I just found out that my book that I wrote and published last year is now available as an ePub book in Apple iBookStore. It was a cool little surprise.
- Brad Flickinger, Bethke Elementary School
When it comes to netbooks it seems that every computer manufacturer is getting in on the action. All the big players such as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Intel are now making netbooks, which explains why netbooks are one of the top selling computers. The specifications on these netbooks from these different companies and the differences between models can make it very confusing for the average teacher or school to pick the netbook that is right for their students. The following items are some things to consider to help you choose the best netbook for your school or classroom.
Netbooks vs Notebook
There are some people who argue that with the cost of some netbooks being around $350 that schools should just buy a full-size notebook computer for about $100 more. However, price isn’t the only criteria to consider when buying a netbook. Size of the netbook is a critical component of success in the classroom. Smaller sized elementary students seem to fit the netbooks a lot better than a full-sized laptop. An additional plus for the smaller sized netbooks is that the netbook fits on student desks with greater ease. With a netbook on a desk there is still plenty of room for a textbook, but if you have a full-size notebook computer, there is really only room for the computer and nothing else.
Windows vs Linux
Netbooks that we tested usually came in two flavors: Windows or Linux operating systems. We chose the Windows system for two major reasons: compatibility with existing software and the current Wi-Fi system. One aspect to consider is how many educational software titles exist within each operating system.
All netbooks have smaller keyboards than regular sized laptop computers however, this doesn’t mean that all netbook keyboards are the same. For example, the Asus models have very small keys with some of the keys in different locations and different sizes than a traditional keyboard. On one Asus model, the right shift key was about half the size compared to what it traditionally would be, plus the keys were so small that a regular-sized adult hand could not effectively type on this size of keyboard. These netbooks were designed for young students, who by the way, get used to the small keyboard quite quickly. Within a week or two, elementary students didn’t even notice the size of the keys and this smaller size did not affect their typing speed. If you are considering netbooks for an elementary school, small keyboard size might not be an issue. However, if you are looking at netbooks for a middle school, this would definitely be an area of concern since there are several students in the eighth grade that are just as big as an adult and have adult-sized hands. In our opinion, the best keyboards for larger middle-school sized hands were the Dell, Intel, Acer, and HP models with a slight preference for HP. I even found myself easily adjusting to the slightly smaller keyboards of these models and students were not even phased when coming from a full-size keyboard to a netbook keyboard on these models.
The size of netbooks vary a little from manufacturer to manufacturer and from model to model. Basically there are 7 inch netbooks, 9 inch netbooks, and 10 inch netbooks. The sizes refer to the diagonal measurement of the screen of the netbook. The best size netbooks for schools are the 10 inch models. Keep in mind, the actual total size of one 10 inch screen netbook may be different from another 10 inch screen netbook. For example, the 10 inch Acer Netbook is about an inch wider than the Asus. So even though both models might be 10 inches diagonally at the screen, the Acer netbook is bigger. A larger sized netbook means that you have a larger keyboard which in turn makes all the difference in the world when you compare these two models.
When choosing netbook software, one important aspect to remember is that almost every netbook has the screen resolution of 1024 by 600. There are some software programs that simply will not work on these smaller sized screens. Double check before buying any software.
Processors, Hard Drives and Memory
Processors are the speed at which your Netbook performs. I would not recommend that you buy a netbook that has a processor speed less than a 1.6 GHz. When we have tested models with processors speeds at less than 1.6 GHz’s, they were simply not worth the savings in money. However, netbooks that operated at 1.6 GHz seemed to be acceptable. We tested the 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor and the netbook literally operated at the same speed as most laptops. Most adult testers didn’t notice a speed difference between their regular laptops and the test netbooks.
Since netbooks were supposed to be “network notebooks,” many early manufacturers only put small solid state drives (SSD) in their netbooks instead of a real hard drive (HD). This was done to save money and because it was thought that netbooks would only be used to perform online tasks. While SSDs are fast and great for holding an operating system, they do not provide much room for anything else. In many instances, you may want to put more things on your netbook, including Google Earth and some photos for a project. Because of this need, I recommend selecting an HD that is at least 100 GB. By having this much space, students can temporarily store photos, music and videos on the netbook HD and transfer them to Adrive or a server when they are done.
The question to answer when asking which batteries to buy is how will the netbooks be used on a daily basis within the classroom? There are two basic types of batteries; the three cell battery and the six cell battery. The three cell battery will give you about 2 and a half hours of operating time and the six cell battery will give you nearly 6 hours. Since most schools are open for six hours a day people tend to think that they need the six cell battery. However, students will rarely need to use their netbooks continually for six hours during the day. With just a little planning, most schools can operate using the three cell battery with no impact on instruction. To clarify this rationale, refer back to the typical netbook day to see how many times the netbooks were returned to their chargers during the day. By purchasing the three cell model instead of the six cell model, schools will save money on the overall price per netbook resulting in substantial saving. This means that school could purchase more netbooks with the savings.
