Random Thoughts

Why I still want MS and HS to have a Laptop

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I received a tweet a couple days ago asking why I still believed laptops, in this case MacBooks, are the right choice for middle school and high school students.

Now before I begin, let me state that I firmly believe a 1:1 (one computer per student) program no matter what the connected device (device connected to the Internet) is better than no 1:1 program at all. If a school can only afford an iPad for ever student then that’s the best choice.

However, many schools, especially here internationally and private schools in the states, have the option to buy either an iPad or a MacBook and for them I am recommending MacBooks for Middle School and High School 1:1 programs.

Consumption vs Creation

by umpcportal.com

At the end of the day the iPad is designed for the consumption of information. This is not the shift I’m looking for in education. Yes…you can create some things on the iPad but it doesn’t take long to max out the iPad’s creative potential. I am not talking creating music, or taking a video. I’m talking the mashup of videos from different sources, the creation of music from different sources as well as the programs and apps I want students to be creating today.

Apple sees the iPad as a consumption device, and it does a really really good job of it, giving the consumer a beautiful interface to consume through. Apple’s latest announcement where they unveiled iBook Author I think just makes this point stronger. You create the textbook, or any book for that matter, on the computer and you consume the information on the iPad. As much as I want digital textbooks, what I really want is students to create their own books.

For middle school and high school students I want them creating sophisticated projects, I want them collaborating, like I’m doing today on a Google Doc using the built in chat feature. I want them making apps, videos, and music…not the kind that get a couple views, but the kind that go viral.

If you want to plan for the future

by torres21

Now if you really want to plan for the future, and by that I mean the next two years, then students should have both an iPad and a MacBook. I know one school who is looking at this option and I believe that’s the future.The iPad and tablets will are changing the way we consume information no doubt about it. We need to be preparing students to consume information that is digital, updated, and constantly changing.

We also want need creators and that’s where I love to focus my time. We do a really good job in schools have kids consume information, we don’t do a very good job of having them create new information out of what they are learning.

My Perfect School

I’ve been asked on several occasions what my perfect school looks like. Today as it stands in January 2012 this would be my perfect school.

PreK – 1st Grade: 1 iPad for every two students: iPads stay at school owned and managed by the school.

2 – 3rd Grade: 1:1 iPad program: Each student has their own iPad and iPads primarily stay at school and can be checked out by the parents to take home if need/wanted.

4th Grade: 1:1 iPad and 1:1 Laptop: The iPads are allowed to be taken home and are tied to a guardians account. The school purchases a set of “standard apps” anything above that is up to the parents. The laptops stay at school and can be checked out by the parents to take home if need/wanted.

5th Grade: 1:1 iPad and 1:1 Laptop: Same as 4th grade however the students at some point during the year gain the responsibility of taking both the iPad and the Laptop home. 5th Grade is a great time to do this because:

  • In 5th grade students still only have one classroom teacher. This sense of classroom community is a great place to talk about responsibility and practice it.
  • A good time to practice taking care of your devices before hitting middle school where students have 4 to 6 different classes in 4 to 6 different classrooms with 4 to 6 different teachers.
  • Allow students to learn to organize their digital lives so they are not trying to figure this out at the same time they are learning a new “schooling” system of lockers, freedom and multiple classes.

6 -12th Grade: 1:1 iPad and 1:1 Laptop: Both devices become the sole responsibility of the student. The school loads a “standard” set of software on all devices and the students/parents are responsible for managing the rest.

Of course there are a lot of things “schooling” that would need to change too and trying to bring this into a school that already is established and has a history would be messy…very messy, which is why most administrators won’t attempt it.

But if I was starting a new school today….this would be the given and every parents would know from day one what we’ll be using and here’s what we would expect from the students and from the parents as their responsibility for learning.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. I’m intrigued by the statement “students/parents are responsible for managing the rest”. If I’m reading this correctly, it would mean that the students could run and manage the device themselves… and I’m all for that ! For years, we’ve tried to standardize everything, but your description leads me to think that that “base install” should be standardized, but then students should be able to select, install, and use additional tools as they need.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi Brian,

      You are correct. I do think there needs to be a “standard” set of tools that all teachers know that all students have installed on their machines. Those, students would not be able to remove. However…I do think students should have the right to add their own programs and learn to manage their own learning. This is what we’re moving to here at my school. We we roll out the 1:1 in the high school. We will install the “standard image” to all the machines then students will have administrative rights on their machines to add and customize their machines and personalize them the way the want/work.

