Over the last year and a half our school has been going under “Modernization”. As a result of the classroom upgrades, my classroom moved into a new and very large computer lab classroom in February. Very large as compared to the last computer lab which was housed in a portable. In addition to teaching computer classes in this lab I also teach Algebra. During the 2008-09 school year the students used their online version of the textbook to begin their homework insead of getting out a traditional paper book. We experimented with using the PowerPoint presentations as lectures during the second semester. Students were still taking notes “the old-fashioned way,” using pencil and paper.
I’m concerned with the amount of time it actually takes students to copy down notes and examples into their notebook. In my previous computer classroom the students had tables in the room to take notes on. During last semester, after moving into the new computer classroom, I noticed that students were constantly turning from the front of the room to look at the projection screen or whiteboard then back to where they were writing their notes. I did not feel that I had the students undivided attention. This may have always been the case. It was just a bit disconcerting to see the students’ heads constantly turning to get the notes/examples written in the notebooks. Realizing this I thought back to a traditional classroom setup with student desks lined up in columns. I wondered if the students were as divided in their attention then. From a couple of conversations with students this was confirmed.
Over the summer break I made a decision to try to alleviate this division in the students’ attention. The students should feel more involved and hopefully learn more by engaging in conversation with the class about the concepts and examples. The examples that are used in our text’s PowerPoint presentations are the same as the textbook. This saved me some considerable time. I did not have to create the PowerPoint presentation. These presentations are available from the publisher’s website for the students and parents to view.
So, this school year I’m not using the whiteboard to show examples on a daily basis. I’m using the PowerPoint presentations almost exclusively. Since the examples in the presentation are the same as in are shown in the textbook, students do not need to divide their attention between writing the examples down and conversing about the concepts. Any extra concepts, or concepts I wish to explain a little differently from the text, I just create my own presentation that I’ll post on the online gradebook for the students to download.
More importantly the online textbook gives the students the ability to type notes on the pages of the text. These notes consist of statements I instruct the students to put there, questions the students have from their pre-reading, statements other students said that explained the concept in a way that made the student taking the notes understand, etc. The notes students take are saved on the publisher’s website. Students access their textbook after logging in to the site. The notes students take are there for the entire time their login is active. The only downside of this is that once their login is no longer active the student loses access to their notes.
Students in my Algebra classes are not required to take notes using the online textbook. They may use pencil and paper if they choose. Not all students have a computer with internet access at home. This may be a time to talk about one laptop per student, but I’ll refrain. As I explained to the students during the first week of school and to the parents on Back-to-School night, I think there is a distinct advantage to not be constantly copying notes/examples while trying to listen to a teacher and classmates while trying to formulate questions to ask about the concept. I’m hoping that students will leave class with more questions answered about the algebraic concepts they are learning than in previous years.
So far this year I’ve noticed a reduction in homework questions with similar exam scores as in previous years. On a funny note, the only drawback to this online textbook is they have a highlighter in addition to the note taking ability. Some students do tend to play with the highlighter when they are supposed to be working on their homework. Although I wish this would not happen it is much better than students marking up a paper textbook. I only have six copies of the Algebra textbook in my room. All other teachers on my campus have a full class set of 36-37. The texts in my room are still in pristine shape after a year and a half. Students still have a paper notebook they bring to class. The notebook is used to try guided practice examples and their homework. Now student notebooks last 2-3 times as many days as before without the notes/examples in them.
I’m sure there are many ideas I have not stated here. Ideas both pro and con about doing away with pencil and paper note taking. I only have experience with the text my district uses. I’m sure other publishers have online texts with many of the same capabilities as the text we use. I do not wish to advertise one publisher over another, so I’ve not stated which text we use. Please comment and ask questions.