Class in a box

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Apple's Mobile Classroom lets the teacher control every pupil's laptop, writes Douglas Blane

When technology enthusiasts start admitting that their school does not need any more computer hardware for the time being, it suggests that the ICT war has nearly been won.

Lee Carson and Susan Wainwright are lucky enough to teach at Edinburgh's Queensferry Primary School, where the head is convinced of the educational merits of ICT and has been buying hardware and software for her teachers for several years.

As a result, the school now has a well-equipped computer suite, interactive whiteboards in almost every room and a mobile set of wireless laptops that are used continuously around the school.

This morning, Lee Carson's class has a timetabled session with the school's set of mobile laptops, which the teachers refer to as Class in a Box, although the manufacturer, Apple, favours Mobile Classroom. Their arrival, in two sturdy steel carts on casters, wheeled in by classroom assistants, is greeted with a muted buzz by the pupils. Technology is virtually part of the school furniture for them and, besides, you have to act cool when you are 11.

Each child finds his or her own laptop using a large identifying number on the lid and takes it back to their desk, leaving the teacher's model for Lee Carson. It is two inches bigger and can control all the others: "Right Primary 7, I want you to listen to the instructions." He taps a key on the iBook on his desk, causing the screens on the children's laptops to go blank except for a terse message in the middle: "Screen locked by Mr Lee's computer."

"Now go to Google and search for 'Amazon webquest' (see above, right), then click on the first answer you get on the search page." He pauses, monitoring the progress of each of them on his screen. "Right, you're all there except for Naomi, whose computer seems to have frozen. Can you start it up again please?"

When his computer tells him everyone is working on the correct web page, Mr Carson takes advantage of the pupils' concentration to explain webquests:

"These are produced to the same basic pattern by teachers all over the world, who put 'webquest' in the text so that others can locate them.

"You can find webquests now on just about any topic you like, and it's a great way of sharing ideas and lessons. A nice feature is the live links that pupils can use for further research."

With Mobile Classroom, teachers can monitor, without leaving their desk, how and where every pupil is working, and can even solve problems. It is also possible to tutor an individual on a topic by taking control of the pupil's computer. But for queries related to learning rather than computing, Lee Carson will often get up and look over the pupil's shoulder in the usual way.

"The screen-sharing facility is very useful, though," he says. "If I see one child doing well I can say 'Let's all have a look at his screen', and we can do so without anyone getting up and moving around. Another great feature is that I can send files to their computers and open them up.

"So I might use my laptop connected to the whiteboard to start off a story with the class and produce the first paragraph. Then I'll save it and send the file from my computer to theirs, where it will automatically open on their screens. They can keep going and write the rest of the story themselves. Nice ideas like that develop and evolve as you use Class in a Box."

At the end of the lesson, the pupils take their computers to the cart and carefully slot them into their compartments. Then the classroom assistants wheel them along to Susan Wainwright's Primary 3 class, where the pupils are more excited by their arrival but are just as careful in carrying the laptops to their desks.

Today the children are having a maths lesson using games software from Bullet Point Presentations, which Ms Wainwright selected because it is bright and clear and works well on both whiteboard and computer screen.

"We have to figure out how to get Billy Bug to his dinner, which is located at the point (1,3)," she tells the class, indicating on her whiteboard a grid of squares with numbered axes that is reproduced on their laptops.

"Who can remember what the '1' stands for?" she asks.

Having revised the meaning of each number in a coordinate pair, Susan Wainwright lets the children work individually, with new coordinates appearing on each computer whenever Billy gets his grub, eats it, swells up and spins around.

Like Lee Carson, she moves around the class helping with learning problems, such as Billy forgetting to set off from the origin, but she too finds the control feature of the Mobile Classroom very useful. "How you use it depends on the type of lesson you're giving them," she says. "If we are doing word-processing I'll sit at the front and control their screens one at a time from my computer, helping them edit their typing, showing them what to do. I'll move the arrow around their screens and they will follow it, and learn how to use the menus. It is very, very useful."

Once Billy Bug is bursting with grub, and Ghostblaster and Spooky Sequences have also had an airing, it is time for the children to pack up. Susan Wainwright locks their screens while she explains how to quit the games and shut down their computers. This takes a little time, and she monitors progress from her computer: "Well done Laura, Scott, Brad. Good girl, Heather."

One pupil asks for help so the teacher takes control: "You are almost there, Calum. Go up to this little blue apple. Look at your screen - can you see where I've put your arrow? Now click on the apple and get this menu, then go down to 'Shutdown'. Can you try that for me?"

As the pupils pick their computers up and carry them to the waiting cart, Susan Wainwright tells the class: "The thing I love most is that you are all so careful with your computers and remember exactly the way I asked you to carry them. Well done."


The rainforest webquest chosen by Lee Carson for use with his Primary 7 pupils can be found at www.richland.k12.wi.usRESJeffersonstaff3BauerWebRFwebAmazonRainforest Webquest.html

The project introduction begins: "You are a member of the Rainforest Explorers Television Network. Your team has been assigned the project of creating a new Amazon Rainforest TV show." Activities include exploring specified rainforest sites and answering questions, and preparing a presentation on the rainforests, their occupants, and what can be done to save them.Using Google to search on "rainforest webquest" generates several thousand hits. "Romans webquest" and "Romeo and Juliet webquest" both generate several hundreds, while "forces webquest" finds thousands. There are webquests out there for every topic under, and including, the sun.

Bullet Point Presentations

The company produces the maths and number software that teachers at Queensferry Primary School use with their whiteboards and mobile classrooms. Eight packs of activities include Primary Games and Teaching Time, Tables, Money and Measure. Prices vary from pound;30 for a number games pack to pound;129 for a 22-activity maths pack. All eight applications can be bought for pound;543 and demonstrations are available at:


Apple's iBook Wireless Mobile Classroom: Queensferry Primary School has bought two sets, allowing 20 pupils to use wireless laptops at the same time. Each set costs pound;9,021.43 and includes:

* 1 teacher's 14" iBook with AirPort Card

* 10 student 12" iBook computers with AirPort Card

* 1 Canon Lide30 Scanner

* 1 HP LaserJet 1200 Laser Printer

* 1 HP JetDirect 175x Ethernet Adapter

* 1 AirPort Extreme Base Station

* 1 Bretford cart with power strip

* 1 Apple Remote Desktop software

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