We finally rolled out our two labs of convertible Classmate PCs this week and not without a little bit of trepidation. These were being deployed as mobile labs to replace aging stationary labs in elementary schools that hadn't seen a tech refresh in years. While other schools were due last year and received four carts worth of MacBooks, these two smaller schools were the first to receive Classmates.
As I was setting up one of the carts, a parade of students back and forth from the bathroom had to stop and comment or ask questions about the diminutive machines. "They're so small!" "So are you," I'd reply. "Are those the new computers?" "Do we get to use them?" "Are they for all of us to use? Even the Kindergartners?" I even had one third-grader tell me, "My dad has a netbook; he hates it."
And so it went, even among students with their mixture of excitement and uncertainty that something so small could be worth their time in class. The wow of the tablet form factor or swiveling web cam was usually enough for naysaying second-graders. However, today I ran a hands-on training session for teachers in a K-6 school. Would they be as easy to persuade?
It turns out that the little laptops spoke for themselves. They universally cringed as I dropped a Classmate on the tile floor during my presentation (on purpose, of course, from a reasonable kid's-desk height). Probably shouldn't try that with a MacBook.
The wheels were obviously turning in the art teacher's head as she painted on a virtual canvas with ArtRage and talked about working both virtually and in real media with her students. Others were making movies with the built-in software. Still others were considering how we could use the space vacated by the old stationary lab as a technology center with a SMART board and stations for differentiated instruction using technology.
Since the aging lab was redeployed as classroom computers, I had a great discussion with the teachers about ways that we could integrate technology better into the classroom instead of simply having "computer time" = "RTI software time". Although we weren't able to afford a lot of computers (there are 30 Classmates on the cart), teachers were also already giving thought to how the spare computers could be used at any given time for students with special needs or on individual projects.
I couldn't help but walk out of the meeting excited; I don't think it's because I'm just a big geek sharing his new toys. Rather, it's because the Classmates, at half the price, add as much or more value to a classroom as the MacBooks with which they were competing. These computers weren't just one more thing the teachers needed to fit into the day. Instead, the teachers were actively planning how they might incorporate them into their classes.
I'm sure we'll run into challenges as students really begin using the Classmates seriously. I'll blog about the challenges, too, as we encounter them. However, it's very clear that the Classmates, though based on mere netbook underpinnings, are no compromise over other student computing solutions.