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Connecting One-to-One to the World: The Importance of Project-Based Learning

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
Related Tags: Education Trends, All Grades
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A school district I am working with is moving very cautiously and purposefully toward one-to-one implementation in its high school in fall 2007. It will distribute carts of iBooks to four classrooms by way of a pilot program a full year before the rest of the school comes on board.

This summer, I am going to work with these four teachers and others around the design of technology-rich projects that leverage the potential of the tools and the power of connecting kids to things that are real. This district understands that unless you change the pedagogy and engage kids and teachers in opportunities for project-based learning, you will never fully realize the potential of a one-to-one implementation and never leverage the power to engage all students and bridge the all-too-common gap between community and school.

But one of the teachers, Dave Ehrhart, a veteran social studies teacher, has already moved ahead with a project that seems to me to be a model of the kinds of things now possible.

One of his classes is Current Events, and he has established a connection with a past student who is a soldier in Iraq. His kids are able to post messages to this soldier from the classroom, as well as participate in videoconferences from which they are getting the inside story on today's news from, quite literally, the front lines.

In a posting dated March 2, 2006, the soldier says, "Yesterday we (my team) were escorting a general around our area when my truck got hit by an IED. We also had several IA (Iraqi Army) trucks with us. We followed our training and handled the initial issues accordingly. When we dismounted..." He also says, "Most Iraqis now have satellite and watch some of the same news that we watch in America -- namely, CNN. On Arabic news stations, political and religious leaders from both sides have made public statements, urging all Iraqis to work together."

Yes, these kids are still expected to read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio, and watch network news, but they also have their own reporter in the field. But as they move ahead into their futures in which the twenty-first-century skill of effective communication will be vital, I have to believe these kids will be ahead of the game, thanks to their work with Ehrhart and others. Oh, and the soldier says that the interaction has value for him as well -- and perhaps that, in the end, is one of the most important parts of the lesson.

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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Denton Jordan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Where is the research that shows 1:1 laptop computers will improve literacy or achievement. If my district had that kind of money to spend, I would purchase killer software (like Compass Learning) and multiple laptop carts to increase the number of exposures that students can get with the curriculum. I'm as big a technology proponent as there is, but 1:1 computing isn't a panacea. If you know of research that says it is, please post the links to it.

Jim Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Denton - It sure would be nice, but you are oh, so right. No technology, be it digital or otherwise, is a panacea. Beware the Music Man, eh?

I am a parent and an educator, and as such I believe schools are in the inspiration business as much, if not more than they are in the knowledge-transfer business. It is involvement with inspirational teachers in inspired schools, supported by professional tools that allow them to do work that is real that might create the kind of child that I hope will contribute to the wonderful world I hope to retire into some day... Compass Learning, iMovie, Microsoft Office, or Google's Earth will not do that by itself, and neither will books, buildings, or basketballs. But all can, and should play a role.

I would hope that my writing would be seen as advocating for rich, engaging, project-based, community connected experiences that are seen as worthwhile by students, teachers, and the greater school community. And I would hope that these are found in settings that appear to be relevant to the students in part because the technology they contain mirrors that found in the rest of their world.

Maine has purposely resisted pressure to connect one-to-one to test results. Rather, we have looked deeper - at the way schools and classrooms work. Here is a comment taken from The Impact of Maine's One-to-One Laptop Program on Middle School Teachers and Students.(David L. Silvernail, Dawn M.M. Lane, February, 2004):

"Last year we had to go to the computer lab down the hall or we had to go down there by ourselves and if there was a class going on there or if there were people in there you were out of luck, you couldn't do your research. With these you just open up your laptop and boom, the Internet is there. Your e-mail is there and your slideshow presentation things are ready to be done and everything is just there. It's much simpler. (Student Interview, Spring 2003)"

If in the above quote one sees red flags rather than benefits ("Your e-mail is there, you just open up your laptop and boom, the Internet is there, etc") please read an earlier post of mine here in the Spiral Notebook: Good Teaching in a One-to-One Setting.

The value of those potential benefits will only accrue to a school that does it right - one that is doing the things good schools need to do whether technology is involved or not. I guess that is why I am so proud of my connection to The George Lucas Educational Foundation and Edutopia - a place where folks say what needs to be said.

With that said, here are some sites worth investigating regarding one-to-one research:

But in the end, the good folks at MIT may resolve this whole issue so we can just move on. We may simply need to do one-to-one if we want to keep up with the rest of the world. Sort of like the electrification of rural America. Hold onto your hats, folks.

Cheers. Jim

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