21st Century Computer Lab for an Elementary School

This post is a commentary on the future of Computer Labs as well as a "cry" for your input on what you believe a 21st Century C-Lab should look like. This will also become the first in a series of posts regarding a major transformation both physically and philosophically within our school. We are remodeling our school. I am going to re-purpose and re-structure our lab. I am not 100% confident that I am going in the right direction...this is a bit of a risk. You're input here would be of great value...

First, the Background:
Our Mac-district is faced with many cuts. The PC is a more affordable product. But if anyone tries to sell you on a PC only school, it's because they just don't get it. You just can't replace a mac (yet anyway). A really good school is one that is integrated with both platforms. Being one-sided in technology limits productivity and confines the learning to only certain types of instruction.

PC's are much better than Macs when connecting with SmartBoards. We have PC's and Macs at our school, as well as a full compliment of SmartBoards. The complaints on connectivity with the SmartBoard come from Mac users. PC's are also the tool that brings us to the web with a more affordable price-tag.

Macs are better than PC's for the iLife-creativity component. There is no match for podcasting with GarageBand. Use both platforms and you'll be very effective.

Second: Where are we headed?
Our world is becoming the Web. The tool to get their is a laptop with fast, reliable wireless access. I had an issue with connectivity to the internet at my home. While Qwest was working on the issue, I didn't even open my computer till it was fixed. As schools, we are moving that direction. We are beginning to move away from local software and moving towards 100% web-life: Internet subscription vs local software. Of course, this is all dependent upon bandwidth.

The next rush in technology will be towards tablet technology. To interact directly on the screen has fantastic advantages. The M&A Companion Touch is a tablet/netbook. The screen pops-off of the laptop and becomes a wireless tablet. One example of it's use:
I see students using the touchscreen to brainstorm their ideas, publish their writing as they type up their ideas, and then using the tablet to illustrate their work. Could this become the next Computer Lab?

Third: The Computer Lab:
In our building, I am pushing for a wireless lab. Everything we have done in the last 3 years can be done on laptops...it's not like the high-schools where they are using graphic-design intensive programs that would require computers with a bit more muscle. Our district is in the process of updating all computer labs. One option I am considering is the replacement of desktops for laptops with tablet technology.

The environment of the computer lab would also change:
All the rows of desks that housed the Desktops will be replaced with round tables, chairs that fit the older and younger students, bean bags and a long "work bench" along one wall. The environment that suits the teacher's needs (nice & neat long rows of computers where students work in isolation) will be replaced with a student centered, 21st Century approach: It needs to be comfortable and collaborative. I am arguing (but not 100% sure) that the environment should reproduce the productivity model that many successful businesses use. Google Corporation found that if you create an environment where employees can work in a relaxed atmosphere AND is also designed to facilitate a collaborative workplace, than productivity rises exponentially. So why not apply that to the classroom? Kids will be able to sit together and build their projects. They will also have options to work independently. I will have a long work-bench of desktops along the wall (Nine, 2-year old iMacs ...I just can't let go of these beauties). Thus giving us the capacity for using GarageBand for Podcasting purposes. The rest of the room will be open tables/sitting areas for wireless PC laptop tablets. My thinking is that by going wireless it may also give classrooms access to the technology. Since this room is wireless, it will become a multi-purpose room. It does not need to just be a C-Lab. Imagine teachers sending groups of kids down to work on projects: kids sitting and working together to build their knowledge and products. This gives the Computer Lab teacher and the Classroom teacher more access to the student and small group instruction. It also can be a place where teachers can easily bring their class down to research...heck, even just a place to get away and READ with an actual book! If the Lab has a SmartBoard, it would be the perfect training room for teachers. Potentially a resource center? Anway, we'll see what actually happens.

The purpose of this endeavor is to promote a workplace conducive to collaboration and productivity. We are very fortunate to have access to a supportive district that believes 21st Century environments will change how instruction is delivered and how learning is acquired.

I am no expert in this arena. This is an exploration. I am still growing this new species of Computer Lab environments. Not sure how it will look like when it has matured. Please help me by adding your thoughts. Thank you for your time! I will continue to post as we move into the construction stage of our school. I will post all issues we come across and will speak honestly about how this all pans out. Construction time-line: We will begin in May and end in August.....(yeah, right)

Nate Krulish
Technology Specialist
Meadow Point Elementary

Views: 809

Tags: 21st, Century, Computer, Lab, elementary, netbooks, remodel, tablets, technology

Comment by Rob Mosteller on January 27, 2010 at 4:28am
HI Nate-
You ideas sound great. I am envious of your two platform school. We are a PC platform school and I agree with you that we are missing a great opportunity to "teach" by using both PC's and Macs. I have always asked the question: Why don't schools have access to the latest technologies? After all, who will be using and evolving with these tools? I know the answer is money, but as we are seeing, there are a lot of great free apps out there in the cloud, so maybe we are seeing a paradigm shift there.. I look forward to hearing more about your progress, especially how your "Google" layout approach will work. We recently moved into a brand new building and I was hopeful that the design and construction of the classrooms would be based on a 21st century model. Unfortunately, with so many moving parts associated with the construction of the school and little input from us at the local level we were presented basically with the same classroom I sat in as a student 30 years ago. This in not to say we don't have LCD projectors in all classrooms and multiple drops as well, but the drops are all located in the same "outlet" plate which really constricts how the classroom can be arranged for one activity and re-arranged for another.

Good Luck and keep us posted.

Rob Mosteller
Local School Technology Coordinator
Comment by Nate Krulish on January 28, 2010 at 9:13pm
Thanks Rob for your comments. It must be drivin' you nuts that you are in a brand new school that has the same layout as a 30-year-old school. I swear, if they put drops right in the middle of the room, I'm bringing my Milwaukee Sawzall to work.

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