This has been a nasty winter here in New England and across the country. As of right now, we're going to be in school until June 29th and, given that we have a couple more months of winter (OK, this is Massachusetts, so a few more months of winter), I think we're going to have some more snow days. Contractually, the teachers can't be here past June 30th, so what does that mean for instruction?
We lost 6 days due to an ice storm right before our holiday break, so the kids were out of school for over 3 weeks before we came back Monday. This sort of disruption hurts everybody involved. Yet we largely have the tools to mitigate disruptions and keep kids engaged, even outside of school. We just need the money and wherewithal to go with the tools.
Here is where 1:1 computing really starts to show what it could be worth. Not during a snowstorm necessarily, but as we struggle to keep kids working and learning when the walk out of the classroom. One of my kids received a happy holidays card from his AP Psychology teacher over our extended break including a new research project to have completed by the time he returned. A clever strategy that worked well for the AP kids, but probably not so much for the general student population.
Our cellular network is becoming increasingly robust. What if every kid in your school could be provided with a cheap netbook (netbooks with small solid state drives are quickly approaching the $200 mark) with cellular access to data? How about a social network then built around classes and activities? Could we keep working and interacting if they were doing it via a Facebook-like interface?
Obviously I don't expect kids to suddenly begin collaborating and yearning to learn with the same fervency the demonstrate for MySpace. I do think, though, that if kids know to check their school social network with the same regularity that they check their Facebook, we provide them the tools to do so, and teachers embrace the tools to disseminate information, questions, and assignments, we'll be a long ways towards realizing the potential of 1:1.
All of this requires money, of course, but our government seems to be throwing around billions like loose pocket change. I think we could find some subsidies and kickbacks for the wireless providers, don't you?
More and more, I'm coming to believe that social networks are a brilliant platform for extended learning time and school-home connections. Kids respond to them and communicate more in the semi-anonymous, asynchronous space of social networks than they ever do in person. Let's put together the ecosystem of hardware, online applications, and teacher training to leverage this.