Toting technology

  • Jennifer Aaby<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:39am

Shoreline School District staff members believe that student learning will advance with a click of a mouse or searching an online resource.

And this week the district took the next step to see this idea come to fruition.

Kellogg Middle School and Echo Lake Elementary students are the first in the district to receive school laptops at a one-to-one ratio, meaning each fourth- through eighth-grade student has the opportunity to check out an Apple iBook for the entire school year, much like they would a textbook or musical instrument.

Funding for this opportunity came by way of a voter-approved facility and technology bond from 1994, at a cost of $375 per student who receives a laptop, per year during a four-year period. Each family must pay a $60 fee to receive a laptop, to cover insurance and a carrying case, and scholarships are available. Approximately 1,500 students in Shoreline schools will receive laptops this school year.

The district has chosen to lease the laptops for four years, so maintenance and upgrades will be available through Apple.

Integrating technology in the classrooms has been a priority in the school district for a number of years, but this is the first time students have been able to access an iBook for use both at school and at home.

The idea is one that excites educators, parents and students alike.

“I haven’t stopped smiling,” Kellogg Principal Lori Longo said as she watched students and parents bustle around the school Aug. 29, with laptops in hand.

Tools for school

Teachers have been integrating technology into in-class assignments and projects for some time, but with students having access to a computer after-school, the opportunities for working on extended projects now exist, Longo said.

“That truly allows us to infuse technology into assignments,” she said.

Students also can utilize academic resources each laptop has, such as the Internet and World Book Encyclopedia.

Security software also has been installed to limit Internet access to appropriate Web sites, district officials said.

During the past three years, the district has increased its use of technology after first purchasing laptops in 2000 that were housed at the district’s headquarters. Then, in 2002, each school had a cart full of 15 laptops for classes to share.

In previous years Echo Lake piloted a program that provided students, on a two-to-one basis, with laptops for use at school only. Then last spring, each teacher received a laptop to use at home and school, which totaled about 700 laptops that were purchased.

“This is the next logical step,” Superintendent Jim Welsh said.

Welsh said the feedback from staff has been positive, and teachers have said providing students with laptops is the direction they hoped the school district would go.

“It improves the quality of learning greatly,” said Christine Croft, a math teacher at Kellogg.

She said students become more engaged learners when using a laptop, and their attention stays focused on the tasks at hand, which leads to improved classroom behavior.

Teachers and parents also see the increased accessibility of laptops as a tool to provide each student with the same technology background.

“It puts students on the same playing field,” English and social studies teacher Mitch Entler said.

He said this gives all students, regardless of their economic status, the ability to develop an interest in and knowledge of technology.

Parent Jim Rohrback agreed, saying this gives students a better chance to reach their potential.

“As a parent, we all want our students to have opportunities,” Rohrback said.

Eager students

The enthusiasm of students also is apparent at Kellogg.

Eighth-graders roamed the halls of the school, offering assistance and escorting families around the school as they obtained laptops, signed consent forms and learned the basics about laptop use.

Kenny Johnson, 14, was excited to get his laptop and be able to share school projects with his family.

Sammy Gwazdauskas and Jordan Brown, both 13, said using the laptops makes assignments more interesting. Brown even named his laptop Frank and spent time checking out some of the laptop’s features.

Longo said students have grown accustomed to using laptops at school, and she does not think students will abuse the resource.

“We are confident that our students are ready for that responsibility,” Longo said.

Shoreline takes the lead

The district is interested in expanding the program to more students and schools, including a one-to-one or two-to-one distribution of laptops at Briarcrest, Ridgecrest and Syre elementaries and to Room Nine Community School.

Technology expansion also is taking place at Einstein Middle School, where students will have access to laptops on a two-to-one basis this fall, and one-to-one in the spring. Echo Lake kindergarten to third-graders will also have two-to-one access to laptops, which will only be used at school.

Welsh said the district will continue to monitor the effectiveness of students’ laptop use and will seek feedback from the community on its views of the program. Additional funding to support an increase in accessibility of laptops may come in the form of another facility and technology bond, which the district is currently considering.

At this point, Welsh is pleased to be able to provide students with state-of-the-art resources, sending Shoreline to the forefront of technology integration in the classrooms.

“As far as I know, we are the only school district in the state of Washington that is seriously contemplating a K-12, one-to-one ratio,” Welsh said.

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