More districts giving students access to laptops

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LaRue County High School sophomore Jackson Venegas works on his homework in his bedroom while his sister Isabella looks on. The school’s 1:1 laptop initiative allows students to take home their laptops. LaRue County High School is one of several schools in the state offering the use of a laptop to all students. Photo by Amy Wallot; March 2011
LaRue County High School sophomore Jackson Venegas works on his homework in his bedroom while his sister Isabella looks on. The school’s 1:1 laptop initiative allows students to take home their laptops. LaRue County High School is one of several schools in the state offering the use of a laptop to all students. Photo by Amy Wallot; March 2011

By Susan Riddell
susan.riddell@education.ky.gov 

As recently as last year, districts made headlines when initiating 1:1 laptop programs. By putting a laptop in the hands of each high school student, these districts pulled off quite a feat.
 
But more districts are following suit, and it’s no longer uncommon to hear of the success these districts are experiencing as a result.
 
Todd, Daviess, McCracken and LaRue county school districts, along with Owensboro, Fort Thomas and Ludlow independent school districts, are just some of those leading Kentucky in the 1:1 laptop initiative.
Owensboro Independent has plans to deploy laptops to all students in grades 5-12 in the 2011-12 school year.
 
LaRue County is in its first year with high school students using the laptops. All 720 students have a Dell Latitude 2110 laptop, Principal Paul Mullins said.
 
“We often discuss engaging students in our classrooms,” Mullins said. “What better way to do that than to meet them where they are? Students of today are engaged with the use of technology, and to make a 1:1 initiative successful we must understand how that looks in our classrooms. The 21st-century classroom is one that allows students to explore as the teacher guides and facilitates the learning.”
LaRue County’s initiative began three years ago. The district set up a committee and four subcommittees related to communications, infrastructure, management and professional development.
 
“An honest discussion with your staff and buy-in is vital to get the initiative off the ground,” Mullins said. “I believe that it must be seen as a learning initiative and not a technology issue for the desired change to take place. Everyone must understand instructional practices in classrooms are going to fundamentally change the way we deliver instruction to students.”
 
Mullins also recommends that districts involve all stakeholders in every step of the process and make sure that everyone understands the vision and goals of a 1:1 initiative.
 
“Our committee visits to Daviess and Todd counties helped answer many questions that we had. Quality professional development is a key in getting the initiative off to a positive start,” Mullins said. “This professional development isn’t about programs; it’s about strategies and implementation.”
 
Ludlow High School Principal Joe Beard said his school has handed out laptops to Advanced Placement (AP) students the last two years. Ludlow students also use Dell Latitude laptops.
 
Ludlow’s administration wanted students “to be more exposed and ready for their college work,” Beard said. “The pace of AP courses, the requirements and expectations, and in general, allowing students to have a year of experience using a laptop will assist them during their first year of college.”
 
Students in both LaRue County and Ludlow Independent districts are allowed to take laptops home. Some websites are blocked from the laptops, and district technology staff monitors laptops for inappropriate use.
 
Parents were trained in both districts prior to initiative implementation.
 
“The laptop program is a lot of work on the front end,” Beard said. “(Schools must) get the program operational; get software loaded; establish a check-in/check-out system; have rules, guidelines and training for students; and meet with parents about the program.”
But it’s worth it, he added.
 
“Teacher benefits are many, including non-stop student access even with snow days, weekends and extended holiday breaks,” Beard said. “PowerPoint presentations for guided notes can be sent at any and all times. Instant communication with a teacher who is online is also possible, and questions or clarifications can be left with a teacher who can respond to students even if school is not in session. Teachers use Blackboard, which is also used by Kentucky colleges and universities to communicate.”
 
Rex Hanson, a mathematics teacher at LaRue County High, said the laptop initiative made a recent Pre-Calculus lesson easier on his students.
 
“Students were struggling understanding the side-side-angle case of Law of Sines,” Hanson said. “So I had students use Geometer’s Sketchpad on their laptops to draw two different triangles that can result from the given information. Students were able to see and understand how one set of given information could result in two different triangles.”
 
The laptops play a key role in assessment, Hanson said.
 
“Laptops have been a resource for test preparation and test-taking strategies with the online program Test Gear,” Hanson said. “Some courses take their assessments through Moodle, which is a free version of Blackboard. Students and teachers get instant feedback with this type of assessment, which allows teachers to provide real-time interventions for students who are struggling.”
 
Mullins, who recently served as the keynote speaker at the 2011 spring Kentucky Society for Technology in Education conference, said that laptop initiatives like those at LaRue County and Ludlow high schools aren’t necessarily about helping students learn new things, but more about enhancing what they already know.
 
“We had to come to the understanding that the high school students of today come to our classrooms armed with skills that high schools often have been ignoring or maybe even fighting for far too long,” Mullins said. “This access to the Internet has made American teens the most plugged-in individuals on the planet. The successful high school of the 21st century must be prepared to tap into that interest.”
 
MORE INFO …
Paul Mullins, paul.mullins@larue.kyschools.us, (270) 358-2210
Joe Beard, joe.beard@ludlow.kyschools.us, (859)261-8211

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