Saturday, December 5, 2009

1-1 Program: The First Months

The West Metro Education Program’s Mission Statement reads: “We are committed to equity and excellence for all students, eliminating disparities in achievement and opportunity, and preparing all learners to thrive in a diverse world.”

As an effort to continue completing this mission statement the FAIR School Downtown began it’s 1-1 Program by handing out new Apple MacBooks to all 46 ninth grade students. The decision to go with Apple Inc. was due to the video and creative elements that are necessary for an arts magnet school such as our own, not to mention the amazing track record with these machines. In addition there is a similar 1-1 program going on at our sister school, the FAIR School Crystal, since last year. All student MacBooks are set-up with iLife 09’, iWork 09’, Final Cut Pro, Logger, Adobe Photoshop, Firefox, Safari, and access to the Apple Server that we have set-up specifically for the students. The computers sync with the server every fifteen minutes and back up all documents in the “Documents” folder. Unlike other schools that I know of, we do not back up all the documents, videos, music, and other material on the computers, only the materials in the “Documents” folder. All students and their parents/guardians came to the school and filled out paperwork, provided a check for the insurance on the computer, and went through a basic Apple MacBook orientation. The students, in addition to following the rules and expectations for use of the laptop in the school building, are required to bring their computer to school charged every single day. We encourage them to leave their power cords at home, because the MacBook batteries should last the morning periods when they will need their computers the most. In the afternoon all students in the high school have arts periods and generally do not use their laptops in those classes. All in all, it was a very successful evening of handing out laptops to students.

Some of the laptops in their cases ready to hand out to the students

Now...a month and a half into the 1:1 Program here are the early results:

The biggest and most impressive change I have noticed is that students are more engaged in the classroom in all areas and throughout the entire hour. It literally was like night and day between the students having the laptops and then not having the laptops. Students enjoy coming to class, they work together in groups a lot more, and are truly engaged in their curriculum and material throughout the entire hour.

Students have been able to create more exciting projects that are more in tune with their creative desires. For example, sometimes I will give an assignment that requires the students to answer a question, but we allow them to complete it with any application/program that they desire. The projects we get back are nothing short of amazing. In the future I hope to share some of these projects here.

Choosing to continue with the Apple MacBooks was a great decision because the students are so creative on them and the durability and lack of problems has been impressive. In fact, to date I have had to send in or repair one computer due to a manufacture problem, non-student related.

Turning in assignments electronically through our drop boxes has been a wonderful tool. All of the teachers in the high school have an electronic drop box that students can turn assignments in to. From there instructors are able to pull the assignments out, grade them, give feedback, and then return the assignments back to each student’s individual computer. In addition, all high school teachers also have a share folder where handouts or materials for that unit or class period are kept. Students can also share class related or small group files through this folder. With the addition of this electronic file transfer and sharing there has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of paper and ink used within the school. We are excited to be saving the environment and I am excited about being able to read all the assignments electronically.

The addition of the laptops has changed how I teach. Right now I am doing much what I did at Arapahoe, where only some (actually two-thirds) of my classes are using the laptops. When I am teaching the classes with the laptops I have noticed a significant shift in how I actually teach. I feel that I can do so much more with these students, especially because they have access to so many materials right there at their fingertips. I can do a lot less direct instruction and a lot more partnering or pairing with my students so that they look up the information and teach the rest of the class. They interact with the SMART Board, they plug their computers into it and show the rest of the class what they are doing and they help one another figure out what is exactly going on in the passage or text. In fact, having the laptops has also though made teaching a bit more difficult because sometimes I have to compete with the laptop. Not in a ineffective way, because if the students are on their laptops and talking then I will have them close the lids and one of the beauties of a Mac is how fast it starts back up again. But I really feel that I compete with the class in different ways. I have to be as engaging, as exciting, as fast paced, and as engaging as their computer is. At times I feel that I have to be that much like that computer, but at other times I really focus on being different. I am not, nor am I going to be that computer, but I do try to take some of the elements of their computers - the ones that they enjoy and that are engaging to them - and bring those into the classroom. In addition, it has been so much fun to have a SMART Board at the front of my classroom and a classroom full of motivated students with laptops. I am excited about the future and when all students in the high school, in four years, will have laptops.

Finally, the most exciting thing about having the laptops is that we are truly preparing students for success in the 21st Century. They are being creative producers. They are engaging with their texts and with their world. They are learning to type better. They are learning what is good content and what is bad content. They are learning what is appropriate to put up on the Internet and what is not. They are learning how to be and are better artists than they were two months ago. However, in all reality we are not educating only these students, but we are educating entire families. In some situations the laptops that we have provided for these students is the only computer that has ever been in their homes. That is exciting. We are also creating equality across the board because all the students have the same materials, the same computers, and the same access to resources now. It is not a money thing, Minneapolis and suburb thing, a race thing or a S.E.S. Thing - it is a FAIR School Downtown 9th grader thing.

With great thanks to the support of the district, administration, school board, parents, students, staff, and all others that have been involved in this program we have truly created equity and are receiving excellent work from all our students by eliminating disparities in achievement and opportunity by providing all our ninth grade students with an Apple MacBook that is preparing them to thrive in the diverse world which they live and interact in today.

I look forward to the adventures and achievements of our students in the coming months and years as the use of the laptops and the 1:1 Program continues to grow.