First Grade in the 21st Century
By Beth Bley

Imagine a classroom of 6-year-olds all engaged in active learning. Imagine if all of these students were using higher level thinking skills to create imaginative projects. Imagine if all of these students were working on their own skill level. Imagine if the teacher spent no preparation time to make this happen. Could this really happen? Is this some sort of military school? Is this a class of students with higher IQ scores or a class of students who all come from very privileged homes where they are given lots of support and lots of resources? NO! This scene actually took place in my first grade classroom in a Title I school. It is a very diverse classroom with students from all ability levels, even some special needs students. This type of classroom environment was created by handing each child a laptop and letting the students’ imaginations run wild. The students in my first grade class had this opportunity for two weeks. The students used the district laptop mobile computer lab.

As soon as my students saw the computers, their motivation level went up dramatically. They all wanted to begin immediately to “do their work”. All of my students stayed on task and completed all assignments. All of my students were excited about learning while using the laptop. Not one student made a negative comment about any assignment. The only thing my students did not want to do was wait until morning announcements were over to begin using the computers. My students were so excited about using the laptops that they even chose to play games from educational websites during indoor recess. This interest greatly lessened behavior incidents in the classroom and greatly increased student learning.
My students used higher level thinking skills as they worked on the computers. My students created stories and artwork using the computer. My students created power point presentations and presented them to the class. My students wrote their own math story problems. My students recorded their own voice reading their story and saved it on the computer. This was emailed to the students homes for the parents to hear. My students used Microsoft programs, paint programs, and voicethread. Some high schools and colleges have entire semester courses to teach these programs. These students learned the basics of using these programs in just 2 weeks. Student learning increased because students applied their knowledge when creating and by learning to use several computer programs.

All of my students worked on their own skill level and no other student noticed. All students created stories and artwork based on their own skill level. The games on the educational websites were set for different skill levels. This allowed my students to all play the same game, just at different skill levels. The reading A-Z website had 100’s of stories on all different levels. My students could download a book on their own reading level. The websites had activities for all skill levels. Websites such as Starfall.com, brainpop.com, funbrain.com, and rainforestmaths.com. were used. Since all students used the computer to work on their own level and to improve the skills they needed to learn, student learning was greatly increased.
What if all of this could be achieved with no preparation time from the teacher? Okay, Okay, maybe I fudged a little on this one. But it was possible for me to spend some time researching educational websites and deciding if they fit my students’ needs. (This was really having fun and not really preparation time, right?) Once I decided which websites fit the needs of my students, the links were added to one central website. This made it easier for the students to find the links. All of the links were added to my classroom TeacherWeb website. My students only had to bookmark the TeacherWeb site in order to get to all of the other websites. Once the links were in place, my students were just given a website to go explore and I sat back and watched the learning happen. So there was some preparation time, but it was greatly reduced by using computers with all students. So even though my teacher preparation time was decreased, student learning was increased.

It should be obvious now that my main theme was student learning. Having the laptops in the classroom for each student created an environment where students were engaged in the learning process and used their knowledge to create projects. This type of environment provided differiented learning with little teacher preparation time. This did greatly increase student learning in my classroom.

Could this type of learning environment really happen? YES! And it did in my first grade classroom. What will keep this from becoming a daily reality for my classroom and others? RESOURCES! There is currently not enough money to purchase a system like this for every classroom. How do we fund projects like this one that obviously increase student learning? That is an answer I do not have. Does anyone else have an answer to that question?