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But not Least...

A School Tool

"The Kids will do it all"

I was walking Little Bear on President Street this afternoon. Suddenly, a magnified voice said, "I'll take your money." We stopped, we looked, and we listened. Then we heard, "I really want your XXXXX." Little Bear thought it was funny, and so did the Middle School boys in the 4th floor of the brownstone next to us. I thought, "Put a powerful technology in the hands of of a Middle Schooler and you get powerful fun that may not be funny to an adult."

Put a laptop in front of a Middle School student and stand back. Exploration happens. Learning happens as every menu is opened and choices are selected at random. They will do it all, all right. Every last little thing that can be done. During the first week of the first laptop rollout at Portledge School, the following occurred: one student selected and deleted all of the .dll files on his laptop; three students created bios passwords and forgot them; one laptop was spray painted black; Student A showed Student B how to download image files and by the end of the day every sixth grader had a desktop personalized with a half-naked Internet image; Student C learned how to rip sound files off of a CD, using the preinstalled software, and by the next day she and her friends were sharing entire CD's over the network; Students D and E and Teacher A broke their wireless card pins when they took the card out to see how it worked; Student F decided to market his image collection over the network; over 30% of the homework assignments created on the laptop could not be retrieved the next day; five student machines had serious virus issues due to software downloads; ten student machines had serious compatibility issues after game installations. And that is just the short list. AND yes, we did a great deal of training and preteaching. What we did not do was a good enough job with was boundaries.

The point is, obviously, that the kids WILL do it all. They do this because they are kids and most kids will explore new technologies with abandon. Relying upon them to define procedures will mean that they are guiding outcomes as well - and your control over this will be limited to cleanup. You will have Laptop Diseases. Setting boundaries and focusing exploration are jobs for the adults. A few straightforward strategies are necessary to keep "Oh no" events to a minimum. Here are some that work:

  1. Have an AUP. Excellent examples are available on the net. There is currently an active debate about "detailed vs. broad" - take a stand, but make sure everyone has it, knows about it, signs it, and then skip to #6 below to amend it.
  2. Teach first and repeatedly about file and folder management.
  3. If you provide network file servers for students, teach how to use them and require network backup of assignments.
  4. Teach about file extensions and essential system files. If you are not blocking access to the System, you have to teach about dangerous places on the HD.
  5. Explain about viruses. If you have not issued protection software, introduce students to it via websites.
  6. Meet with a group of students and work with them to develop a set of guidelines for The Desktop appearance and a list of Common Sense rules for laptop use and abuse. Students are generally more conservative than adults when they are asked for advice. Use the meeting times to sneak in education about file size, copyright issues, and the physical weakness of the laptop itself. Post the list all over the place. Send it home. Put it on the Intranet homepage. Some schools require that students sign it (on a poster, on a flyer) before they can have network access (or before they get the laptop!).
  7. Fred Bartels at Rye Country Day School makes a movie each year in which he interviews students about "disasters." It is shown at the rollout.
  8. Learn about and teach about copyright. A straightforward set of rules for image and audio downloads, game installation, and software sharing will alleviate many of the most common violations (and allow you to skirt the P-Issue rather elegantly). Even better, use the elements of the Media Awareness curriculum that fit into your teaching framework. We have made a Cyberquiz on copyright that you are free to use (the results come to us - we can show you how to make it though. Let us know if you have used it so we can pass results to you.) The message has got to be: This is a School Tool.

Expectations: I can do it all!

And once the students are following rules and guidelines, does that mean they can follow any set of teacher instructions to complete a project or activity? Not in a squirrel's eye. "I can do it all" in kidspeak translates approximately to: "I vaguely remember the project we did in the Computer Lab" OR " I have played around with this software (or with this hardware) on my own and and done some really cool things that I want to use in the project." Tables, text wrap, graphic formatting, outlining, spellcheck, margins, alignment, spacing, centering, essential questions and relevant content are probably not on the list of "cool things." Neither is a consideration for file size. Again, a simple list of guidelines can save you, and your students, frustration and lost time in the classroom:

  1. Identify the technology skills necessary for the project. Be as detailed as possible, but you do not have to reinvent the wheel. Good lists of skills can be found at:
  2. Teach the Basics before every project! If computer classes can not do the instruction, take a class period to run through the skills in a templated exercise (everyone does the same thing and the output should be the same).
  3. Create a checklist or rubric before you introduce the project. Take class time to go over it. I have often sat at the keyboard and had the students input the criteria for rubric categories. This clarifies expectations and cements them in the minds everyone (including you).
  4. The message has got to be: This is a School Tool and there will be expectations.


E. Sky-McIlvain 5/3/03