Laptops in kids’ hands nerve-wracking, but innovation blooms
Op-Ed · August 30, 2013

Superintendent Kevin Hatfield, speaking to a packed auditorium before school started on the topic of how to handle the laptops, at one point said this:

“We want kids to think, ‘When I get done listening here ... you better take care of it.”

Now before you hit him over the head with your grammar hammer, keep in mind that not only is he the top school administrator responsible for making sure some 500 MacBooks come back with as little damage as possible, but he, as a father, also understands the variety of ways kids can get into trouble with access to the Web.

Perhaps he was nervous. I know I was, even though my two oldest boys would have to wait another week to get their laptops because they were visiting family out of state.

At our house, the laptops are typically sitting inside the protective bags or on a table. They don’t get lugged from room to room. So the main concern is whether they are working on homework or getting distracted from it. Thus, as wisdom does not necessarily rest in having all the right answers as it is often about asking the right questions: “What are you doing?”

What if, though, the answer to that question was “Watching a video of my teacher”?

Principal Sara Oswald mentioned an idea called “flipped classrooms,” whereby the pupils’ homework, when possible, consists of watching lecture videos or, I guess, how-to videos and then tackling worksheets in class where the teacher can help them.

I found this idea fascinating.

Watching a video is easier than listening to a lecture because you can rewind parts you don’t understand. How many kids are too shy or embarrassed to raise their hands?

How many kids would be willing to watch a short video when they got stuck on a problem?

There have been times when we, trying to help our kids with, say, math, pulled up YouTube and found an easy-to-understand explanation.

There are already gobs of videos depicting Social Studies lessons, many of which take the approach of acting out historical events instead of trying to simply explain them. How much easier is it to follow a movie, where you can put a face to name, than follow a book? We know it makes “book” reports easier.

I’m sure there are plenty of tweens and teens who would lack the motivation to watch a 20-minute video of their own teacher giving a lecture, but it would likely be easier to prod them to get that done than do written — or typewritten — homework.

The home setting includes its own set of distractions, like food in the kitchen, a TV in the living room, toys in the bedroom and sports equipment in the garage. Perhaps it would be easier to keep kids on task if more “homework” is done in a school setting.

So, from flipping pronouns to the idea of flipping the classroom, the laptop rollout was light-hearted, informative and intriguing.

Putting laptops in the hands of our youth is a bit nerve-wracking, but it also inspires educators and parents to innovation as well.

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