa

south africa flagDuring the first week of laptops in my classroom, I was asked two questions (among others). "Sir, have you had a chance to look at the website I created for my father's business-it's on the Web?" and "Sir, what is a login code?"It was clearly going to be fun bringing those two poles towards each other.

I teach English at Bishops, an independent fee-paying boys' school in Cape Town, South Africa. During the year that we celebrated our 150th anniversary (1999) we launched our laptop project after two years of planning and preparations.Central to our planning had been the idea that the presence of laptop technology in classrooms would lead to a transformation in approaches to teaching and learning. We wanted our boys to be able to leave school completely comfortable and competent with computers. We had also held the view for several years before laptops that computer-usage in schools had to be a means to an end, and never an end in itself. We wanted the laptops to make possible a better learning environment for our boys-a way of learning differently from what had been possible in traditional classrooms. As I approached the actual teaching, I was looking forward to putting into practice the ideas that had been shaping our preparations for so long.

BishopsThe first adaptation I had to get used to was breaking down the idea that the focal point of the classroom was, as in traditional classrooms, where the teacher sits, stands, or teaches from. What was interesting to observe was which colleagues embraced the intended schema for the arrangement of desks, and which reverted to a traditional pattern of straight rows with all pupils facing the front (and a wild spaghetti of cables, flylead and powerleads across the floor and the passageways between desks).

By the end of the year, most people agree that the laptops had certainly created extra motivation in the boys. Whereas four pages of handwritten work would have sufficed, twenty pages of typed essay were more likely to be the cape town SAnorm. Boys were willing to put in far longer hours getting something right than had ever been the case before. One evening I looked out of my window (I live on the school grounds) and saw a boy huddled up at the base of the mapppost outside my window. I guessed his lift was late, so I went out to offer him a phone call. As I got closer (and before he noticed that I was approaching), I saw that he was working away on his laptop. So I stopped, tip-toed away and left him to it.

Some experiences proved to be spin-off learning lessons for our teachers. Quite early on, a colleague wanted his class to write a passage of English with a specific world limit. He asked the class generally whether they knew how to use the word count function. "Yes, yes, yes" came the response. He checked individually. Every boy said he knew how to do the word count. At the end of the lesson, the rest of the class filed out, and one boy remained behind. When John looked up to see why the boy had stayed, he was horrified to find the boy in tears. "What is it, what is wrong?" he asked. "Sir, I don't know how to do the word count," was the reply. The boy had been too intimidated by the bravado of the others who knew (or claimed to know) the procedure. The boy had preferred to lie rather than reveal a justifiable ignorance about a relatively simple computer operation. We (our department) were all chastened by this story, which shows how difficult peer pressures can be.

Bishops studentsThe greatest moment for me came about three months after we started our laptop program, when one mother came to me and said that one of the first things her son had done when he got his machine had been to load up five or six games. Now, three months later, she saw him deleting all the games from his hard drive. She asked him why he was doing that. "Well, Mom," he said, "I don't get the time to play the games anymore, and anyway, the work I am doing is much more interesting than playing those games - they are just getting in the way."

In what ways has my own teaching changed as a result of being in the laptop programme? Instead of planning each lesson as individual lessons, I now create learning programmes that stretch over a week or longer. I consciously explore a variety of responses, all of which can be manufactured or presented through the laptop. The laptop gives me a vehicle with which to set up combined learning with teachers in other disciplines.

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