23 July 2011

It doesn't have to be expensive...

Changing your classroom's environment, including its contemporary technology environment, need not be a huge, expensive, proposition.

Lots of solutions range from free to inexpensive, and can make a huge difference.

Perhaps you could create a picnic area in your classroom. Yes, let kids get comfortable with a simple picnic table (scaled to the size of your kids) and an umbrella that provides respite from the uniform fluorescent lights and too high ceilings. Throw a cheap green rug down underneath it, for the full "park" experience. A little creative use of CraigsList and you'll have this spot in place for $50 or less.

Or you might offer seating choices. Those seating balls are nice but can be pricey ... unless, of course, you find some neighbors dumping unused exercise balls. But options can be found easily at Ikea... stools, and stools, and stools, and stools, or a rocking chair, or $6-$50. Or look for cheap rugs and lapdesks.

You might test out your flooring and tabletops for use as "whiteboards" - not the Marzano kind, the "kids create" kind. If not, the cheapest "showerboard" at your local Home Improvement/DIY center will give you all the whiteboard space you need, assuming your windows have filled up.

Don't forget lighting. Lighting matters. No classroom should have uniform lighting, it is bad for the eyes, bad for the brain, bad for attention. Lamps are cheap. Get some. Use some.

But, you ask, what about technology... well, all the above is technology... but here we go:

The Ipevo $69 document camera might be one of the best tools you can bring into your classroom, and being 90% less than the Elmo, maybe your kids can have two.  For display, Epson has LCD projectorsfor under $500. A long way from the thousands schools routinely spend. Hell, at NewEgg.com you can get solid brand new HP Laptops for under $400, or get the Asus Eee PC for $250. Both come with Windows 7 which means Speech Recognition is built in.

You can equip your computers with Open Office for free, with Firefox for free, and you can make your Windows computer a universally designed - accessible tool for free.

You can also plug the MITS Freedom Stick (free on your 4gb flashdrive) in for a full range of accessibility solutions. And you'll (again) want all of these tools.

Then, download these bookmarks for dozens of free resources on line.

How about really inexpensive headsets for all of the Text-To-Speech reading you can now be doing with Balabolka or WordTalk? You can getheadsets with microphones for very, very littleand not just one kind.You can buy no-mic headphones really cheaply.

With older kids, think of all you can do with their phones. With phones you have cameras and video recorders, audio recorders, note taking devices, internet tools. Plus they can work as book readers, notebooks, and can run Speech Recogntion themselves... VLingo or Dragon.

You don't need one-to-one. You don't need the same stuff for every kid. Your students will learn more from collaborating, and figuring out how to do things in different ways.

- Ira Socol


Dan McGuire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan McGuire said...

Great summary of the possibilities, Ira. This is, of course, just the tip of the ice berg. Lots of teachers must deal with the constraints of working in a large district/building where there are all kind of rules and opinions about your suggestions.

Some teachers even have to fight their principals to be allowed to use computers that are already bought and paid for and installed and working. I even heard of a principal saying that students couldn't use laptops during the reading block because they need to be reading during reading time - reading in this case meant reading only from paper books. Really did happen this last school year.

I think money is actually the least of the problems for most teachers; the attitudes of the adults in the schools are often the biggest obstacle to students using what they need.

23 July, 2011 21:49

Matt Landahl said...

Ira, this was a cool post, I hope to use some of it in the upcoming school year to help us redesign things at our school.

Lyn Hilt said...

This post is a great reminder of how simple changes can make a positive impact in the design of a learning environment. I wish I had a photo of my second grade teacher's reading "portal." She used an old refrigerator box to create this giant, space-travel-inspired, cozy, comfortable, awesome, exciting reading space for her kiddos. It's filled with pillows, is surrounded by books, and she used strings of Christmas lights and decorate star lights to illuminate the "ceiling" of the portal. It's awesome. I love going in there. And the kids don't abuse it as a party space. When they're in there, they read. And they love it!