      If there is an issue with the machines we have a “10 minute” rule of fixing. Basically if Ed Tech can’t fix your computer in 10 minutes it get’s reimaged with the schools image and is given back to you. Yes…the student is 100% responsibly to back up their computer and their work. How they do that is up to them.

      Personally I can’t stand the thought of standardizing computers for kids. Computers are a very personal part of our lives. Kids need to be able to personalize them, to break them (by that I mean crash the system), fix them, learn with them. That’s what I call learning. 😉

      • Chet Garber Reply

        Right on, Jeff.

        We can’t be heroes of constructivist learning and allow students to build their own concepts of the world through technology if their environment is tightened to the point that they’re only allowed a desktop with our “approved” interactivities.

        We don’t want the students to have constant problems, but I agree wholeheartedly with your opinion of learning. My experience with most IT departments, though, is that people want to create the “perfect” system, and insure that none of it gets disturbed, ever. A good way to spoil the kids learning experience.

        • David Beaty Reply

          Are you also in agreement with the “iPad is not creative enough” assertion?

  2. I agree with your thoughts Jeff. I teach high school and have a 3 macbooks and 2 iPads in our classroom. They have very different roles and when we get down to actual creation of artefacts of learning, the macbook is way ahead of the iPad. It is great that some students use the iPad (& iPodTouch) to get pictures of their work, then post it to a blog. But when they have multiple pictures they need a slideshow in their blog and we have not found a way on the iPad to do that (we have GAPPS). They have made a few tutorial videos on iPad, but as you say, mashing several videos together is a computer thing. A final point that you mention is something many people are not understanding. These are personal devices. Students (& teachers) will utilize them & care for them better when they are treated that way. I like your schools ten minute rule. Now if we can get teachers to change how they “teach” so devices would actually be seamless and well utilized. Then we might actually find the funds to prioritize technology.

  3. Currently, students in my classes have primary access to Windows machines, but they also have access to Mac computers and iPads. We are not currently a 1:1.

    If I were offered a 1:1 with MacBooks or iPads and everything else were equal, I personally would definitely pick the MacBooks. However, if I could use the difference in funding to pay for additional professional learning community time (which includes curriculum redevelopment time) among those “teaching” with the iPads, I’d probably opt for the iPads. I would also choose the iPads over Windows XP machines. I’d have to think carefully between the iPads and Windows 7 machines. If I were choosing for the whole school, I might even choose the iPads over MacBooks even if everything else were equal.

    Why? One reason is that I think your conclusion about iPads as consumption devices is inaccurate. (“At the end of the day the iPad is designed for the consumption of information.”) I do believe Apple designs them to be excellent consumption devices and those features may appear to stand out. But, they are also excellent production devices. In some cases, even better than MacBooks.

    You mention wanting students to create apps, videos, and music. It is true that iPads cannot be used to create apps that run on iPads. (I’d add that they can’t run Scratch here too.) Related side question, what percentage of your students are coding apps on their MacBooks? But, iPads can be used to shoot and edit excellent videos with just the built in camera and iMovie or iStop motion. And, with GarageBand, among other apps, students can create excellent music or audio podcasts. In facts, my students often create better (technically) videos and audio recordings in less time on the iPad. Granted, they may not have all the special fx, but that’s rarely what makes video or audio go viral. It’s much more often about the content and a little less due to the quality of the original footage/audio. Here’s a link to an great example – http://www.ipadacademic.com/education/lesson-plans/animating-and-explaining-cell-division – though it might not go viral.

    With their ease of use, stability and the ability of students to complete quality projects often in less time, I’ve seen teachers in my school and nationally during summer pd sessions take to these devices much more rapidly than laptops, even MacBooks. If teachers will get (allow) students to use iPads to produce more projects than with MacBooks, then I need to take the iPad over the more flexible and powerful MacBook.

    That’s not to say I view iPads without their definite drawbacks, which I lay out in a little more detail here (draft). Link to Affordances & Constraints Chart – http://balancedtech.wikispaces.com/Affordances+%26+Constraints+-+iPad

    We also need to make sure our PLCs are focusing on quality uses of either device. Working through the following activity with teachers is a start in that direction, whether using MacBooks, iPads, or other devices. Link to Apps Taskonomy Activity for Educators – http://balancedtech.wikispaces.com/Apps+Taskonomy

    Check out iPad Creative to see how others are using iPads in phenomenal ways! http://www.ipadcreative.com/

  4. As someone who led our BYOL pilot program, I can tell you that I am a huge advocate of allowing students to choose the tools that meet their particular learning needs. Our students can bring in a laptop, tablet pc, netbook or tablet. We introduce a basic “tool box” of technologies that we feel will help them be more efficient, organized and productive. Beyond that, we allow them to explore the many tools out there to help them interact with the content, communicate with peers, and collaborate anytime, anywhere. We are, afterall, preparing them for their lives outside of the classroom.