Typically, most districts will not allow teachers or principals to buy netbooks personally and bring them directly into the classrooms to be used. Instead, netbooks will probably have to be taken to your IT department where they will make an “image” of the perfect netbook computer. This image is then copied to all the rest of the netbooks for your school. Teachers will want to think carefully about what they want included on that image. The image includes everything from installed software to the settings in Windows. Each school and district is a little different so teachers will have to spend some time considering this. Preplanning will be critical at this stage since if your school has already paid for a license to a particular math program, you will want that program installed on the original image. Remember, netbooks do not have a CD drive.
Installing applications on a netbook can be rather tricky since it does not have a CD drive. The easiest solution is to just buy an external USB CD drive to use for installations. Another option is to just buy the digital downloadable version of an application instead of the CD version. This way you just download the install file to the netbook and continue with the install process. Some IT techs install directly from a district server and others install from USB flash drives that they have copied the application install file to. Installing applications is usually something that needs to be pre-approved through most IT departments so check before continuing with this activity.
Having the right subscription with your netbooks increases their value exponentially. I know that is a bold statement but there is incredible curriculum subscriptions for netbooks that has changed our way of viewing netbooks as student’s tools for learning. Here is an example of one subscription services that was critical to the success of our netbooks within classrooms.
Atomic Learning provides video step-by-step tutorials for just in time training. Imagine being a teacher who has now been thrown into the world of netbooks computers and is having to be a part-time tech teacher to all their netbook students. Many questions can arise such as “How do you make a graph in Excel?”, “How do you make a bullet point list in Word?” and “How do I save this document in a different format?”
With Atomic Learning, all we had to do is log in and then find the short video tutorial (usually under 3 minutes) to show exactly what to do. We could even display the video up on the LCD projector for our students to follow along. Atomic Learning has literally thousands upon thousands of video tutorials. The video tutorials can be “assigned” to students, so that they can learn at their own time and pace.
Atomic Learning also provides something called Lesson Accelerators which are pre-made lessons about using technology in the classroom. Teachers that were wanting to accelerated their students’ 21st Century Skills assigned these lessons to students to increase their capacity. Atomic Learning has also recently added an entire section dedicated to teaching and embedding 21st Century Skills in the classroom.
The concept of a netbook is that you use it online — all the time. Which means that many applications that used to be installed on our computers now live online in the “cloud.” This is why Google Docs is used so much in a netbook classroom, but what about other applications? Let’s says, for example that you need to edit a photo. Just go to a free photo editing website like www.Picnik.com and upload your photo, edit it, and then download it back to your netbook, done. That is cloud computing, see my website link at the end of this book for more examples of this.
Optimizing a Netbook
There are a few tricks to optimize your netbook to meet the needs of students. Regarding the track pad on the netbooks, we disabled the tap feature that allows students to tap their track pad rather than clicking the button. We found that tapping the track pad was very confusing to elementary school students so we disabled it. We also slowed down the speed of the pointer and the double-click speed. We made changes to the Internet Explorer so that it had minimal menus as screen real estate is such a premium on a netbook you do not need to waste it on things like a Google bar or tabs. As a bonus, the new Internet Explorer does have a full screen option (F11) which allows students to see a lot more of a website by going to full screen mode. It also includes a zoom feature, so if students need to they can zoom out to see the entire web page. Mind you, on a netbook screen, the text will now appear very tiny. Another way to increase screen capacity on the small netbooks is to set the task-bar at the bottom to auto hide.
Near Paperless Teaching with Netbooks
By using Google Docs and emails, a teacher can almost teach without printing documents. Teaching students about having an environmentally responsible classroom is just one aspect of being a 21st Century student. As educators, it is very easy to print reams and reams of paper. Instead of printing projects to turn in, a netbook classroom teacher can check student work on a screen.
Let’s see how a nearly paperless assignment might continue. Let’s say that the student’s assignment was to gather information about the red-eyed tree frog. The teacher starts off by sending an email to all the students (a distribution list set up in his or her email program) which sends all the students to a Google Doc worksheet. This worksheet asks the students questions about the frog that they need to research on the Internet. This document also contains the list of tasks that the student is to complete such as obtaining three photos and a map showing where the frog’s habitat is and a short video about the frog which is found on SchoolTube.com. Since the teacher is set up on each student’s worksheet as a collaborator, there is nothing to turn in and revisions can be done as many times as needed. When the student is done, they add the word “final” to their file name and the teacher will know that the grading can begin. To conclude the project, the teacher uses a Google Docs “form” to test for retention (i.e. a quiz without paper).Read More
This book was developed with a “one to one” school initiative in mind (i.e. every student in the class has their own netbook). This does not include the idea that netbooks are shared among classrooms or grade-levels via a portable cart. In a one to one vision, netbooks are stored in a classroom. Therefore, the teacher needs to choose a location that is convenient for his or her students to get to multiple times per day. There also needs to be a power outlet in close proximity so that all the chargers can be plugged in. Sufficient room to store the headphones also needs to be considered.
