“I wish I could do more technology-based lessons with my students, but there just aren’t enough devices to go around!”
While working to build a culture of teaching that embraces technology in a school, this comment comes up regularly. After all, how can students be expected to complete an assignment that requires a computer or tablet when not all students have access to devices? Only one person can be typing or clicking at a time, which means that another student may be left disengaged or in the dark.
Over the past two years, my district has given me the opportunity to pilot a Chromebook initiative in my high school Chemistry and Physics classes. However, I share my 30-device cart with another teacher, which means that I only have 15 devices in my classroom at any given time. While the limited number of devices for my students was difficult to work with at first, I was able to build a repertoire of lessons that focused on using technology to enhance the learning experience for all 24-28 students in my classroom at one time. Now, I might even venture to say that I prefer having two students per device. Here are five of the most helpful tricks I have learned.
1. Stations Labs
One of the first tricks I tried in implementing my half-cart of Chromebooks involved folding the devices into one of my favorite instructional strategies: stations labs. In a stations lab, students move in groups from station to station, spending only a few minutes in one spot. At each station, they have some challenge or question they need to answer using the materials available at that station. The Chromebooks allowed me to use some web-based resources such as interactive animations and simulators that demonstrated complex concepts that can’t be seen with the naked eye like the structure of atoms and the movement of energy. Students used the simulators, videos, and animations to answer questions, which helped them form accurate mental models of the complex concepts.
2. Collaboration Using One Device
As I mentioned, I now almost prefer having only one device for every two students in my class instead of having enough devices for everyone. After the success of the stations lab, I ventured out into creating lessons that centered around a simulator and WebQuests that involved the use of several different websites. While my students were hesitant at first in the use of one device for both students, I noticed something that I would not have seen if each student had their own device: students were communicating and collaborating with each other. The vast body of web resources provide an abundance of opportunities to build rich individual instruction in a real-world context, but making these lessons collaborative can be a much greater challenge. When two students work with one device, they are forced to communicate with each other and collaboratively come to a solution. With the right pairing system, this can lead to massive gains in learning for both struggling and excelling students alike.
3. Group Roles
Encouraged by the success of my stations labs and collaborative assignments, I began working my devices into all of my lessons. I began transitioning into a paperless environment, using Google Drive to post all of my assignments. With labs, I noticed that students began organizing themselves into roles: one student would be reading directions, one students would be writing data, and one or two students would be conducting the experiment. After a few minutes, they began to switch roles on their own accord. Translating the written directions into verbal instructions turned out to be a great way for my students to build their communication skills, as there were many instances where the students handling the materials did not understand the instructions from the reader at first. This forced the reader to rephrase the instructions in a way that the other students could more easily understand.
4. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
My school has a BYOD policy that allows students to use their own devices in the classroom at the teacher’s discretion. I noticed that several of my students were able to work their smart phones into their lessons to fill in the device gap. One student was reading or researching on the phone while another was typing or researching something different. Once again, students were forced to collaborate and communicate to build their understanding. Their devices also came in handy when I transitioned into online quizzing, giving each student the opportunity to take the quiz at the same time. While not every student will have a smart phone, my students had enough devices to cover everyone.
5. Tutorials and Homework
Having devices in the classroom also became incredibly helpful when it came to tutorials. When students dropped by before or after school for extra help, I was able to direct them to support and practice resources that I had created. I have never had more than 15 students come to tutorials at one time, which means that they are always covered. This also came in handy when I began assigning short web-based homework assignments. Those students who did not have internet access at home were able to stop in before or after school to finish the assignment.