    Ira Socol has written several posts on what he calls the Toolbelt Theory. I highly recommend his writings to the teachers in my district to help them understand the idea that we must give students the opportunity to truly “own the learning” which includes choosing the tools they need to be successful. Good food for thought. As always, thanks for the thought-provoking post, Jeff. I learn so much from you.



  5. After teaching for two years in a 1:1 fifth grade, I can’t imagine working at a non-1:1 school.

    Families buy the MacBook Pros for their children grades 5-8 as part of tuition and fees. The school loads on programs. At least in grade 5, parents are given admin passwords but students are not.

    The first semester, 5th graders must keep their computers at school. They are able to take them home at Christmas. When students can take computers home, I can add more to my arsenal of activities, assigning weekly news reports (http://wp.me/p1Dq2f-jy), podcasts (http://wp.me/p1Dq2f-aE), uploads to the classroom website (5a3dragonslair.edublogs.org), and more.

    Good teaching can happen without technology, but the learning is sure enhanced when technology is available 24/7. http://wp.me/p1Dq2f-oE

    I hope you can find a way to make your 1:1 dream school a reality. It’s well worth the effort.

    Janet | expateducator.com

  6. H, Jeff. New visitor to your blog.

    As a FL teacher, I am considering the purchase of a set of iPod Touch devices. I want my students creating and recording their own stuff, as well as listening to commercially-produced materials.

    Do you see the iPod Touch as a viable tool for students learning a second language, or, are laptops still the way to go?

    • Jeff Utecht Reply


      I think the iPod touches have a place in little hands. PreK – 2nd grade I could see where they would be used. At this age level kids are creating the types of projects I want them to be at 5-12 grade. The iPod Touches allow students to create on a smaller scale. Videos, audio, pictures. It also allows them to consume content in multiple ways; Audio, visual, kinesthetically.

      Now in the middle school and high school I’d like to see them have a full laptop. Do things like find popular YouTube videos, ask for permission to download and translate into languages. Or create videos of their own with sub-titles. Create radio shows in different languages and even contribue to language learning communities and wikis. This type of creation can’t be done on an iPod Touch.

  7. This is a very intriguing post in regards to children’s responsibilities for their own technological education. I think that it is important to open up access for students to use the utilities and tools that they want to use for class work, as many above have mentioned. Allowing students to use software has many real-world applications. Limiting students to a small number of controllable programs serves as narrowing a students view on the power of technology. Thinking outside the box with technology is and will remain a skillset that we should be trying to develop in students. Laptops are the way to go, I agree, as they allow a far more open system of exploration and application.

    Great blog by the way. As a newly hired technology teacher at an overseas school, I will be checking it on occasion.

  8. But when you sit down to write an iBook, does that sort of creation happen in class or at home? Too often we spend valuable face to face time in a classroom in front of a laptop instead of interacting with one another. An iPad allows students to have one device to transport back and forth from classroom to classroom, and from home to school. By giving each student a laptop and an iPad, aren’t you providing many students with a device their homes already have? Should an 11 year old carry both devices around to each class? What if there were laptops in carts available when teachers needed them for check out, but iPads were the transportable device?

    As far as creation, student can create music from a variety of sources on an iPad. They can create videos. They can create comic strips, Venn Diagrams, crossword puzzles, and posters. And the students are learning to create at a rate faster than most adults. My laptop now sits on my desk in the place that used to house my desktop computer. My iPad travels with me as I learn through the halls and classrooms of our school.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Good Points,

      But who’s going to teach those kids to create? How do you a teacher teach kids to create their own iBook without helping them learn the skills they need to actually create the book. How about apps?

      Sure most of your kids probably have a computer at home, but can you guarantee they have the software you as a teacher need them to have to create meaningful projects? You quickly get into I have/want a windows I/want have a a mac.

      Just because a school issues an iPad and MacBook doesn’t mean the students have to carry it everywhere…in fact I would say it would give kids the option to pick the right device for the job.

      When you say:

      They can create comic strips, Venn Diagrams, crossword puzzles, and posters.