We have found the most affordable and easy way to store netbooks is in plastic bins or tubs on a set of shelves or a cart. We drilled holes in the back of the bins and marked each hole with the corresponding number to match the netbooks. We then put the charger cords through the holes then plugged all the chargers in to power strips and we were ready to go. Most netbooks come with a storage sleeve which we have the students put the netbooks back into when they put them in the bins and attach them to the chargers.
The best solution, if you can afford it, would be cubbies. In this setup, every cubby could hold a netbook and headphones. There would of course have to be a charger cord in each cubby. The cubbies should also be lockable so that the netbooks are secure.
There is no doubt that 24-30 chargers can make a spaghetti mess of electrical wires behind the bins. Try to wrap the wires to make them and the bricks as neat and compact as possible. Splitting the netbooks into two locations is a good idea since one electrical circuit might not be enough to handle all the chargers.
The headphones we got came with 7 foot cords. This required us to tie a knot into each cord, turning them into three-foot cords instead. The best solution for headphone storage is to either have the students put them in their desks, or have a wall of hooks that they can hang their headphones on. The headphones should be numbered and assigned to a specific student.
Your wireless classroom
You do not want to have network wires running to every netbook, instead you need Wi-Fi in your classroom. This is something that I’m sure your district has policies for, if not plans for doing in the immediate future if it is not already installed. Most schools around the country are being converted to have Wi-Fi networks. If your school does not have Wi-Fi, talk to your district IT department about how to make it possible. It might be as easy as plugging in a $100 Wi-Fi hub into your current network jack in your classroom.
Although we will talk later on about running a near paperless netbook classroom you will always need to have a printer in your classroom. We recommend a black and white network laser printer. Make sure it is a network printer. These typically cost around $300.
Netbooks and USB Flash Drives
Students and flash drives drive me crazy, that is because students loose and wreck these little drives so easily. I have heard everything from, “My dog chewed it,” to, “It went through the washer and dryer and now it doesn’t work.” It is my suggestion that you stay away from flash drives. Instead, have the students save their files to a school server or an external Internet storage location. If your students are using Google Docs, then all of their documents (like reports, presentations and spreadsheets) are already stored online.
A company called Adrive.com provides 50 GB of online storage for free, which is so much more space than a 2 GB losable flash drive. When my students work on big files like movies, they keep all the files on the netbook while they are working on it, and then when they are done they export it as a smaller file and store the final copy on their Adrive account.
Each month our students follow a maintenance checklist to keep their netbooks in optimal running condition. They check for damage, blow out the ports, and clean the netbook. We have found that having the students maintain their own netbooks really gives them ownership and responsibility for it, which we find true for most pieces of school technology. Furthermore it saves us from having to pay a tech from the IT department to do it.Read More
Let’s look at each skill and how netbooks can help students obtain these important skills. As we have mentioned before on this blog, the best way to develop these skills in students is to embed them into your instruction. In one of our netbook test classroom, we challenged teachers to embed 21st Century Skills into a book report assignment. Here is what they came up with for each of the skill areas:
Creativity and Innovation
Students were asked to create a book report video, where they acted out the favorite part of the book they had just read. They worked in teams of two and took turns in front of and behind the camera. A handwritten rough draft was then typed in to Google Docs as a final script, which was approved by the teacher before they picked up a video camera.
Communication and Collaboration
Students worked with other teams in the class to ensure that everyone did not report on the same part of the book. The final videos were uploaded to the school server so that other students using the library could have access the video book reports.
Research and Information Fluency
Students had to research and develop an outline to guide the video book report. Each outline had to cover background information on the author and information about any other books the author had written.
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making
Questions were added to the video book report project to encourage students to think deeper about the book they reported on. Questions such as, “If you were the author, how would you have written this story differently?” or “What would have happened to the main character if he or she would have chosen a different path to follow?”
Students made sure that they used proper citation for all quotes and images in their report. They also obtained a signed parent or guardian release form so that they could post their videos on the Internet. As part of the project, students filled out an Internet Risk Report, which helps students establish safe Internet practices.
Technology Operations and Concepts
Student had to learn about editing and shooting video, as well as, script writing to complete the project. They simply followed the step-by-step tutorials on AtomicLearning.com to learn these new skills. By following an online lessons, each team could work at their own pace. This also proved helpful when it came to sharing resources like the video camera since each team needed to use it at different times rather than at the same time.
You can see from the above examples just how important netbooks have become to the world school technology.Read More
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.Read More