Note: this is the second in a series of articles I will be writing for TabletPCBuzz.com, reposted here with permission.
In the first article, I outlined ideas for using tablets in elementary classrooms to replace some of the current mass of paper clutter. I recommended slates, but left out one of my primary reasons for that recommendation. It's about more than just making sure the kids are developing their fine motor skills with the pen, it's also about classroom management. Imagine it from the teacher's point of view - which is easier to monitor, a room full of slates laying flat on desks, or a room full of kids hiding behind notebooks?
With that in mind, in my ideal world, middle school kids would stay on slates. These would be larger and more powerful than their elementary slates. They would still be school owned, but I could see each student carrying the same slate for the full 3 years. Still, the main purpose of this machine is to digitize textbooks and notebooks. Have you see the books they are piling on middle school students now? Middle school students definitely also need a planner of some sort to track their schedule and homework. These machines should be lightweight, have all day battery life, a dual capacitive and active digitizer, and enough horsepower for managing large textbooks and notebooks.
Remembering back to my middle school days, I think nothing less than OneNote would be needed to track all of the notes and homeworks for all of the subjects. Or at least a program with similar organizational layers, tagging, linking, mixed media (audio notes, images, text blocks pasted in, all inkable), searchable handwriting, and cloud syncable notebooks. It's probably easier to just let them run Windows and OneNote than trying to write new software for a proprietary set up. And active digitizers! With the mountain of notes middle school kids write, they will need the accuracy of an active digitizer. Note taking should still feel like pen and paper. If the slates are going to run Windows, the school's inter/intranet and infrastructure would have to be very well maintained (and perhaps well locked down).
In my ideal school, the kids are carrying their own slates with them from class to class. When they get to English class and need to write essays or longer papers, they could grab a classroom keyboard dock and type away. My middle school math classes had a classroom set of calculators we could get when the teacher told us to, and I would see the classroom keyboards being similar. Students would outline and draft by pen, then when the teacher approves the outline, they would go grab a keyboard dock and start typing the final draft.
By high school, the students have probably figured out what tools and methods work best for them and should be allowed to bring their own computer. The school provided option should be a convertible at this point. The biggest thing at this stage is that all the textbooks should be digital. Kids today have to haul around so many heavy books. Carrying all those books and a computer is just silly, and not realistic. A tablet with annotations options for the textbooks would still be better than just being able to read them on a laptop. By this point, students should be so used to digital notes, that those can stay digital also. Imagine students needing to carry only the computer, and that's really the only way this should work. There should be no carrying the stuff they already have to carry and a computer. Tablets or computers of any kind in the classroom will not stick unless they replace all (or at least most of) the stuff kids are carrying now.