Like most new school technology, teaching with netbooks is easy if you invest a little time and energy in redesigning your lessons. The payoff you and your students receive is far greater than the initial investment. Netbooks and Math
Most math teachers would agree that students develop math skills by practicing over and over again once they understand the fundamental mathematical concept. Let’s consider the addition of fractions as an example. In a conventional classroom, students are provided with direct instruction and then asked to work on problems from a textbook or worksheet to demonstrate their understanding of that concept. When all students have completed the assignment, the teacher reviews the answers with the class so that students know if they worked the problems correctly. The students who didn't “get it” are now looking at multiple wrong answers and they don’t understand what they did incorrectly. These students have just wasted all this time because they didn’t understand what they were doing, but were forced to work through all the problems regardless. After the fact, the teacher provides additional direct instruction to help those students, but now those student who did “get it” and answered the problems correctly, have to sit through an addition lesson about something they already understand. Precious instructional time is being used on reteaching struggling students.
In contrast, a classroom with netbooks embedded within the math curriculum would look quite differently. Students could initially watch an online animated movie about fractions. The teacher supports this learning by providing examples on the board and clarifying the mathematical strategies. An assignment could be given that has students practicing the skills with an online game or activity. If a student answers a problem incorrectly, the game or activity would give him or her instant feedback and instruct the student on how to obtain the right answer. All students are receiving instant feedback however that feedback is differentiated depending on whether students are typing in the correct answer or not.
Netbooks and Science
Science websites and online software are now full of incredible animations and simulations to help students understand science in ways that a few years ago we couldn't have even dreamed about. With a netbook students can then go from the simulated world to the real world by using data probes. Students can take the netbooks all over the classroom and even outside to collect and record data. Students are encouraged to use their critical thinking skills to solve complex problems by way of the netbook. Students in our netbook test classroom made animations to show alternative fuel ideas as part of their science fair projects.
ExploreLearning.com offers a huge library of interactive online simulations for math and science education for grades 3-12. They call their simulations Gizmos, all you need to do is check out a few Gizmos and you will see the power of each student being able to understand and interact for themselves as they learn new concepts. These simulations are done in ways that make concepts come alive for students making complex ideas easier to understand. Check out the 30 day free trial and you’ll see what I mean.
Netbooks and Reading
Okay, let's be honest, reading on a screen is nowhere near a good as the printed paper page. However, since we are being so honest, you cannot deny that the print world is going digital, the web is full of text, kids can do so much great reading with a netbook; current news, research topics, ebooks, etc.
For example, Raz-Kids.com is an online interactive library that provides fun and interesting ways to motivate and improve reading literacy in students in K-8. The online reading library has a collection of “listen-to” and “read-only” books. As students read or listen to books their vocabulary is increased. The website is built with automatic assessment to measure comprehension.
Netbooks and Writing
Word processing has been shown to have a very positive effect on the development of student writing skills. If you choose to have your students write using Google Docs with their netbooks, it allows the teacher to observe a student’s writing work as they progress through an assignment. You can provide feedback as they are working on the project, all without printing one page. One of the new features of Google Docs is that it allows you to add comments to a document. You can add something like "Timmy, you need to develop the topic sentence a little more," in a comment area, which the student will see on his netbook seconds after you enter it on your computer. I also like using Google Docs for peer review from classmates through online collaboration. Another feature in Google Docs that students like is Word Count, which also shows number of paragraphs, and sentences, plus average sentences per paragraph, average words per sentence, and average characters per word which allows students to set goals to improve their writing. A feature that I have just started to use more shows the Flesch Reading Ease Index and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level to help students understand their level of writing better.