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The first day of any class often sets the tone of the whole run of the course. That's the time when teachers get to introduce the students to what the course is really about. What are the expectations the teacher has for the students? What are the rules students are expected to follow? And most important what will the students be learning? And how will things be taught?
Leigh Ann Sudol (I talked about her yesterday) has a post in the Computer Science Teachers Association blog last week where she talks about one of her favorite first day exercises. She has students write the directions for a paper airplane and then has them switch so that others try to follow those directions.
That's one of my favorites as well and I've used it for years. It shows students just how complicated giving instructions can be. Leigh Ann asks for other first day suggestions on the CSTA Blog and I hope others drop some by in the comments or in their own blogs linking back to there.
Which reminds me, a first day exercise that was used in a class I took a long time ago used writing instructions for tying shoes. Writing directions for that task without using pictures can be quite a challenge.
BTW I highly recommend the Computer Science Teachers Association to all teachers of computer science. If you teach computer science it is worth checking out.
[Note: There are a number of interesting suggestions in the comments of the post at the CSTA Blog. ]
You really have to be careful about letting students use computer/network chat programs in school. I mean you hear it all the time. If you let them run chat programs they'll do all sorts of talking behind your back. Who knows what they'll be talking about. You can't have that sort of thing going on. No no no. One person at a time talking and most of the time that should be the teacher who of course knows everything. You've heard all that right? I have.
But as the Cool Cat Teacher Vicki Davis found out recently one real risk is that students might learn something. Something you want them to learn.
Take a look at this blog post. Read the post but the short version is that she set up a chat room for the students in her class to chat about what was going on in class. What happened was that the kids learned more. They asked each other questions and answered them. Students who seldom spoke up or participated in class discussions participated in the chat version of the discussion. And the teacher had a better idea of what the students did and did not understand.
Really does it get much better than that? I hardly think so. Oh it wasn't perfect and there are still issues to work out in the process but it looks pretty good so far.
While I am not a fan of just dropping computers into a school and expecting miracles I do believe that with the right training, preparation and supportive teachers and administration things can work out well.
Recently I heard from Robert Carlson at the Thomas Jefferson School, an independent day school in Joplin Missouri. They have a pretty impressive technology program that includes Tablet PCs.
All high school students are issued their own Tablet PC for full time use. Middle school students share Tablets at school during the course of the day. Elementary school students use Tablet PCs in specific classes with fifth graders getting extra time as they prepare for middle school.
The purpose of the Tablets is to be tools for learning "regular" subjects rather than to teach technology itself. That is how I really think things should be. Students learn a lot of technology on their own but at this school they are also taught the specific skills and tools to use with other subjects.
They use OneNote for note keeping. Personally I have been telling people for a while that if my son was a student today OneNote is the very first software I would install on his computer. Note taking is quite important and a tool like OneNote allows students to organize and search their notes easily. Between the search capability (even of hand written) notes and the natural style of folders and tabs I think OneNote is a pretty powerful tool for students.
Teachers all received training in the Tablets included "troubleshooting their tablets, student tablets, and student/faculty connections to the wireless projectors in each classroom." I love the idea that they have wireless projectors in each classroom BTW. I can't imagine teaching without a good projector these days. The ability to move around the room that a wireless connection allows gives even more flexibility.
And the teachers have support that includes documented processes for getting started each day and generally making the technology work. It seems like a good system from what I've heard so far.