One-to-One in Ohio
11/15/2006 By: Tom McHale
from Technology & Learning
Part two in our series on one-to-one programs.
Few have the long-term experience with one-to-one computing that Cincinnati Country Day School has. The small, private, grade 5-12 institution in Indian Hills, Ohio, began its pioneering laptop program in 1996. With six years of practical experience under its belt, the school made the decision to begin transitioning to tablets in 2002, with an initial focus on the 5th grade class. This year, full implementation has finally been reached with all 575 students and 150 teachers with their own personal tablets.
The school has maintained long-term partnerships with Toshiba and Microsoft, both involved since the inception of the laptop program. The current technology of choice is the Protege M400 tablet computer running Windows XP Tablet Edition. For Joe Hofmeister, the school's director of technology, the decision to switch to tablets was easy. He sees the tablets' stylus feature as a way to significantly increase the functionality of computing in an education setting, opening up whole new opportunities for students to work more collaboratively, creating projects using drawing and color. Hofmeister also sees this feature as essential to the writing process because it encourages more prewriting activities. "I've become convinced that the pen is key to the students producing original work," he says.
A variety of projects have emerged from classroom use of the tablets. In a 9th grade humanities unit on Hamlet, for instance, students use the tablets while working in groups to examine different aspects of the play. One team focused on a comparison of staging and another on costume-making. The students were able to use the tablets to create colorful, vivid examples of how the costumes might look and also to annotate stage designs. Tablets also enable physics students to save their notes in their own handwriting or to convert them to type. For the school newspaper, adviser Hofmeister uses handwritten annotations in various colors to edit and comment on student work before e-mailing articles back to them.
As part of the larger picture, the one-to-one tablet program dovetails with the school mission to create a more flexible learning environment. Each classroom has a projector that teachers and students can link to from their tablets for a large group display of their desktops. Teachers also make use of videoconferencing, having students create audio WAV files to evaluate the understanding of a poem or text in a foreign language class. Many areas of the curriculum also integrate popular PC games—for example, FIRAXIS Games' Civilization III and Sega's Rome: Total War offer total immersion environments for students to study military strategy for history class. Other programs central to the curriculum are Key Curriculum Press's Geometer's Sketchpad and DyKnow software, which enable teachers and students to share information, strategize, and interact in other ways via their tablets. Because the CCDS campus is on a wireless network, learning can take place anywhere students happen to be.
"If you are trying to do powerful work where the students are active, having the most flexible environment possible makes a big difference," says Hofmeister.
Parents are required to purchase the tablets—currently at a cost of $2,493—in addition to paying tuition. Although the students own the tablets, the school assumes responsibility for repairs, warranties, support, and software licenses. The school receives no government grants or funds of any kind. Even without the financial burden of the tablets, the program is still a high-cost implementation for the school, largely due to the output of financial aid for qualifying families and the significant expense of supplying each faculty member with a machine, says Hofmeister.
During the past 10 years, Hofmeister has seen and tried many types of formal professional development techniques for the staff, but he doesn't believe any have been particularly successful, especially when factoring in the cost of paying trainers and teachers for their time. So he prefers to implement a voluntary, low stress sharing of ideas and classroom success stories. Three times a year teachers spend three days presenting their uses of tablets to visiting schools. In preparation for this, they designate a day to hear and see what their same-school colleagues are doing. It's basically a show-and-tell conversation about what's worked, how they know it's worked, and what the students thought of it, he says.
Other professional development days are scheduled as needed, such as an October conference in which such presentations were given to the entire faculty. Hofmeister believes the best learning is individualized and hopes that these solution-based presentations will plant seeds in the minds of colleagues and encourage them to integrate the technology in their own ways in their classrooms. Then if they need help learning more about how to use a program for a particular activity or outcome, he will buy them the materials needed. "It's the use that guides the training," he says.
How It's Working
CCDS does not use standardized tests to measure the effectiveness of its one-to-one program, finding the tests' traditionally narrow focus unable to effectively evaluate the breadth of new opportunities and broader implications of putting a computing device into the hands of every child and adult. Instead, Hofmeister talks about the change in environment—the access to information, the ease of communication, and increased efficiencies the program has allowed. When the French class hooked up via videoconferencing with their peers in Le Havre, France, for weekly classroom conversations, it was just the beginning. Soon, students were e-mailing each other on their own time, making plans for exchange visits, and talking about their personal lives. The earth science teacher has cut costs and upped student engagement with an activity based on free topographical maps downloaded from the United States Geological Survey (he used to pay for hard copies). He asks the students to use different colors in the highlighter mode of their styluses to indicate areas of the country that are 650 feet above sea level, to measure the longitude and latitude of their town, and to gauge the distance between schools. Students e-mail their maps back to the teacher, who can then get a quick color read. Suddenly children who haven't qualified for biology have stronger skills than their parents.
"Every day people are discovering new things and trying them out," Hofmeister says.
Because this will be the first year every student will have a tablet rather than a laptop, Hofmeister looks forward to further integration of this tool into the curriculum. He would especially like to see it used even more often as a prewriting tool in all areas of the curriculum. As CCDS begins its fourth year using tablets, Hofmeister remains convinced that making the switch from laptops was a smart idea. And with the cost of a tablet comparable to a laptop, he sees the device as the wave of the future in schools.
Tom McHale is an educator in New Jersey.