Saturday, October 24, 2009


The most transformative recent game-changer in bringing education into the 21st century is low-cost laptops. Many schools at the NYC DOE and beyond still don’t know much about these devices and have trepidations. Innovative educators know that these devices are the key for any classroom interested in preparing students for the world in which they live, play, and work. Chris Lehmann echoes the sentiments shared by me and others like CIS 339 principal Jason Levy as he shared at a recent Tech Forum conference that "Technology needs to be like oxygen. Ubiquitous, necessary and invisible." Low-cost laptops, for the first time make it possible for this idea to be a reality. Every school needs to get on board TODAY. Schools all around the nation have jumped on the bandwagon and are featured in the most recent issue of Tech & Learning magazine in the article Netbooks make the grade which features schools across the nation who are using these devices.

Unfortunately some schools still believe the myths and lies shared by the hardware companies and industry dinosaurs who will tell you that you need expensive equipment, training and tech support to do this work. Let me dispel some of these myths. The big computer companies are lying. Of course they want you to buy their expensive devices. You don’t need to. The dinosaurs in the industry who want to sit you on their knee and tell you about how they walked to work every day in the snow up hill both ways, are dying to hang on to the idea that their jobs are still necessary. They don't want the secret out and they don't want to change. I spoke to one yesterday in fact. He shared how schools will never keep up with innovation because they must do system-wide refreshes of devices and nothing in life is free. Oh really? Google is free. Google Apps are free. Wikispaces are free. Ning for education is free. YouTube is free. Google Voice is free. Schools can develop student iSquads and enable students to be self-empowered to fix technology for free. Well, he said, “That free stuff won’t last I tell ya.” “I’ve been around a long time. I know Missy.” Ugh! Innovative educators are smart enough to move on when we encounter the old timers stuck in Rip Van Winkle's past. These free tools will be around and they are scaring the pants off of the old timers. Businesses like Microsoft, Apple, and the rest are going to have to change their model to the new direction of a savvy and innovative society.

Do Not Give Teachers Hardware
Every school needs to identify which teachers are interested in preparing students for the 21st century. If you’re a leader, when you discover who these teachers are, do not give them hardware!!!  I’ve had a lot of experience deploying hardware to teachers and in many cases it is not a good practice.

Instead, if you’re and administrator have your teachers apply for the equipment they think they will need to enhance teaching and learning. This will enable you to prioritize your purchasing decisions and limit them to the teachers who have demonstrated that they are planning to use it effectively. This also gives you crucial information in enabling you to have conversations about the work your teachers are doing. If you are a teacher, the conversation shouldn’t just be about hardware. Show your principal you are serious and have all the information together that s/he will need to support you.

You can create a free online application using Google forms or SurveyMonkey. The application should require a pedagogical case for why your teacher needs equipment, information about how the equipment will be used to enhance instruction, an indication of which standards this aligns to, and if you collect your information properly this can contain all the information needed to place the order. For teachers the application process demonstrates to his/her principal they are serious. For administrators this ensures you are aware of the teachers plan for incorporating the use of the equipment into instruction, provides school leaders with an idea of how teachers will be using the equipment purchased, and indicates which teachers are serious about this work. Here is a sample of what the form might look like. I recommend a separate form for each type of equipment.

Whether your school has funding today or not, it is essential teachers and schools start documenting what it is they want so they are prepared should funds become available and there are a lot of ways to fund education. If there is not money in your school budget here are some alternate sources. Some are NYC DOE specific, others are not:

Resolution A Funds from City Council
NYC Ed Tech Grant Opportunities Page
eSchool News Funding Resources
DonorsChoose.Org Giving Page

No more paper, no more books will be necessary in the 21st century classroom. When all student have devices their materials are available directly from their laptops. This also means no more handouts, no more copies, no more heavy book bags. Here is my recommendation to get started with the 21st century classroom.

Brand: Lenovo

Netbook - 4187RVU S10e Ideapad, 2.65 lbs, 10.1-IN DisplayCost: $359.95 Cost for 32 devices: $11,488
Note: This particular device was selected because it is the one available where I work at the NYC DOE -available via SHOP DOE / FAMIS

Brand: Sharp

PG-F212X Conference/Classroom DLP Multimedia Projector
Cost: $599.95

Brand: Flip Video

Ultra 2nd Generation Camcorder (Pink)
Cost: $129 Cost for 4 devices: $516

Brand: Canon

PowerShot A1100 IS Digital Camera (Blue)
Cost: $139.95 Cost for 4 devices $556

Total Cost for 21st Century Classroom: $13,159
When you keep in mind these devices have a life of life of 3 – 5 years, this ultimately translates in significant long-term savings for the school.

Many schools are sold equipment they don’t really need and they buy it because they don’t know better. Here are some items you don’t need if you have the above package.

A more expensive laptop, server, external hard drives, expensive software
Today your students should be doing their work in the cloud. What does this mean? This means their work is done using what is available on the internet for free. Work is created using Google Apps which includes free Word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, email and more. Work is stored using Wikispaces. These contain unlimited storage and are free. Students work is available anytime, anywhere, from any computer.

