Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tablets in the Classroom part 4 - Kid Tested, Parent Approved

Note: this is the fourth in a series of articles I will be writing for, reposted here with permission.

So far I've outlined some of my ideals for tablets in the classroom, and looked at what Intel has already done with their classmate PCs. Now it's time for some real world testing with some real world kids and some real world tablets. Luckily, I have access to a great crop of kids who are already used to seeing me writing on the tablet every lesson and were very eager to get to try it for themselves. Of course, I didn't want to take away from their lessons just to try my experiments, so only a few of them got the chance to try when there was some free time after their lesson. I also have a friend who is homeschooling her two kids and they were game for trying some things on the tablet too.

The Homeschoolers

(picture posted with mom's approval)

We were over there for dinner, but I had taken the tablet in the hopes that there might be some time to play with the kids. Their mom didn't think they'd be up for trying to do math problems after dinner, but was willing to let them try. Of course, when presented with the idea of trying something on my computer, they were thrilled and couldn't wait to try. We had to drag them off it to go to bed. I had to promise they could try it again sometime. Best of all, they were just doing math worksheets on it. And they couldn't get enough. In all fairness though, Mary Judah loves math and will do it all day long.

This family also has an iPad, so that's what the kids were most used to when confronted with a "tablet". It took some coaching to get them used to putting some weight on the pen and about how it was okay to touch the screen. When told to "treat it like paper" they figured it out pretty quickly. Here's how it went….

Mary Judah (almost 8) did a math worksheet in Windows Journal on an HP 2730p in tablet mode. The worksheet was downloaded from a website that offers free worksheets in PDF form, opened in Foxit, then printed over to Journal with the Journal Note Printer. She said it was a little harder to write than on paper, but that she could get used to it. Her mom said her handwriting looked about the same on the computer as it would have on paper. She made good use of the eraser end. Her final verdict was that it was more fun that doing the worksheet on paper.

Killian (4 and a half) did a math coloring activity page in Paint. The initial intention was to also have him do a worksheet in Journal, but as it was a coloring activity, I decided the colors available in Paint would make it more fun. The worksheet came from the same website, but this time I just took a screen capture of it open in Foxit then opened that in Paint. The main difference in doing it this was that the lines became just as erasable as the colors he put down. He figured this out and put it to good use. The assignment was a page of letters and numbers, and he was to color in the numbers. Once he finished that, he started erasing the letters. It took him a few tries to get the right press to change colors, but once he figured that out, he set to work using all of them. He also had no trouble switching between the paint tool and the eraser tool (the eraser end doesn't work in paint) after watching me do it just once. We also found a worksheet for him that he could do in Journal and he completed that one just fine too. His final verdict was that it was more fun than paper.

Mom was satisfied that the work was comparable to how they would have done it on paper. She prints out a lot of worksheets for them throughout the year. Her favorite feature of Journal was that after the kids had done the worksheet, she could easily switch to the red pen to grade them. She's a very tactile person and likes the feel of paper, but recognizes that a lot of it is waste and could stay digital without taking away from the experience. She keeps large binders for each subject and creates daily planning sheets for each kid. She could definitely imagine parts of the binders being digitized, especially with the organizational tools in OneNote, although she would prefer to keep some of the reference material on paper. The main benefit for her would be keeping the daily planning sheets on the computer. She creates daily schedules in Word, and then prints them so she can check off when they've completed an assignment. She liked the idea that with a tablet, the charts could be inked on directly in Word.

Busy mother of 4

Two of the 4 kids (Kimiye and Emmy) take lessons with me, and they were at my place for the lessons due to some rescheduling. Mom took the other two to a nearby park during the lessons for the other two. Since we had some extra time with all my toys, I decided to have them try the TC1100. Tyra also got to try it when they came back from playing at the park. The main difference from the 2730p that the others tried is that the stylus does not have an eraser end, so they had to switch from pen tools to erasers and back.

Emmy (5) asked for a coloring sheet. I found an elephant for her to color and transferred it to Paint. I showed her the color choices and how to switch between colors and erasing. She asked if it had to be grey, and I told her it could be any color she wanted. Rainbow Elephant! She made sure to use every singe color, and had said it was a lot of fun.

Tyra and Kimiye (7 and 9) both did math worksheets in Windows Journal. They both had no trouble using the computer to write out the answers and enjoyed doing it that way.

Mom said most of the worksheets the kids bring home from school go straight in the recycling and they very rarely need to refer back to old work. She would have no problem with most of their worksheets being done on the computer. The thing she was most interested in would be a program that grades it for them also. They also have an iPad, and she only lets them use it to play educational games. With a toddler to chase after also, independent learning apps for the older kids would be very helpful.

Working parents with kids in lots of activities and an MBA program on the side

This family has been with me for a while, and shown lots of interest in the various gadgets I use in the studio. Both kids take lessons, in addition to other activities, and both parents work. In addition to full time jobs, their dad is building an educational website, and mom is working on an MBA on the side.

Isha (9) did a math worksheet in Journal. It turned out to be a bit above her level, but she worked on the problems she knew how to do. Her handwriting turned out a bit bigger on the computer than normal, but her dad said it was just as clear and legible. She said writing on the tablet was easy.

Akshay (12) did a math worksheet in Journal. I couldn't find one at his grade level, but he didn’t mind doing an easier one. This one required a lot of extra work around the problem (multiplying large numbers). He managed to squeeze his work in, but I should have shown him how to zoom in so he would have had more room to work. That's one of the advantages to a digital worksheet - you can zoom in to get more room to work, or to make the problems clearer.

Dad loved the whole idea. He's working on a website to provide educational resources online, and the idea of being able to complete and grade worksheets without having to print and scan fits in with their work. He also really liked the organization of OneNote and how it can mix documents, text, and ink. I showed him how I had combined some text notes with some ink notes, and he asked how I entered text on the machine (it had been in tablet mode the whole time). When I opened it up to notebook mode, both he and Akshay were sufficiently blown away. He found the conversion of handwritten ink to text to be equally impressive. He's now trying to convince his wife to get a tablet to work on her MBA, since her course lectures come in Power Point, and she could write directly on the slides, or print them into OneNote and take notes all around them.


The tablet was universally liked as a tool to write on. I'm not sure how long the novelty would last before the fun of the tablet would be overshadowed by the fact that the kids are still doing homework on it, but they all had fun for the short time I was able to test with them. It would also be good to note that limits on screen time are still recommended for younger kids, and it would be good to mix tablet time with get up and do stuff time. Then again, it's good to mix sit down at a desk time with get up and do stuff time in general.

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