December 9, 2010


Windham High School math teacher Joshua Lavoie uses a “smart board” to demonstrate the finer points of origami to his geometry class, while they use their school-issued Apple laptops to follow along at their desks. 

21st Century classrooms at Windham HS
                           are setting the educational bar
Union Leader Correspondent
Steve Johnson, an Apple rep from Boston, said he was impressed
with Windham's use of one-to-one computing.
WINDHAM -- Hands-on learning, in Julie Hartmann’s algebra class, means every kid has a Macbook within reach. Understanding the slope of y=x+2 becomes more than a mathematical concept when students see the equation graphed on a laptop in front of them.
As visual aids go, this one is hard to beat.
Add to that a digital Smart Board hanging from the front of the room, replacing outdated projection screens or blackboards. Hartmann can “write” notes on it to enhance the lesson, or expand on a concept. She can then save the screen as a pdf file and upload it to Moodle, an open-source course management site used at Windham High School, across disciplines.
It’s like a virtual classroom housed on the World Wide Web, equally accessible to teachers, students and admin-istrators
 through their laptops for retrieving class notes, submitting assignments, creating projects or enhancing documents with Web links or podcasts. 

It is a system of education as modern as you can find right now, which is why Wednesday a delegation of teachers and support staff from Wayland High School in Massachusetts spent several hours moving in and out of Windham High classrooms, to see how the one-to-one computing program — which provides a Macbook for every student — works, and if it’s right for their new high school, which will open next December. 
Matt Daniels, a math teacher at Wayland, said he walked into the tour a skeptic. 
He walked out a convert. 
“While we use graphing calculators in the classroom, I was really skeptical about how this kind of technology would enhance a math curriculum. The skepticism comes in part from dealing with technology that doesn’t work and a lack of commitment from the faculty. Today’s visit shifted my thinking, from the skeptical camp to ‘let’s do this!’ I saw it working from mid-level math classes all the way up to honors math courses,” Daniels said. 
Along for the tour was Steve Johnson, Boston regional manager for Apple, who was impressed with how quickly Windham school officials have settled in with the one-to-one computing model. 
“They’re doing it right,” said Johnson. “A lot of schools go one-to-one but don’t dedicate any time or resources to technology integration.” 
Windham teachers have weekly blocks of time set aside for tech training — partly a luxury of having a brand new high school that is writing the book on 21st century learning as it goes. 
Johnson said that while this technology has existed for 10 or 15 years, it’s really beginning to take hold as technology has become more advanced. He noted that Windham is the first public school in the state to try one-to-one computing, which is also used at Brewster Academy, a Wolfeboro prep school. 
Outside of New Hampshire, the system is in use in every middle school in Maine and half of its high schools, which accounts for a fraction of the 3,000 schools across the country that have embraced this high-tech learning system. 
Apple works with the schools in training and professional development, guiding the process along. Windham employs computer technicians who are certified in Apple equipment repair, although one year in, there have been few glitches with computers. 
“We had what we call the ‘iTunes incident,’” said school superintendent Frank Bass. “Many students received new iPods last Christmas, and they weren’t compatible with the version of iTunes loaded on the laptops. It took us a couple of weeks, but we got all the laptops upgraded.” 
While students may use their laptops for storing music and photos, they can’t upload outside software -- at the end of each school year the laptops are collected, wiped clean, updated and returned to the same student at the beginning of the next school year. 
If, upon graduation, the student would like to purchase the laptop, they can do so for about $100 or so, said Windham School Board Chairman Bruce Anderson, who has served on the board since the new high school was conceptualized six years ago. 
“A lot of schools have invested in the old school way of doing tech — labs with three computers, maybe five or six laptops that get wheeled in if a teacher reserves them. That doesn’t really engage the kids day to day,” Anderson said. 
“Not only is this the way we work today, but if you think about it, the way I did homework 30 years ago is no longer relevant. These kids are connected to media in every way. It’s what they’re used to, and it’s what they will need as they move forward,” Anderson said. Sophomore Andrew Sun said he understands that the more exposure to multimedia learning and technology, the better prepared he will be for college and beyond. 
“We live in a tech-based society, so exposing us to this is helpful,” Sun said. “I also like that students have a choice — if they don’t want to use the computer for taking notes or doing projects, they can do it on poster board or write things out.” 
At the same time, it’s become apparent that a computer-centric classroom levels the playing field, said sophomore Nicole Garfield. 
“We all have an equal chance to have a good project,” Garfield said. 
There are now very few instances where students can claim they didn’t know they had an assignment due. Absent? No problem. Your class notes are posted on your teacher’s home page. Snow day? No such thing, when everyone is wired to a virtual classroom. 
Biology teacher Bethany Bernasconi said after the initial investment by teachers in setting up the curriculum for classes, the technology is a beautiful thing. 
It actually allows her to teach. 
“There is more discussion with this method. Our classes are more inquiry-based now. The kids get more time to talk about what they’re learning, and we’re writing our own curriculum as we go,” Bernasconi said. 
Anderson noted that while there was some push back from the community leading up to the one-to-one computing system, since it’s been in place he’s not had one complaint. 
Having seen how well it works and understanding the potential, he said, the next step is for districts in less affluent cities and towns to find a way to embrace “new school” learning. 

“If you think about this, you realize that if you want to equal the playing field for all kids, regardless of what their mom and dad make, then you have to look at doing this with a national perspective, in places where parents can’t afford technology at home. In those schools, the effect on education is even more powerful,” Anderson said. 

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