If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve likely read about my experiences with the Intel Classmate tablets – AKA Nobis (the branding Equus, our vendor is using). If not, here it is in a nutshell…
Last winter, I stumbled onto info about the Intel Classmate tablets (C2Go). It’s basically a hybrid of the Intel Classmate (a netbook created for student use) with tablet features built in. Equus and Intel facilitated an evaluation of two prototypes. I was impressed and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a production model.
In January, I was given two production machines for evaluation. We wiped one completely and created a fresh image with Tablet XP and the software we’d normally use with kids. On the other, I used the image provided by Equus with XP Home. It didn’t take long for us to know we had to try them out with kids. Although the apps with XP Home were great, we decided to go with Tablet XP so we could take full advantage of inking in MS apps like OneNote.
Fast forward to this Monday… I have a cart of Nobis (a full class set plus a couple spares) as a pilot to evaluate them as a replacement for our Toshiba tablets currently in use in our middle school laptop program. Monday was the first day back from our two week spring break, so life was mayhem. I spent my downtime configuring an old science cart for classroom use. (It didn’t seem prudent to invest in a $500+ laptop cart for a one trimester pilot.) My workspace is in the middle school computer lab. I must have had a dozen curious kids asking about the Nobis. The buzz was healthy curiosity – every 6th grader wanted to know if these were the machines they’d have next year.
Tuesday… I spend one block (We have 3 90-minute blocks in our school day in addition to advisory, recess, lunch, music rotations, and work study.) in a small 6th grade math class with a very enthusiastic, tech-savvy teacher. She was the lead organizer of the academic side of how we’re using OneNote in our math and science classes, and she was quite anxious to get her 6th grade math classes using OneNote shared notebooks as well.
When the kids saw me rolling the cart into the room, cheers of glee errupted. Seriously, the kids were thrilled! They frequently have tablet carts in their classes, but the buzz that had been building about the Nobis had spread to them as well. I spent about 5 minutes describing the pilot, the capabilities of the machines, and expectations/responsibilities for use and quickly handed out machines. The login process was the same as we’d used on other carts and in labs, and the machines booted quickly. At least one student commented that they booted faster than the tablets normally used. (Likely because we built the image from scratch.)
The first phase of the lesson was to set up OneNote shared notebooks on the server. Given the kids had never used OneNote (their teacher used had used it with a projector from her tablet all year), they did quite well. We set up the notebooks and the students left the room for another activity. While they were gone, I copied the template their teacher had created for their current unit to each folder. I also opened each notebook on the teacher’s computer. When they returned, the teacher began the lesson. Kids were directed to launch Internet links embedded in their OneNote notebooks to go to sites that used various visuals and animations to explain the Pythagorean Theorem then either ink or type a paragraph summary of what they’d learned in their notebooks. Using the Internet wasn’t a problem. I didn’t notice any kids comment on the screen size, but I mentioned how to enlarge the display just in case. We ran into some bumps when kids started the writing phase. As 6th graders, these students have had limited exposure to inking/tablet features, so getting used to the stylus and touch screen was bumpy. A couple of kids chose to type. One student mentioned how small the keyboard was. We discovered quickly that I’d missed a crucial step – manually calibrating each machine after it was imaged. Fortunately, Intel’s 9-point calibration tool is very kid-friendly (One student noted it was like playing a target game). Inking improved for most kids once calibration was complete. Although we had a few bumps in the initial use of the machines, the teacher was quite positive. As the kids left, I heard more than one say the Nobis would take a little to get used to but would be really cool when they had the hang of them.
Thursday… Day 2 with the math class described above. We handed out the Nobis. The teacher explained to the kids that next class they would serve themselves and be expected to start their warmup as soon as they booted the machines. It felt like a normal class – no real tech instruction needed. The lesson involved quite a bit of inking in the tablet. As I walked around the room, I noticed the kids had learned far more quickly than I had how to interact with the touch screen and stylus. Writing was neater and more confident. We had a couple of ninor issues with synchronizing (students inking the same page as the teacher at the same time), but nothing that wouldn’t have happened with othe tablet hardware. The kids were engaged the entire block in the lesson. It moved quickly and was extremely interactive as the teacher would give a demo, have kids practice, ask to synchronize, and display student work on the screen for discusion. Very cool!
As the lesson got going, another teacher circled the room to observe. She’d also taught 6th grade math and mentioned that she taught the same lesson more than once but was really interested in how it was transformed with the technology. As she left, she mentioned that she’d gotten a seed of an idea for her English/Social Studies class. I’m hoping to test the Nobis there soon as well.
At the end of the class, the teacher and I were both quite pleased with how smooth the lessons for the day went. There was actually a little time left over for independent work. Because the kids don’t have tablets at home, we had to print notes for homework. This also seemed to go quite well.
Notes to self after week 1:
- Kids need repeated exposure to the hardware to get the hang of it. If I had judged the pilot on how the first day went, I’d be really concerned right now rather than excited.
- We needed a few menu tweeks to speed navigation. Kids need easy access to the touch tool for the calibration.
- The keyboard size hasn’t been an issue for most 6th graders, but we’ll need kids with larger hands and repeated exposure.
- Ditto for screen size. These screens aren’t as small as many of the books kids read, and the books don’t allow easy enlarging of the text as the tablets do, but it’s better to test now than be sorry later. Along with the testing, I’ll share techniques for zooming/enlarging.
I can’t wait to get more teachers/classes testing the Nobis. I’m quite hopeful as week 1 ends! The Nobis have been well-received and have responded as well as any hardware I’ve used to classroom needs.