Thursday, June 13, 2002

Teachers prepare for laptops in the classroom

Published in the Current

One day early next week, Cape Elizabeth Middle School teachers who instruct seventh-grade students will receive their laptops.

Though the students will have to wait until the fall, teachers will get a jump on learning about these new educational tools.

Teachers already have been getting familiar with the laptops, taking trips to Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland to visit with students and teachers
using the laptops this school year.

Lyman Moore is a demonstration site for a state program which will put laptops into the hands of each seventh-grader in the state in the fall of 2002. In the fall of 2003, all eighth-graders will get one. To date, $25 million has
been set aside for the program, although the laptop fund has been tapped down by legislators to make up for shortfalls in other programs.

Eric Begonia, a science teacher at Lyman Moore, has been the Cape teachers’guide, along with several of his students, who have been enlisted to demonstrate their computers’ capabilities and their own school projects when visitors come to the school.

Begonia said the program is successful, and has opened up learning, so that students are teaching teachers about technology. He also said students are so enthusiastic that they show their parents what they’re learning when they take the laptops home.

Parents are required to sign a form each day students take laptops home. That policy is among those Cape teachers expect to adopt from Lyman Moore and adapt for use at CEMS.

Delaying retirement for program
Beverly Bisbee, the lead teacher for the laptop initiative among the CEMS seventh-grade teachers, is enthusiastic about the computers. So much so, in fact, that she put off her retirement to stay and incorporate laptops into her classroom and the classrooms of her colleagues.

Bisbee has been at this for some time. In 1986, when she was a teacher at Wilton Academy in Wilton, she got a grant to use computers in her writing classes. She was able to demonstrate that technology could narrow the gender gap in MEA scores.

The seventh-grade teachers already are using the middle school’s mobile computer lab, but want more time with the machines.

“The labs are overbooked. The labs are not sufficient for what we want to do,” Bisbee said. With computers, she said, “the teachable moments are just incredible.”

And with computers all the time? “This could revolutionize the way we teach and the way we learn,” Bisbee said.

All of the teachers involved in the program will have training sessions of at least two and in some cases five days during the summer, to help them become more familiar with the computers.

Policies and procedures are less of a worry after the visit to Lyman Moore, teachers said.

“I think Lyman Moore has a lot of the kinks worked out,” said teacher Matt Whaley. He is looking forward to having them in his classroom. “It’s going to be an incredible learning tool,” he said.

Teacher Joanne Paquette said laptops would help prevent students from losing notes or forgetting to bring notebooks to class, and can help her ensure all the students get vocabulary, for example. She expects she will send the list by email to the students, who will keep the message for reference and even use it, she said, during open-note tests.

Even so, the laptops may not be useful across the entire curriculum.

“In math I’m not quite sure,” Paquette said.

Brian Freccero teaches math and said many universities have web material on algebra and pre-algebra.

“We can use those to supplement the book,” he said.

He would create a list of links for students to visit, but said he wouldn’t expect to use them every day.

Paquette said she sees advantages aside from strict curricular applications.

“They’re always hounding us about what their grades are,” she said. She plans to have students enter their assignment grades into a spreadsheet and keep track themselves.

She added that slide shows on computer screens can help replace costly consumables, like poster board, saving teachers and schools money without sacrificing academics.

No replacement for basics
Students will still need to know how to do things without computers, the teachers said, and they expect to continue teaching those skills as well. “It’s the same learning taking place,” Paquette said.

Students also will need their basic skills, without computer assistance, in the near academic future, when they leave the middle school.

“When they go to high school they’re not going to have these,” said teacher Deb Casey.

Spanish teacher Susan Dana is concerned about technology overtaking learning. But even she uses computers for access to authentic Spanish-language materials and expects to continue to do so.

When that happens now, the class has to head down the hall and get set up on computers in the computer room, costing valuable class time.

Librarian Hayden Atwood expects to help the students do research using the computers, which come ready for Internet access, provided by a wireless link in the school building. They also have a multimedia encyclopedia installed, including audio and video files in addition to the text and photographs commonly found in book encyclopedias.

“For research it’s going to be wonderful,” Atwood said. He said teaching students about plagiarism and ethics, as well as how to evaluate Internet resources for truth and accuracy, will be primary tasks for him.

District technology coordinator Gary Lanoie also has visited Lyman Moore. “I was impressed by what I saw,” he said.

Initially, Lanoie had thought the school would not need carts in which to store the laptops and recharge their batteries, but after visiting Lyman Moore, he said he has changed his mind. He is investigating ways to buy or build enough carts to hold the school’s machines.

Lanoie also plans to set up an “iTeam,” about a dozen kids who will be resources for teachers and students who need help with their computers.

Schools statewide have reported that classrooms with laptops have better attendance rates, better discipline and more focused students.

Begonia said that Lyman Moore students take excellent care of the computers, and treat them with respect.

$25-million fund
The program is expected to cost the state $37.2 million over the next four years, and will outfit each seventh- and eighth-grade student and teacher with iBook laptops, made by Apple Computer. The contract between the state and Apple includes a hardware warranty and software support for each computer.

The state has provided initial funding of $25 million for the project, with interest on that money expected to make up the bulk of the remainder.

Gov. Angus King, who met with Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs to promote the program on Monday, said Apple has effectively contributed as much as $15 million in discounts for the project.

Some of the laptop money already has been used to purchase network equipment, laptops for demonstration sites including Lyman Moore and to buy laptops for teachers. The bulk of the money will be spent over the course of the contract, paid in monthly installments to Apple, based on the number of students and teachers receiving services, according to Department of Education spokesman Yellow Light Breen.

“I think it’s a wonderful program, if it will continue,” said Cape Superintendent Tom Forcella. If the funds will not be available to continue the program he said, a one-time expenditure would be better used to buy
mobile computer labs usable throughout the school district.

The governor originally earmarked $53 million for the program and legislators have cut it back to $25 million. The fund is often mentioned as a way to help bail out a projected $180 million state budget shortfall discovered by the state in April.