Thursday, September 1, 2011

Laptop rollout in high school

I've made a number of attempts to utilise laptops within my classroom. The first three times were fraught with IT issues. The last time was not, but failed to be more effective than a teacher directed lesson.

I discussed this with Apple distributors today and they acknowledged that maths was a difficult area to implement laptops effectively for teaching purposes within the classroom.

It's not hard to imagine why.

The input mechanism (keyboard) does not lend itself well to handling symbolic expression, from fractions forward. Word is clearly inferior to paper/pen in terms of flexibility and execution time.

Math is highly skill and practice based rather than research and report based. The time to find applications specific to each skill exceeds the benefit able to be provided by an active teacher.

I did identify some areas where they may be beneficial.
A) repetitive simple skills such as tables
B) statistics in conjunction with autograph and Excel

I found propositions put forward by the distributor more marketing based than based in productive high school teaching practices:

A) As an alternate assessment tool(recording writing and reviewing) to judge performance (unlikely to be done other than as a gimmick or as part of formal research).
B) To implement a programming class (underestimating timetabling and student demand requirements)
C) To implement problem solving investigations (I think this still suffers the symbolic issue in non stats based investigations - particularly senior school ones)
D) As a way to promote cross curricular applications (with large time overheads to set up with questionable benefits).
E) That the focus needs to be middle school as the application in senior school was more difficult and required follow through from middle school. (I agree but am still struggling to justify the effort required for such low utilisation)

The meeting left me questioning whether anyone had anything more than a very superficial implementation of laptops at all. The distributor stated about 50% usage was possible across all learning areas (I would hazard to guess as a wordprocessor in most cases) and my guess is less than 5% in mathematics. Given the ATAR exams are written, I'm not sure promoting typing over writing and editing/ re drafting over planning/writing is a good idea.

Some things have worked. Mathsonline has more penetration. Kids are more likely to have a computer at home. They can complete homework using the digital copy of the text on the laptops. Once networking issues are resolved I could put worksheets and notes directly on their computers. I can dump Khan academy files for their review.

On the whole I felt that we were looking for a market for a product, rather than a product aimed to satisfy a market, indicating that the whole 1-1 student computer idea is a bit of a lame duck. I think the government has been suckered in by the promise without having an idea of what it could deliver in real results.

Given my background, I want to be positive about this idea. I haven't heard anything to date that justifies $100,000 per year of taxpayer dollars per school thus far. I hope someone can show me where to go next.


  1. I totally agree - my child's school has gone 1-1 with macbooks and it seems to be a HUGE waste of money. How many extra teachers, resources, programs and consumables that tecahers' desperately need could it cover ?
    As a teacher myself I couldn't imagine teaching to a room of laptop backs with that barrier between me and the class.
    And all the resrach shows that a minimum of 2 students per pc/laptop is required rather than 1-1 to allow collaboration, peer tutoring and real learning to occur.
    This whole thing just smacks of a 'we LOOK great' approach with no real foundation of actually improving the teaching-learning process.
    (Plus as a parent I want my kid speaning LESS time on the computer not MORE)

  2. Hi I am a parent of a High School student. This site got my attention as you mentioned the Laptops.
    I just wondered as they are handing out notebooks at my sons school. Does anyone know if these are from Government money and for every student?

  3. The Government gave public schools enough money for three years for laptops to be supplied to students. As far as I know this money has now run out and won't be renewed. It was only for students yr 9 and above, albeit some schools paid the difference and gave them to year 8's.

    Individual implementations differ, but many schools did not have enough infrastructure and staffing to maintain the laptops onsite, so gave the laptops to students on condition they kept them at home and maintained them until yr 12 (if they left early they had to give them back).


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