      It’s true they can, but to me this is low level use of technology at the substitution level (substituting one technology for another). Sure it might be more engaging to do it on an iPad but it might be easy to make a Venn Diagram on paper.

      I want my technology to bring whole new learning experiences that we couldn’t imagine without the technology and I don’t see the iPad doing that…not yet anyway.

  9. @Balanced Ed Tech Thank you for your reply, and for the links. I am seriously contemplating the purchase of the iPod Touch to improve speaking and listening skills, as well as the production of student-generated content.

  10. Dean Hester Reply

    As a math teacher who uses an iPad, Macbook Air and a Windows tablet in the classroom I agree that the iPad does not run the software tools students need to use technology to make mathematical discoveries. There is a Geometer’s Sketchpad iPad app but users can only manipulate sketches that have already been created and users cannot create their own. Students in my classroom use Fathom, Autograph, Geometer’s Sketchpad, and Cabri 3D software on their Windows laptops to complete their own mathematical investigations.

    Students in my robotics courses also have to use tools that will not run on an iPad to program their robots. I use a Windows tablet as the multitouch screen on the iPad is not suited for writing comments when assessing student work in a digital format. I do use it though for fast access to ebook version of the textbooks I use in class and for showing videos. The analogy may be we still have both pens and pencils around because each tool works well in specific situations and sometimes both will.

    I would also like to propose that we encourage students not only to be creators but also to be digital inventors. As Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, has pointed out, high paying jobs will require employees to use technology to invent solutions to society’s problems.(http://preview.tinyurl.com/7yjgt22)

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Thanks for sharing your classroom. Fits with what I believe as well. We want students to produce and create and for that the iPad and other tablet computers just aren’t there yet.

  11. I would say my students are creating and creating in ways they never have before ES-HS. Yes a Venn Diagram is a low level use of technology, but that was in response to the comment was that you couldn’t create on an iPad. I find this thought process very narrow minded.

    This week in Math, students are illustrating their learning and thinking on Explain Everything, importing images, creating tutorials, and sharing their learning with their teachers and parents. In Science, they are using StopMotionHD to study cell mitosis and evaluate and analyze what they witness and learn through the videos. Real creation is having the student work on MadPad and create their own sounds and mix them to add to a video or learn about how different beats are created.

    These are cases of students taking their learning to the top of Bloom’s: creation and evaluation of their learning. Our students are using the iPad to create things they never have before. And quality videos are being made on the iPads in every grade level. I am just not sure we need to give them a device they already have at home. When I watch the videos of a Day in the Future by Corning’s Day of Glass Part 1 & 2, there are no laptops in the daily life of a person. Teach them how to use a device they don’t already know how to use. I believe “technology should bring whole new learning experiences that we couldn’t imagine without the technology,” but I see the iPad doing it everyday. The laptops have become very expensive word processors in the hands of too many.

    The whole premise of Apple is a creation medium. iPads create for those who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and think different.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I need to see a school where the iPad is being used to create in ways I haven’t seen. I’m willing to be wrong…but I just haven’t seen it. Or maybe I’m becoming one of those that can’t step out of their comfort zone and think different.

  12. Linc Jackson Reply

    So Jeff, if the original question is “What would hardware look like in the ideal middle school / high school setting? ” I would have to bring us back to saying that the question should be “What does education look like?” in the ideal setting. The first priority should be creating learning that encourages the kind of teaching that we have talked about in your blogs and mine: student engagement, ownership, collaboration, and a focus on the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage. The tools a school picks need to be the logical extension to reaching those goals. As I mentioned in one of my blogs I think a class could learn much more from having a full-out, awesome veggie garden outside of their classroom door (maybe a greenhouse) and that there was potential for what should be the ultimate goal: students are excited about what they are learning, they have real, genuine choices, and the teachers are gifted at providing opportunities for students to make discoveries and to harness the information that they garner along the journey. For most schools there is a mission statement and in that statement good institutions should be striving for these goals.
    Should laptops or ipods be part of the tools for every teacher? First I would look at my teachers and their goals… these days teachers are doing so much more with cloud based resources that I would have to say bandwidth and accessibility would rank next. You get more ipads for your money so that would be very tempting. Many schools are phasing in laptops to alleviate the strain on labs and to foster integration of technology tools.
    I have been doing just that at my school and next hope to move to a 1 to 1 for our oldest, middle grades, by next year.
    It is a constant budget balance to decide which tools meet the greatest need and will have the greatest impact. I find that technology helps me achieve the kinds of learning I firmly believe in, so I am committed to seeking the best tools.

