Teachers: Laptop program a success so far
SANFORD, Mar 27, 2010 (Sanford Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
After two months of teaching with laptops, middle school principals and teachers have seen success with the computers.
After Phases 1 and 2 received laptops in January and February, approximately 850 students and 35 teachers from West Lee Middle School, East Lee Middle and SanLee Middle received laptops.
Completing Phase 3, the remaining SanLee Middle School students and teachers received a laptop Tuesday; all West Lee, East Lee and Bragg Street Academy students and teachers will have laptops by the middle of April, said Andy Bryan, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Also, laptops will not go home with students this year, Bryan said. Because it's so late in the year, "we thought it best for the students to become acclimated in the school setting," he said.
Principals were excited about
"It opens up a whole new arena," said Melvin Marshall, principal at West Lee Middle School. "It's going so well that other kids that have not received their laptops are eager to get in on it."
Marshall did mention West Lee is experiencing some technical issues with Internet connection that they're working through.
George Raley, principal at East Lee Middle School, said he hopes the laptops provide individualized instruction for all students.
"The kids and the teachers have really taken it and run with them," he said. "There seems to be more opportunity for differentiation."
Raley sees the accessibility to information as a benefit to students that also must be monitored.
"We're trying to make sure the students access information that's appropriate and intended," he said. "Teachers have had to rethink and learn different classroom procedures."
Teachers have had to train students that laptops remain closed while the teacher is talking, Raley said; "otherwise, they're so engaged they miss the instruction from the teacher."
At SanLee, Sharron Williams, a seventh grade language arts teacher, said she and her students are very excited about the computers.
"They're definitely a lot more engaged," she said.
Wendi Wicker, a sixth grade math and science teacher at SanLee, said she hears from her students more often because they can send her little messages on the laptops.
"They feel a lot more comfortable with this, sending an e-mail rather than just telling me," she said.
Both Williams and Wicker said patience and a willingness to learn the computer have been the keys to a smooth transition.
Sandi Shover, seventh grade language arts teacher at West Lee, said she's experienced some technical issues, including accessing the server and the Internet connection.
"We're working twice as hard," said Gregg Halkuff, a seventh grade social studies teacher. "We also have to have a back-up lesson in case the computer doesn't work."
Though there were some glitches in the beginning, things have started to improve, Shover and Halkuff said. They're no longer experiencing computer malfunctions multiple days in a row; the problems are fewer and farther between.
"After eight or nine weeks, we're finally where we want to be," Halkuff said.
In carrying out instruction, the teachers use sites like educator-controlled Edmodo.com, where they can post assignments and interact with students. It provides much faster feedback, Shover said, which benefits the students; they didn't get that instant feedback when they wrote sentences on paper and had to wait for the teacher to grade the worksheet and give it back to them.
"We're able to make some of the more tedious parts of our job much more efficient," she said.
Using such sites and communicating with students via the Internet gives teachers the opportunity to teach them digital etiquette, too, Shover said.
"They're not allowed to write in text message anymore," Halkuff said, referring to the shortened language used in e-mails and Internet chatting. "When you write, you have to write like a human being."
They've had a few students try to visit blocked Web sites or break the rules, but Schover said this has always happened, no matter the outlet.
"The people that are misbehaving now were not exactly stellar to begin with," she said.
"They have now realized we can see everything they do," Halkuff added.
Both Halkuff and Schover said behavior is better overall since the students have become more engaged using the laptops. When talking about a historical figure, the teacher can have the students do an image search for the person so they know instantly what the person looks like, Halkuff said.
"My students now have information about pretty much everything. They're getting a second stream of information," Halkuff said.
Schover said this means that the teachers need to better inform students of copyright and plagiarism, because they've found it's very easy to copy and paste information into their own documents.
Bryan said administrators are pleased with the success the schools has seen thus far. And staggering the roll out has allowed the process to run smoothly.
"That's the reason we used the staged approach, to work things out along the way," he said.
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