Growing Digitally… Ditching Computer Labs
I remember my first experience with a computer lab as a student. It was the only place in school where students could access computers, and the weekly assigned times in front of turquoise and purple iMac G3s were a highlight for me. Through my years as a student and continuing into my days as a teacher, the computer lab was where students came to type papers, conduct research, or try to get around filters and play games of Hangman or Lemonade Stand.
So how is it possible that we could consider getting rid of such a room? Over the past three years, we have moved from a single mobile cart of 30 laptops to a pair of mobile carts before increasing our number to over 80 laptops to allow our middle school students (grades 6-8) to go 1:1. This left only our fourth and fifth graders in need of using the computer lab. While it was convenient for them, since the computer lab was much more open and available for their use, the lab’s 25+ Mac desktops had aged to the point of being unable to be updated, and new ones would have to be purchased.
At a time in education where the physical space of a building is analyzed in great detail as to how it can be best utilized for student learning, we began looking at what else a large (and air conditioned!) room in the middle of our building might be used for. What if we turned it into a science lab? Or what if we created a Makerspace area for before and after school projects? How about an additional classroom to allow us to maintain smaller class sizes?
Of all possibilities, the last of those ideas became the reality. Over the summer, the space where tables and computers once stood was replaced by desks, bookcases, and hooks. Twenty-five new laptops and 25 new iPads were ordered to fill the needs of the fourth- and fifth-grade students. New mobile carts were needed to store them. New schedules had to be made to find times for students to learn keyboarding and computer application on their new devices. Computer use policies were re-examined and reinforced to the students, who now had access to the internet throughout the school day. All of these are growing pains for a change that will allows us to take our students in exciting new directions.
In a time where the battle between integrating technology in education and limiting screen time for kids seem to battle each other at every corner, why did we decide to make the jump? By placing devices in the hands of our students, we hope to accomplish two major goals. First, we want to teach them how to be responsible stewards of what has been given them. Just because you have access to a laptop each class period doesn’t mean you have to use it every class period. Like any tool, it has its time and place. Our students will understand that. Secondly, we are continuing to develop our students as producers of their own relevant, authentic work. The tools that come with technology allow them to transition from consuming the information in the classroom to becoming producers of that information to an audience much bigger than anyone ever thought possible when that first Apple computer arrived at Orange City Christian School back in 1997.
A little exciting to think where we’ll all be 20 years from now…and also a little scary.
Matt Van Schepen is a middle school science teacher at Orange City Christian School. He spends his time away from school as a husband and father to his wife and two kids, coaching baseball at Northwestern College, working toward a master’s degree in school leadership at Dordt College, and squeezing fishing in any of his remaining time. He can be reached via Twitter @mnbaseball or email firstname.lastname@example.org.