Did you get my little computer back yet?

That's what my youngest son calls the Convertible Classmate that Intel has given me on long-term loan to really put through its paces in a variety of real-world settings. For the last month it has been with an autistic kindergartner and generally passed around the younger grades at my son's school.

That's what my youngest son calls the Convertible Classmate that Intel has given me on long-term loan to really put through its paces in a variety of real-world settings. For the last month it has been with an autistic kindergartner and generally passed around the younger grades at my son's school. Teachers have used it, 1:1 aides have used it, and the kids have used it non-stop. The little tablet has, in fact, won the hearts of more than one student and staff member.

So how did it help, aside from being really cool? Among the younger kids, it was most helpful for the students on the autistic spectrum. Both the tablet functionality (responsive to fingers and a stylus) and the keyboard were very helpful to students whose motor skills make writing very difficult. The teachers and aides also reported that the interface itself helped keep the kids engaged in writing and reading assignments when attention may otherwise have been an issue.

One girl in particular quickly went to work on the computer day after day when her aide would normally have struggled to motivate her. The students (both autistic and regular education) also found that the touch interface was much easier to navigate than the mouse or touchpad. Several of the young students using our regular labs struggle with pointing and clicking where touch simply allowed them to work. Our RTI platforms of choice (Symphony for math and Lexia for early literacy) lend themselves nicely to touch.

This is the first thing my son did as soon as he saw that I'd brought the computer home yesterday. He's been home sick for several days and jumped at the chance to get caught up in Lexia on the Classmate. He didn't bother with the keyboard; he immediately flipped the computer into tablet mode and got to work.

This form factor is so user-friendly to kids, not only because of its size and weight, but because the handle and tablet functionality invite them to perch anywhere. My little guy moved from the kitchen island where he was finishing his antibiotic/benadryl-infused juice to the living room with his brothers, happily working the whole time with his headphones on.

When he was done, he brought it out to the office so I could help him search for Bigfoot pictures and information, his latest obsession.

A couple classroom sets of these machines are certainly all I can afford this coming year and they will get used well. However, seeing how well kids attach themselves to the computers and use them naturally for both work and play, I finally see the real value of 1:1 initiatives. Give them the tools, and kids will use them well. Now we just need to make sure that everyone has access to cheap broadband so these netbooks aren't just lapbooks and we'll be golden.