Interactive Whiteboards and Projector Carts
Somehow teachers and administrators have become enamored with interactive whiteboards. You can save about $5000 per classroom when you realize you don’t need an interactive whiteboard or projector cart. You can accomplish the same instructional goals with a laptop and projector. The benefit is rather than having the teacher front and center in the classroom s/he can be eye to eye with students as the classwork is projected behind him/her. This can be interactive as students work is in the cloud and a teacher can access any website at anytime to feature the student, or the student can come right up to the computer and/or plug in their own computer to project. You may hear that the software is the reason you need to make this costly purchase. I have found there are free alternatives to achieve the same goals.

Laptop Carts
Some schools will find they may need to purchase a cart which generally runs about $600 but I have seen other schools that have developed alternative and more secure methods for storing devices. The best solution I have seen is the Depot. This is a secure room or closet for which the teacher has a key. Shelves are built in the area. Devices go on the shelves and the door is locked. Ideally there is electricity so devices can be charged.

Innovative educators and administrators, it is time to start one classroom at time, one school at a time, one district at a time, one nation at a time. You don't need a special initiative. You don't need special funding. What you need is innovative rethinking the way teaching and learning occur. Join other schools like the NYC DOE's Model Technology Schools. If you don't know where to start or what to do with 21st century tools read about, connect with, and/or visit the the 8 Innovative Schools that Provide Ideas and Inspiration for 21st Century Education.


  1. Lisa - you bring up a lot of points in this post. I do agree that hardware companies need to change, and it seems they are starting to do so somewhat. All the major companies (except Apple – so far) offer low cost netbooks. They see the market is there, and address it.

    As for support and maintenance, although student tech support programs are laudable, there is still a large degree of technical knowledge (and possibly legalities as well, such as concerning liability and network security) that would probably necessitate professional technicians. Also, in any large scale tech integration the immediacy of technical response can be critical as well. In the school in which I am presently consulting, with over 300 netbooks plus a few hundred older laptops, it is quite common for teachers to need immediate help, say when a projector bulb blows out or the Internet fails and brings down a well prepared student activity. Students who are part of the tech team are in their own classes, and so a professional technician is needed. (By the way, the netbooks the school is using are the Lenovo S10e you mention in your post – they are performing quite well.) As an augmentation, I think student tech support is great, but not as a first line response.

    I very much agree in principle with the idea of teachers applying for technology; equity concerns may make that difficult, but providing instructional justification is important – it’s not the technology, it’s the uses to which it will be put. I would add that teachers should also be provided with many varied options for professional development to continue to sharpen their abilities to infuse the desired technology into their classroom environment.

  2. Jeff, thank you for the smart feedback and relevant points. Let me respond and elaborate further as it is clear there are pieces in my mind that I didn’t get out on paper, or ummm…computer. Here are some details I left out, that I probably need to incorporate:
    Tech support:
    -Schools need a depot with about 10% overage. If there are tech issues, the device gets swapped. This is a must for a 21st century classroom.
    -Every class needs a spare projector bulb on deck for immediate swapping. This is something that needs to be budgeted for. I should have added that to the cost.
    -The tech team. The way I train folks to have tech teams is that teachers designate two students per classroom, so there is tech support in every room…even is a student is out.
    -With devices costing $354 and the prices coming down further in the future, major issues are usually resolved with a swap and iSquad members, students, and teachers should learn how to trouble soot minor issues.
    Professional Development:
    -Yes, yes, yes! But that’s a whole different post.

    Thank you for bringing up important points. I appreciate your always smart and relevant input!

  3. do you see the interactive whiteboard as having any benefits to kinesthetic learners or high needs visual learner? i have found that when students are able to physically interact with the classroom environment, their engagement level is increased and the classroom becomes a more fun, successful place for them.

  4. Apple, this is another misunderstanding. You don't need an interactive whiteboard for kinesthetic learners or high needs visual learners. Students can engage in tactile functions if the teacher has a Tablet computer. In fact some of the low cost laptops are tablets too. Additionally there are all sorts of free adaptive tools on laptops for high needs visual learners. No interactive whiteboard necessary.

  5. Thank you so much for your post, this is truly inspirational for me as my school in Germany has very scarce technology and money! For now, I find I am the only teacher wanting a 21st century classroom and although I have tried to convince people, I find it hard. As you rightly mentioned, people think it's too expensive or are "Apple" believers, which is so expensive. I have a netbook for my own use and I have always thought it would be so useful for students. Also, I don't think smartboards are that important but if some teachers really need one, you can create one just with a Wii remote and a LED. I am going to start filling a form and we'll see from there.

  6. @aliceayel, you are welcome. Let us know how it goes. A question and a clarification. Question? Can you share a link to directions on making a SmartBoard with a Wii remote? Clarification – The form I shared is the type of form I suggest schools use with the powers that be in their schools/districts. Readers will need to create their own form in their schools or districts. I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t misleading anyone to believe that this particular form would go to a local funding source.

  7. How much of this would apply to a K-5 school? I'm in the process of calculating bandwidth requirements. I have upgraded and new computers that will demand more bandwidth. Did - school 2.0 drop out? I would like to experiment with an iPod Touch as a learning tool,.. until Apple releases their tablet/netbook. What is the slickest elementary school setup in the world. Ideally, I would like a Mac/Windows/Ubuntu boot machine(s) for future proofing, but that is just not keeping it simple and my users are not that sophisticated. I am also interested in reading a strong argument, pro Luddite in elementary schools.