Suspending the ‘micro-moments’ to actually think!

In my classroom today I find that the more students use technology, the poorer their note-taking skills have become. The majority of resources I present to my students are in electronic format. When asked to make notes, I find that the students tend to copy and paste sentences and phrases without little thought for layout and organization. When asked later to recall, students tend to just read from their notes without any deep understanding of what they have jotted down. Technology is not a substitute for thinking and I need to correct this; not only is the thinking time reduced but also the very act of writing the notes has been removed; and most worrying, the problem of plagiarism creeps in.

So how to we ensure that students develop good note-taking skills effectively using laptops?  Luckily for me I get in-class support from the ESOL department from Pat Bradley. I see this as a great partnership; Pat is able to offer a wide range of great strategies and I find ways to implement these in our 21st Century classroom. Here is an outline of a model we used in class with our new set of Grade 11 ITGS students – we were discussing keypads at ATMs:

  1. We tend to use web-based or electronic resources. By viewing the web-page in Safari, or a PDF document in Apple’s Preview, you can right-click on any work and the dictionary definition will appear. A great tool not just for our ESOL learners.

    Right-click in Preview for the dictionary definition
  2. We have students read a section at a time. Some students read ahead giving the others times to read. Once all had read the section, we close, yes – close, our laptops. We suspend those ‘micro-moments’ to actually think!
  3. Using the IWB (or lots of colored whiteboard pens) we brainstorm the key words and main ideas of each section. As our class is about the use of Information Technology, we tend to discuss technical terms, and this allows students to to add their own information so that the key points are expanded and become more detailed as well as give the students a sense of ownership.

    Brain storming on the IWB - keypads at ATMs
  4. Students then discuss the key points in small groups; this is very important for ESOL students as it helps with fluency and prevents regurgitation of meaningless set of words and phrases.
  5. Finally, students open their laptops, fire up Evernote and type up their notes using the prompts on the board.

Points to ponder:

  • What technology tools do you use to help students in note-taking?
  • Do you think that technology erodes thinking time?

The Annual Laptop Rollout

All students have a WAB customised Macbook complete with screen savers

We’ve just had the annual MacBook rollout  with 150 Middle and High school students picking up new laptops – the majority of which are new to WAB and more importantly, new to Mac.  As usual, all the students wanted to do was to get the MacBook home and start to play. Our goal was to persuade them to stay for an additional 20+ minutes of instructional orientation so that they can hit the ground running on the first day back.

This is my third annual rollout and we pretty much know what we need to impart. Here is our essential list:

  1. Getting connected to the Internet at home. After all, our students really want to get connected to Facebook 24/7 and even though it’s blocked here, we are pretty sure they’ll find a way to get through!
  2. WAB Online resources, specifically WAB online email and Moodle which is our virtual learning environment. Students need to know the lingo such as ‘enrollment key’ as many teacher will have the Moodle courses ready to go from lesson 1.
  3. Mac 101 – a crash course on how to use the Mac – a quick tour of the dock, finder and spotlight – and for the PC users, how to ‘right-click’. Organisation – not always a strong point with students – however as a 1:1 school with very few paper resources, students need to learn from day 1 how to make folders and store files appropriately so we feel 5 minutes investment of time to demonstrate is crucial.
  4. Backup – we encourage all students to buy external hard drives and use Time Machine. We also use the mantra ‘Back up before your pack-up’ using Dropbox, a USB memory stick or the very least, email the document to themselves!
  5. And finally and new this year, the introduction of Evernote, which takes the pain out of backing up as it automatically syncs to the cloud and helps with organisation with notebooks (folders) and tagging.

All this in 20 minutes….

Tom (MS Integrator) and Madeleine (me) delivering the essential information

We also added a word of warning to parents about losing their child to the world of cyberspace. Last year our advice was to remove the power cable – after two hours the battery would be empty and there would be a good chance of some sleep! This year, this is not the case as the battery life is probably longer than a night’s sleep – so our advice to parents is to have all communication devices out of the bedroom and on the dining room table overnight! Good luck with that one….