Monday, June 05, 2006

New Life for the eMates!

I feel that most things I did this year were approximations. That is always true to some degree, but this year, my constant mantra was, "Next year, I'll know to do x instead." Our eMate experience was no exception.

I feel our pilot was a success. Students loved using them right from the start. There was a very low learning curve, and all the time we spent on keyboarding in the fall paid off as soon as we started using the eMates. Unlike so many word processing machines that find their way into schools, the eMates have a large enough screen that you can see a paragraph or more of text. This leads to much more coherent writing that when you can only read one line at a time. Add to it the spell check, the ease of editing, and the novelty of having a laptop computer in school, and it is no wonder that the children wrote up a storm on them. The changes were the most dramatic with reluctant writers. Even children who would not write when sitting at a desktop computer were able to overcome writers block with an eMate on their lap. Maybe it was because they could sit under tables or sprawl on the floor with these nifty devices.

If I had them to use next year, we'd still start the year with keyboarding, but move as quickly as we could into working on the eMates. I'd set them up for different users with a login for security. More importantly, I'd have a better organized writing curriculum so that we would be using them more-- we didn't use them a lot until we were working on DARE essays and blogs this spring. However, they were a success and I was sad to think of them languishing unused next year.

Therefore I am more thrilled than I can tell you that our eMates will live on next year. Due to budget constraints, my school is reconfiguring by adding split classes for part of the day. One of the teachers will teach all of the writing for the fourth/fifth grade team. She is interested in using the eMates. Not only that, but my highly supportive and resourceful principal has found the money to fix the hinges and replace all the battery packs. She has also located the original cart which can be used for storage and charging. To sweeten the deal further, the wonderful person we are hiring to fix the eMates will donate a few printers.

Last Friday, most of the fifth grade and part of the fourth grade was gone at Valleyfair. I used that opportunity to introduce the remaining fourth graders to the eMates. They worked through the built-in eMate Tour and Works Practice. The children loved them. One child didn't want to quit to go to lunch! They all came back to work on them again in the afternoon. I doubt they will remember it all next fall, but it will let them be more expert than the other children in the fall. And their enthusiasm will excite the other children. Nice to start the year with the children eager to start writing.