Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What is that Magic? When Computer Labs Work

It truly was magical.  Picture a group of sixth graders entering the computer lab on Monday.  They'd had one day of computer lab orientation a couple of weeks  ago but that was their total exposure to using the computer labs at their new middle school.  The students entered the lab excitedly talking with each other, discussing all sorts of things about their day.
The students filed by the participation sheets which had been so thoroughly discussed in the orientation and so the day started with a reminder to every one that entered to pick one up from the edge of the desk that was near the door.  Some would still not pick it up even though the constant reminders by myself and their LA teacher rang out above the chatter.  Somewhere along the way between the door and their lab chair, they somehow realized they had missed something and they scrambled back to pick up the participation sheet they had bypassed.  Some never did hear the reminders so one of us would find them and remind them.  When everyone sat down, another reminder for the whole class usually resulted in one or two students jumping up to grab the paper.
Now, I was pleased to note that very few students turned on their monitors or played with their computers.  Instead, most of them remembered they were to look to the screen where the LCD projector was displaying a PowerPoint slide with instructions for the day.  (Do you think it might have been the giant, cartoon-like horse that smiled at them with a lazy grin on the large display at the front of the room?
After commending the students on remembering to read the screen, I watched as the instructions began to register as their eyes methodically read from left-to-right.  Students began to turn on their  monitors (yes, they knew what the monitors were...another Orientation topic!)
Now logging in caused some difficulties with some and they required one-to-one assistance of the information for logging in.  However, one or two reached for the FJH Student Handbook which had flow-chart type instructions for logging into the computer listed on page 3.  I took this as a good sign!
We then navigated to the LA teacher's website where the Assignment instructions were posted for the day.  The students followed along and found their way easily through the process of locating the assignments from the school's website which displayed in the browser's window as the Home page.
Eventually all of the students were logged in and they began taking their 6th grade pre-assessment exam which will help guide curriculum decisions for the students throughout the upcoming year.  As the students settled into their chairs and concentrated on the test, a quiet fell across the room as the students became thoroughly engaged in the activity in front of them.  Their hands were moving, their eyes were moving, and they seemed motivated to do a good job!
That first day in the lab ended with the closing procedures and students closed programs properly, logged off the computers, shut off the monitors, gathered their items while looking for trash, and then, when their teacher requested, stood behind their chairs that they scooted under their desks waiting to file out of the room.  Looking at the sea of faces, none looked sad, none looked upset and I thought to myself, "This is a good day."
Fast forward now to day three in the lab.  The assessment is over and the students have begun working on  activities  that strengthened their understanding of word processors, homonyms, keyboarding, and spelling.  Today, the students filed in and only a handful bypassed the participation sheet.  They still chatted excitedly but they made their way to their chairs and immediately filled out the heading on the participation sheet.  They then, almost in unison, looked at the front of the room to view the LCD screen display which they read!  (Today, a large cartoon-like monkey graced our screen.)  For a moment, I literally was transformed thinking what a moment it was to watch 29 students read together and then complete the tasks.
They all, and I mean ALL, turned on their monitors, logged into the computer, navigated to their LA teacher's website and then to her Assignment page, and almost all found the assignment and opened it up.  Some needed a reminder of which of  the assignments to open but that's o.k.
They then continued following the screen instructions and logged into the website that would open their interactive lessons for the day.  And, then the quiet again!  These activities have audio so the kids put on their headphones and settled into their assignments.  When it was time to close up the lab, the students followed the procedure though some needed a reminder to turn off the monitor.  (They still knew what a monitor was, though!)  Picking up the participation sheets produced a bundle of papers with almost 100% having complete headings.  And, they finished their closing procedures and stood behind their chairs and waved happily to us as they filed out of the room.
And, I have to say that is why I get emotional about technology, why it is more something that is from my heart than from my brain.  In just 2 days, the students had almost mastered the procedures for the lab at 100%.  They were reading, deciphering instructions, and then applying them.  They were problem-solving in their activities and learning homonyms at the same time.  And, they looked happy.  They were learning and they looked happy.  How can your heart not be involved when something like this happens?

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