So it has been awhile since my last Blog update, but I am hoping to change that this year. To kick things off this year, I wanted to talk about a real world deployment of classmate PCs and 1:1 learning in the US that I just got back from visiting. Intel in conjunction with Equus Computers (selling classmate PCs under their Nobi Convertible brand) and St. Paul Academyin St. Paul Minnesota recently held a press event at the St. Paul Academy (SPA) campus to talk about how they are using their Nobi Convertible classmate PCs!
So as I arrived in Minnesota (a few weeks ago) – stepped off the plane and was greeted by temperatures in the 20s and 4 feet of snow on the ground…and this after coming from 70 degrees in sunny California! But the nice thing was the greeting at SPA was warm and inviting and made the cold temperatures and snow worthwhile! The team at SPA was amazing – the focus on doing new and innovative things in education was evident all over the school – for instance, using those big exercise balls as chairs in the Math classrooms – has data to show it helps kids focus better…very cool. The other big focus was on how to integrate technology into the school to help students to learn better. This school and their deployment of classmate PCs is a fantastic example of leading with technology. Let me describe a bit about the deployment and how they are using them…
The deployment is in their 6th and 7th grades right now – about 170 units of the Nobi convertible tablet classmate PCs. The students are allowed to take the units home also so they can have access to the same tools at home as they do in school. They also keep the classmate PCs with them as they transition grades. SPA is also looking at how to move more classmates down in grades. The classmates are very actively used everyday in their Math, LASS (Language Arts and Social Science), Foreign Language (Spanish, French, German), and Science! They have a cool class called Wellology that teaches kids how to integrate using the computers into their lives…keeping a right balance with them, being safe, taking care of them and so on. In other words how to have a healthy experience with technology. Now, the really cool stuff comes from how they are used in the classrooms and what these tools enable in the students. I had the pleasure of talking in detail with Tami Brass, the schools Technology Coordinator and one of the Math/Science teachers Mrs. Collins. I got the first hand tour both from the teachers and also in observing the classrooms and the students using them. Let me share some takeaways and insights into what I saw that was cool!
The integration of using Microsoft One Note on the classmate PCs in Math to manage class notes, problem sets, and homework with real time grading. This was cool – the students would use the inking tools in One Note to take notes during Math class. Also, their homework was on worksheets in One Note that they would do right on their classmates with the touch screen and save off. These notes and homework worksheets are automatically synced between their classmate PC clients and a server so that the teacher can grade their homework and make sure they are understanding the material by looking at their notes. When the students come back to class the next day their homework automatically syncs and they can instantly see their grades and any teacher comments. All this was done with the inking tools – very cool and real time feedback. The other cool thing was watching them use some interactive math tools – the lesson I sat in on was teaching them about Tessellation using an interactive web tool from Shodor. The cool things about this was that they could use the tool in class and experiment. Doing this by hand is painful and by having access to a computer in class that was theirs, the students could experiment and try different things. What happens with the lines overlap – easy to find out! Hands on Math makes learning it so much easier!
Ok, this point was a fundamental aspect for me for the case for technology in schools. It is about watching the transformation from telling students how to do the work to giving them requirements and letting them get creative on how they accomplish the project themselves. Here is what I mean…let’s take a typical science project. A student picks an experiment and does a poster to present out results. Mrs. Collins tells me she doesn’t do that anymore! She instead tells them what they need to have in their final “report” – liken this to requirements – she doesn’t say you need to present a poster or do a report. She instead says you need to be able to convey your results to your audience. And cover certain topics for example. This then allows the presentation mechanism a child chooses to be anything that fulfills that requirement. So, some of Mrs. Collins students did their science project did some creative things; created a movie, did an interactive presentation, or created an animation with scratch! The scratch animation – scratch BTW has been optimized for running on classmate PCs – was really cool. It showed a kid eating a burger and picking up a virus. It then traced the virus through the body! Complete with sound, comedy, and awesome animations! This to me is how kids should be learning science – focus on experimentation and creativity in presentation! When we walked into a science classroom, we observed the kids doing a skin sensitivity experiment. They used the devices with science sensors attached, took the measurements, then took the data and analyzed it real time, all using their classmates. Again enabling an experiential approach to learning science.
The last class we observed was a language class, French, but this is done in all their language classes. The classmate PCs are used in this area in another interactive way. Each student can get personalized learning based on how hast they learn. With a set of headphones and a microphone, the students were learning their vocabulary words from people that natively spoke the language and were able to hear, practice, record their voice saying it and listen back to see how it sounded. Real time feedback for language and also self paced!
I always love to see classmate PCs in action in the “field” – I get first hand exposure with my two kids using them, now 10.5 and 3.5, but to go to a school and see it in full classroom adoption is very cool and SPA was no exception. Talking to the kids, seeing them using them as part of their daily routine, not a cool extra thing in class, that was impactful. Even talking to the “IT” person that manages their deployment from a supportability standpoint was very happy. She told me they hold up way better than standard PCs and that they even bought extras as loaners for when units are in repair – she uses them so little that she actually lends them out to other classrooms as regular systems and not for repairs! Love it – reduction in Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) at its best.
So, once the tour was done, I had the pleasure of sitting down with a handful of teachers and students who use the classmate PCs on a regular basis. The feedback was awe inspiring and when I asked the kids; “What does your classmate PC NOT do that you wish it could do?” – I asked this to see what we were missing and what we could do to improve the reference design for the next version…the first answer was “I wish it could FLY!” and the second answer was “I wish it could help me breathe underwater!”…HAHA I laughed out loud. Out of everything they could ask for – this is where we lack…it doesn’t fly yet! Realistically, we got some good feedback, higher resolution, slightly bigger keyboard, longer battery life…and the cool thing is everything these teachers and students said were already encompassed in the next generation convertible classmate PC design launching from our Local OEMs in Q2 this year! Well, everything except for the flying feature – that will take some further research!
I am looking forward to visiting St. Paul Academy in a few months to see what else new and exciting they are doing with their classmates – many thanks to Tami Brassand the wonderful administrators, teachers, and students that made this trip a total blast…and to the student that wanted their classmate PC to fly…we are looking into it !