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Cincinnati Country Day School

Teaching Autonomy

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

by Kelly Hammond, Academic Dean
Cincinnati Country Day School, Cincinnati, Ohio

flag statesAs any laptop teacher can tell you, technology is the domain of the students. At first, the key to teaching how to approach this tool seemed to be in the hefty multimedia research projects that could bring knowledge, analysis, and kids together. Once a quarter, we'd take class time, home time, and break time to se the kids off on a huge academic journey. While the results of these were often stunning - a parents' night showcase dream - they were group successes that often required some shouldering by the work-alcoholics. This was nothing new in collaborative projects, surely, and nothing that couldn't be done, with a little more time and effort, in a computer lab. It wasn't until we started taking advantage of the portability and "dailiness" of the laptops that the magic of the newly found autonomy started to show.

With laptops in the classroom, I found I could lure the kids into learning anywhere, and they, in turn, found that they could love it. However, the idea that the students might actively seek learning outside of class led me to the narcissistic pursuit of replicating myself electronically. I sent home writing prompts and guiding templates rife with examples and explanations. I was available by email for homework help. I found tutorial websites for students having trouble, and encouraged the use of dictionary.com during reading. I even found myself chatting on Instant Messenger, just to let students know what I was up to.

Cincinnati picAs the laptops became more central, more daily tools of learning, the miracles began to happen, not because of the technology, but because of what the students could accomplish on heir own with this multi-faceted tool. In response to the first five-paragraph essay assignment, one student turned in three sentences (spaced out, so it at least bore a resemblance to three paragraphs). Over the course of the essay-intensive quarter, we employed the laptops for concept mapping, outlining, my essay template and prompts, peer editing, and revision to master the five-headed beast. I noticed this tech-loving student's skills improving, noticed that he took one of the longer, more difficult essay options on an exam. When, toward the end of the year, a TV crew arrived to gawk at the laptop sideshow, they randomly chose this student for an interview. They asked how the laptops had changed his life, and I expected to hear stories of South Park downloads and Looney Toons chat rooms. Instead, he offered that he liked writing a lot more'. Another student who struggled the entire year with the transition from the concrete to the abstract, asked during our five-paragraph crusade essay if he could stop using the essay template. 'I think I've got it, you know,' he said, exasperated. Silly teachers.

Despite such victories, technology is not a panacea for all classroom woes. It doesn't magically ensure that students will do their work on time and to the best of their ability. It doesn't eradicate the wealth of bad habits, poor choices, peer pressure, and teenage angst. Technology does, though, reach the students where they are and give them the resources to move forward-on their own. By using technology in the classroom, a teacher can import a passion for knowledge to the world in which the kids rule. The result is a student population that often takes the initiative for seeking knowledge. And, they will keep on learning, whether they remain in a laptop environment or not. They learn how to continue with an inquiry. They learn to persevere. And best of all, they ask for more.

Ms. Hammond has taught English, history, and computer science and has worked on faculty development to promote the integration of laptops into curriculum.

*We want to hear from you! What are the most significant changes (perhaps the top two?) that have taken place in your school after its 1-to-1 roll-out? We invite you to share your experiences here! ________________________________________________________________________

Changes That Matter

By Joe Hofmeister, AALF Coach

When we launched our 1-to-1 program at Cincinnati Country Day in the fall of 1996, there were no footprints to follow and there were plenty of people to say it couldn't be done. We were the first school in the country to institute a large-scale program, one that involved all students in grades 5-12 and all teachers. Families were required to purchase a new laptop at the beginning of fifth, eighth, and eleventh grades. Looking back now, it is difficult to even imagine the way life was then. Princess Diana was alive and well, laptops were rare and in the hands of top executives only, no one had ever heard of an iPod, and 802.11 was just a weird series of digits.

It was this last piece that now looks earthshakingly absent to me. Imagine a world where the term wireless was just an old fashioned way of describing a radio. Networks were all hard wired, if they existed at all. And though 'hard' was the term used to describe the wires strung throughout a building (and a very few schools), it was also a hard life for the teachers making the effort to integrate the new laptops into their classes by connecting them to the network. Picture this classroom: 20 students each equipped with a laptop and a 15 foot Ethernet cable. In the center of the room there is a 24 port hub and spread around the room are three homemade power strips each holding eight electrical outlets. The lesson plan included connecting everyone to a particular internet site, one that the teacher had researched and found valuable to their lesson. So students dutifully connected their Ethernet cables to the hub and their electrical cords to the outlets, trying hard not to trip over all the wires now on the floor. It took courage and a belief in the inevitability of technology-fueled change that led teachers to deal with what now looks like a nightmarish scenario. But deal with it they did, and the school is now reaping the rewards of their innovative spirits.

After we survived our first year with the 1-to-1 laptop program, I remember being asked by our head of school, Dr. Charles Clark, to summarize the changes that were taking place in the school because of the 1-to-1 program. Always a visionary pedagogue, Dr. Clark said he wanted the big picture, the overall changes, and the changes that were affecting the intellectual life of the school. Many conversations later, I outlined what seemed to me the most important changes that had occurred in the school's learning landscape. The two most significant changes had to do with information and communication, two critical learning areas in any school.

When a 1-to-1 program is in place, information takes on new dimensions. It is more easily accessed, its evaluation becomes more critical, its sources are much more diverse, and the perception of its meaning changes. Ownership of the information is democratized and its validity is no longer simply a matter of trust in a text or an authority. The canonicity of text disappears as the credibility of information is no longer simply dependent on its appearance in a textbook.

Inside the school, communication blossoms like spring flowers (and sometimes like spring weeds!). Communication between students and teachers as well as between students and other students grows quickly as the convenience and availability of email make these kinds of connections important in the school's daily life. Teachers are able to give and receive assignments electronically, and the bar rises for expectations of all written work. Communication between members of the school community and the world outside the school opens relational possibilities that simply didn't exist prior to the 1-to-1 program. Far-flung relatives seem much closer and Grandma is no longer someone students talk to only on holidays. Information sources and other schools are now collaborators of far greater potential, for students as well as teachers.

These changes, sparked by the implementation of a 1-to-1 program, are themselves changing and deserve much more discussion. The changes tend to occur without administrative mandate and almost develop a life of their own. It's fun to work in a 1-to-1 school, but a challenge as well. Nothing is ever final. Rather it is a continual rehearsal, followed by rounds of tweaking and improvements.

Joe Hofmeister is a highly experienced educational technology consultant. He has particularly been involved with schools that are either starting a 1-to-1 program or that find themselves needing to get their laptop learning program back into high gear. As long-term technology director at Cincinnati Country Day School, he led the school's pioneering efforts with one of the nation's first immersions into a laptop program in which every student from grades 5-12 was required to purchase a laptop and have it available at school every day. Cincinnati Country Day was one of the first groups to be honored by Microsoft as a "Center of Excellence" and hundreds of teachers and administrators have attended three-day workshops at the school to see firsthand how the school has integrated ubiquitous technology on campus.

Joe has spoken at many conferences and seminars and has been on advisory boards at Apple, Microsoft, Toshiba and the Bertelsmann Foundation. He has co-authored eight books for classroom integration of technology and has contributed chapters and articles to a number of other publications. Along with serving as an AALF consultant and coach, he is presently a member of the NAIS Technology Task Force and recently was invited to take part in Ohio's Institute on Creativity and Innovation in Schools.

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