My friends are going back to their classrooms after the Christmas holidays. Their comments bring back many memories of my teaching experiences. One that really sticks with me was my experience in 1996, working with 4 other teachers on a 6th grade team with 125 students who all had laptops. It was a fabulous, 'cutting edge' program.
We were in awe of our new Toshiba Satellite 400 CS computers. The laptops had 8 MB of RAM (for comparison, my current laptop has 8 GB of RAM... or 1000 times the capacity of that first laptop I used) and came with a 75 MHz Pentium processor. The laptops had Windows 95 and Microsoft Office Pro. The laptops even had a modem and students could connect a wire from their laptop to their phone line at home and access the Internet (remember that fact... it is an important part of this story!)
The teachers involved in the program received laptops a few weeks before the students. We had a crash course in operating the laptops and were sent home to prepare to teach with this tool.
Oh my... I found a picture of our training session!
I'm not the guy on the right!
My colleagues and I quickly learned how to teach using laptops. We had to! It was sink or swim!
Students used their laptops for writing in all subjects; essays in Language Arts, book reports in Reading, Science Labs, Social Studies reports and journals in Math. And PowerPoint? We all became PowerPoint wizards! The Superintendent of our school district occasionally would pull one of our students from class to help him create a PowerPoint for a presentation! Excel was used in all subjects. We found many creative ways to use a spreadsheet.
Teachers and students became very knowledgeable. We went paperless! We collected student work on floppy disks... remember them? We handed out floppy disks with templates for assignments.
Then came the day that we suspected that students were sharing things, other than assignments, on floppy disks. I lectured each class about the dangers of sharing disks other than those we provided. I explained to the students that it was as bad as sharing drinking glasses.... or worse! We didn't have an anti-virus software on the computers and if you share discs that we didn't provide, your computer might catch a virus. It might get really 'sick'! I tried to dramatically show students that sharing floppy disks was the same as wiping your hand on a desk, or door, or even on the floor, and sticking it in your mouth. Ptoooey! Yuck! Germs! Your laptops could get any number of 'diseases' from disks!
Despite my warnings, some students continued to share information on disks. We thought they were sharing games that they downloaded from home (using the modem I mentioned earlier). One of my colleagues thought she saw one student slipping a disk to another, as you and I might have tried to clandestinely share a folded note. She called me over to her classroom to see if I could figure out what the students were sharing since I had more computer know-how. Imagine my surprise when instead of a silly computer game opening on the screen, I saw a Playboy calendar girl! Our adolescent boys were sharing 'dirty' pictures... not games! In fact, it turns out that one of our students had seized the entrepreneurial opportunity and was selling disks of downloaded images of boldly breasted women!
Now, picture five middle-aged women confronted with boys selling 'girly' pictures to other boys on floppy disks. Can't you just see us marching down to the Principal's office to enlist his help in our war against smut; controlling porn, and keeping adolescent boys in line? We were in a tizzy. Our principal was a very cool-headed guy (I think if you have to deal with adolescent kids you must have a source of inner calm)! He had a measured way of speaking and a delightful southern drawl that made each word he uttered last three times longer than if any other person were to speak. We marched back to our classrooms with the principal in tow to show him what the boys were sharing on their laptops. We started up the laptop and accessed the girly picture. Our wonderful principal leaned over the laptop, staring at the screen, and after a long pause finally responded, "Is thay-at awl it duh-uz?"