Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fun with Tablet PCs

Last week, we had our day with a team from CDW/G, Discovery Education, and Hewlett-Packard. Winning the Wireless Lab Sweepstakes has really been great in every way.

The Big Rollout
We had five sessions with students from the fourth through eighth grade and our guests. Each session lasted about 45 minutes. First our host Mary from Discovery Education told the students a little about the contest. She introduced a library specialist, Pam, who traveled up from her school in Maryland to talk about Discovery streaming. She gave a brief overview of what type of content the students could see when their teacher found useful videos for their subjects. Our guest from Hewlett-Packard, Wayne, gave a short overview of how the stylus and Windows Journal worked on the tablet to write. He showed them the Snipping Tool application and created a quick document that converted written print to typed text. The students ended up with about 20 minutes to play around in groups of two.

First Follow-up Technology Class
One of the things I like to do with students is give them free time on equipment and software before we get into its scholastic use. During class one this week, I told the students that I had three goals: to have them start the machine and set it up as a tablet, open - use - and close a variety of programs, and shutdown and stow the tablet. These goals were aimed at the fourth to eighth grade students.

They were limited to using a folder with items called PowerToys for Tablet PC. I learned about this set of free tools from Kathy Schrock. They are great for getting exposure and comfort with the stylus.

Their hands down favorite is Microsoft Physics Illustrator for Tablet PC. It gives students the ability to set up closed shapes, connect them with rods, and set a force on an object or objects. They can play back their creation and see how it operates.

Second Follow-up Technology Class
Our Spanish teacher is very excited about have a traveling lab of 20 wireless tablet PCs. I know she will be using our Discovery streaming and will be asking them to accomplish some writing tasks. Our goals for the second class was to learn to start and use the Open Office Writer program.

I explained the reason for using Open Office versus Microsoft Office. We did not have money for software for the tablets, so I chose to use open source software. It is a great example to the students. We do not simply use software that we haven't paid for. If they have computers at home and wish to use Microsoft Office, but cannot pay for the student edition, they will have a new option.

I played a short clip on Discovery streaming, the song La Bamba. The words to the song were on the screen. I gave the students the option of just listening or singing along. Next, I presented them with the text of the song on paper. I needed to make sure they could insert characters with accent marks. They learned how to select Insert - Special Character... from the Writer program.

Lessons Learned This Week
First - the machines are set to Auto Update. This would not have been big problem, but the machine grayed out the option to "do this later". So, whenever it popped up on the screen, we had five minutes to quickly save before the machine restarted. It would have been fine if it happened to one student, but it was slightly harder with five fourth graders having this problem at the same time.

TO DO: Turn off Auto Update.

Second - The battery life is great. We shut down the computer between classes and I almost made it to the end of the day without the need for electrical cords. The last class of the day four fourth graders screens started going dark. I had to quickly grab plugs from the cart and get them plugged into outlets. It was hard for the students waiting for assistance.

TO DO: Teach the students how to check the battery life when they start the computer.

Third - There is a little light sensor. It darkens the screen when the student's arm goes over it. It is on the lower right of the screen, so most righties had to get used to keeping their arms out of the sensor's way.

TO DO: See if I can change the sensitivity.

Fourth - The screen should be able to orient in portrait or landscape mode, but it wants to force itself into portrait mode when it is set up as a tablet.

TO DO: Learn how to change the orientation so it sticks.

The Primary Students
The first through third grade students did not attend the big rollout. This week, I showed them the tablet and gave them time to play with Tux Paint. They really liked the program. I will have to bring down the tablets from the second floor every few months to get them used to the tablet. I will have to find some lessons that will provide them with more than just play time.

Next Week
I was going to put the tablets premanently on the second floor next week. I still don't feel like the students will be entirely comfortable without my backup. They need to become the ambassadors to the teachers. I will have to provide two more lessons next week. This will give me the opportunity to make sure the TO DOs on my list are address and learn what else will be required to make them self sufficient.

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  1. Great story, Ann.

    Your attitude and strategies are well worth reading for anyone wondering how to roll out computers. Very practical and substantive. Your "lessons learned" and related to dos present a nice model for dealing with any cultural shift in a classroom or a school. The change doesn't have to be painful and chaotic if you have a system for the shift and you work the system.

    Dennis Richards

  2. Dennis:
    This is a huge shift for me. I have been working in a Mac only environment for the last seven years. Winning these tablets is an incredible situation for our school. I feel like I'm starting all over again, though. Having the blog as a place to reflect is keeping me focused on creating a methodology for myself and the teachers and students in my building.

    Thanks, as always, for your feedback.