    In the end, Jeff, I agree on the the laptops, ownership down to grade 6, and then phased in or school ownership for grades 4,5. Not sure how I feel about three, but I like ipads 1 to 2 for the younger ones. I feel laptops should be available for them too. Maybe floating carts to be shared. (Someday maybe the carts will actually float!)
    Here is a cool link I shared with my staff:
    9+ things that will disappear in our lifetime (also check out the education predictions at the end)


  13. My son attends a school where MacBooks are required from grades 8-12, and students use many different assistive technology tools. I believe that 1:1 is great as a learning TOOL, but because students have their laptops with them all the time, there is no “down” time when they have to use their own initiative to think, dream, plan, create w/o a screen. He gets up and will open the laptop before breakfast to play, he will play or noodle around with his iTunes in the car on the way to school, on the way home from school, and every other time that kids used to be unplugged. He is not creating, he is consuming. It is a huge fight in our household.

    What advice do you have for parents in dealing with this dark side-effect of a mandatory BYOL environment?

    • I find this interesting. I am an ITS as a middle school. We’ve done 1 to 1 Macbooks in 8th grade for the last two years. While kids are doing great things, there is a very visible dark side. A lot of kids are not supervised at home. Because the device is ours, we often get blamed by parents for putting them in the hands of students. Many boys use the machine to view pornography at home. Girls have run amok in other ways (social media, posting inappropriate pictures of themselves, etc.) Many kids figure out how to create admin accounts (they all have standard accounts), and then they download and install games…this often breaks the hard drive or creates havoc on the machine. Our teachers have ARD as a tool for classroom management, but kids figure out how to change their standard sharing names, and the game of cat and mouse goes on and on.

      I loved using technology as a teacher, and as long as all was well in my classroom, I never really paid attention to what can happen when kids bring school machines home. It can be really bad. I feel like I’ve seen this whole other side of technology now, and it’s heartbreaking. I’ve worked on ways to educate parents, but it’s only the parents that supervise their kids that will use the resources provided. Administration doesn’t want the laptops to go home anymore, and in many ways I don’t blame them. The have to deal with all the negatives. Is the ideal 1 to 1 environment in middle school an environment where kids can only use the machines at school, but every kid still has a machine to use? Many kids still have something at home they can use to complete schoolwork in the cloud (Google Docs, Moodle, etc.). At least if they were only using the school machine at school, they couldn’t get into the darker depths at home with the school device. Parents might feel more empowered.

      This seems to be a side of take-home 1 to1 that no one really talks about, at least I find very little on it when I am looking for ideas/solutions.

      I know ideally it’s better to educate kids on all the pitfalls, and what better way to learn than through real experience, making real mistakes, but like one parent said, “How does erase pornography from the mind of a 13 year-old boy?” I can’t help but feel like an enabler when handing a device to a kid that he will later use to view porn, bully, etc.

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  17. I believe every 1:1 program struggles with the misuse of the device at home. It is hard, there is no other way about it. I have had conversations with parents and students that have been uncomfortable and difficult. But at the end of the day, our goal is to teach students how to use the tools that are entrenched in their worlds. If we hand a student a baseball and a bat, but we do not provide them any structure for using those tools, someone will break a window and someone will probably use the bat to hurt someone else. These are the lessons they need to learn. And every kid should not be denied the chance to learn how to play because one or two kids mess it up.

    In MS we may have the most power to teach and model these lessons. It is 100 times easier for me to have a conversation with a 12 year old about their misuse of technology, than it is to have that same conversation with a 17 year old. The 12 year old is still impressionable. I get that this is tough. I get that parents need help. But it doesn’t mean I hide. Although it isn’t easy and isn’t pretty, these conversations need to take place and we need to remember we are all learning how to navigate the digital landscape together. Taking devices out of the hands of students isn’t teaching anyone anything new, it is just a lot less of a headache.

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  20. Sienna Burns Reply

    Hi Jeff,
    I have found this piece very insightful and there is a lot to chew on. I wanted to add that the “Makers” movement in schools or classrooms are an easy way to take the tools (laptops and ipads) and have them be 100% apart of the creation process but not the main focus( reducing the screen time). They are just one piece to creating a great project. By using other tools like makey makey or boards that hook up to your computer as well as the “creation” the students has made. This “maker” movement bring the students back into working collaboratively and really bringing it to the innovation level.

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