Stars are spinning around my head

That’s the image of me which you should have in your head right now. We’re just over halfway through the first term, and the workload has been massive. This has been my first opportunity to poke my head out of the water and say “hi”.

So, hi. 🙂

It has been an exhausting first half of term one. I’ve been asking colleagues whether they’ve been feeling the pinch as well, just to make sure it’s not my imagination, and they confirm: the last five weeks have hit us all like a freight train.

One of the (several) new things going on lately has been the recent roll-out of laptops for students in years 9 and 10. For those year levels, we have therefore been in the process of adapting to the delivery of a 1:1 curriculum. Some of us are finding it easier than others.

Oddly enough, I find myself being extremely conservative and cautious at this initial stage. So far, I have had only one lesson where I have allowed my students to use their laptops, and that was on a day where I was absent and I set some work online. That was for a music class. For maths, I haven’t allowed it yet at all.

It’s not that I’m against 1:1. Are you kidding? I’m a total geek and I love working with technology. I really look forward to using laptops in lessons when I feel that I’ve laid enough of the proper groundwork. But I don’t want them to totally take over and be used indiscriminately, as a be-all-and-end-all.

Part of the problem is the fact that it’s early days. We’ve never had this before, so it’s all still novel. As far as many students are concerned, we’ve just handed each of them one more way to “plug in” and feed their addiction. Getting some of them to think of a laptop as a learning tool and not just a mobile entertainment unit can be quite a trick.

So I’ve been working on instilling this expectation in my students: have the laptops there, ready and available, but only for exercises and tasks which I specifically set. Part of that process has been to require students to have their laptops with them but closed, for whole lessons at a time.

So what’s the use of having them there? Plenty, but I want my students to have the habit of not expecting to stare at a screen all lesson.

Working with laptops seems to be much like working with glockenspiels. Anyone who has ever tried to teach with thirty glockenspiels can attest to this fact: as long as you’re talking to the class, those things need to be closed. Not “there and open”. Closed. They get opened and played only on direct instructions.

Laptops are also extremely noisy, though not precisely in the same way. In fact, the very nature of laptops means that they can each be fifty times as noisy as fifty glockenspiels put together, yet not make a single sound. They are capable of creating all kinds of mental – and emotional – noise, which makes it next to impossible for a student to concentrate on anything you might wish for them to learn.

So my exercise with them lately has been to start by filtering out a bit of the noise. I guess what I’m trying to teach them at this early stage – while it’s all still a novelty – is a measure of self-discipline. I have students who sit down and automatically open their laptops, and they are told very firmly to close them up.

They must find that frustrating, to say the least. The addictive nature of technology for those who are susceptible has been documented, and statistically there’s a good possibility that at least one or two of them must feel like they’re breaking out into a cold sweat.

So be it.

Not that I don’t sympathize. Skyrim is my personal fix at the moment. There are times when I really do have to grab myself by the scruff of the neck and force myself to turn the game off so I can get lessons prepared for tomorrow, or just so I can get a good night’s sleep. It can be hard to do: slaying dragons and defeating deathlord draugrs feels so much better than marking test papers or doing laundry. I feel way more powerful when I can fire ice spikes or balls of flame from my bare hands to kill a frost troll. Somehow wielding a red pen just doesn’t feel quite so…cool.

As far as laptops in the classroom are concerned, I still feel the need to prepare myself further for 1:1 delivery before I let students go ahead. If laptops are going to be used, the purpose needs to be clear, and the content needs to be specifically created for delivery through technology in its original form – not just a “digital version” of something I can find readily available elsewhere.

I’m waiting with bated breath for Musescore, Staff Wars, and Acid Xpress to be installed on them all. I’m looking through my links library and putting together a suite of web resources which don’t cause too much hassle for the school’s network filter and download speed. I’m also nosing around for some good maths and logic games and tools for my maths class (if you know any good ones, please pass them on!).

Once these are in place, hopefully together with some expectation on the part of the students for purposeful, balanced and discriminate use, we can open up the laptops.

About Gabrielle Deschamps

I'm a secondary music teacher, interested in music technology and its integration into classroom pedagogy.

View all posts by Gabrielle Deschamps

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2 Comments on “Stars are spinning around my head”

  1. David Haas Says:

    Hi,
    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could email me?
    David

    Reply

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