Lab A Dab A Do it yourself!
Laptop schools have developed a pervasive computing environment. In many of the, all students from late elementary school on up own laptops; all school spaces are wirelessly connected; teachers maintain their own web sites; many classes in different subjects make use of computing resources. Infrastructure established. Fully staffed up. Service contracts in place. Students savvy. Teachers trained. Comfort level reached and surpassed. What’s next?
Having reached this plateau, we realized that the integration of computing and learning was about more than just buying equipment and looking for commercial software to acquire. So last year we launched Lab A Dab A Do with the goal of developing and disseminating our own web-based learning materials. Why?
Many schools have teachers who develop tools for learning and clever, personal ways of teaching embodied in worksheets, card games, paper-based activities, etc. We felt we could adapt these for “any time, anywhere” education by creating web-based learning applets, lean but not mean, which used these teacher ideas, plus others, as seeds for learning activities which students could access from their laptops at school or at home, just by logging in to our web.
The applets we have created for Lab A Dab A Do cover a wide range of subject matter—math, geometry, music, art, dance, language. At this point they are in an experimental state, which means that we have spent lots of effort developing new ideas, and very little effort making them pretty.
We are very interested in “virtual manipulatives” and have created a number of applets which explore the adaptation of Cuisenaire Rods to online activities. Since our goal is to improve and not just replicate, we have invented ways in which virtual rods can transcend the limitations of physical rods, and have thus developed new tools (the “chisel” and “glue” which students can use to break and join onscreen rods) and have extended the rod idea to new areas (a rod-based balance beam and “Rodney”, a positionable figure made of rods which is actually a working keyframe animation activity.)
We design many of these activities so that they can be easily customized by teachers, just by modifying a simple text file which contains, for example, specific help text, hints, problem sets, letter or word sets, etc. Each teacher places a copy of the applet in his or her online folder, and then modifies the accompanying text file.
The principles which have guided us in creating activities are:
Just in Time. Applets are targeted at specific learning tasks, and designed to require a minimum of time for teachers and students to understand.
Visualization. Applets exploit the capability of computers to present dynamic interactive environments which employ immersive multisensory experiences to help students grasp and experiment with concepts.
Anytime, anywhere. Applets are available over the web so that students and teachers can access them from any computer at school or at home.
Customizable. Applets are designed so that teachers can very easily modify problem sets, word lists, and other elements which specify the particular content to be addressed, as well as the “help”, “hint” and other auxiliary textual information and resources which teachers might want to provide.
Teacher-student communication. Where appropriate applets provide the ability for students to submit work to a database which teachers (or in some cases other students) can browse.
Teacher-teacher communication. Making use of common applets which are web-based increases the ability of teachers to collaborate and share information relating to common challenges in getting certain basic concepts across to students.
Nimble and flexible. The applets are small, quick to develop and easily modified as Lab A Dab A Do receives feedback from teachers and students.
Responsive to teachers’ needs. Lab A Dab A Do regularly visits and meets with teachers to try to locate innovative approaches and transform them into applets which embody those teaching methods and strategies.
Please visit our site and explore the online activities, at www.LabADabADo.com. Let us know how you like them, and feel free to suggest ways we might collaborate with you!