from Technology & Learning
Despite financial hurdles, one Fresno-area school district is doing whatever it takes to get laptops into all its students' hands.
In January 1996, Clovis Unified School District found itself in a situation familiar to many districts. Fresh from a conference in Redmond, Washington, sponsored by Microsoft and Toshiba, Superintendent Dr. Walt Buster and Associate Superintendent Dr. Ginny Boris returned to their district buzzing with the possibilities that one-to-one computing presented. But in a meeting with Chuck Philips, the district's chief information officer, they quickly realized their budget could not support such an initiative.
Clovis, though, was determined not to give up on the one-to-one dream. The school district partnered with parents and the community to make laptop ownership a reality. After 10 years of sustainable integration, the district continues toward the goal of providing a laptop for every student.
How It's Working
In the spring of 1996, the Fresno-area district held informational meetings with parents about the new learning opportunities that one-to-one would provide. Ninety-four families purchased the first laptops; and three lead laptop immersion teachers, who specialize in infusing technology into the curriculum, were hired to help develop the model classroom.
Since then, the program has grown each year, to the point where the district's four middle schools all have a significant percentage of students bringing their laptops to school every day: Alta Sierra and Kastner have 65 to 75 percent, Clark has 40 percent, and Reyburn, 45 percent. The district also decided to partner with a single vendor, Lenovo, and use Learningwithlaptops.com to facilitate parent purchases. Students who own one of these machines (the Lenovo T-60 is the newest model of choice) are enrolled in immersion classes.
The mainstay of this program is the Academic Block, which combines language arts, history, and social science (immersion classes also exist in science and math). Teachers in these classes have developed exciting projects to engage students and evaluate their mastery of the content.
Cindy Ulrich is an 8th grade Academic Block and lead laptop teacher at Alta Sierra Intermediate School. She has her students produce a movie trailer at the end of their study of the Newbery-winning science-fiction novel The Giver. Students use Windows Movie Maker to create a short featuring video, pictures, and audio. The project requires students to demonstrate their knowledge of literary elements and the futuristic community depicted in the novel. What might be covered through a paper or storyboard in a non-immersion classroom becomes dynamic and empowering. "I compare teaching in an immersion class and a non-immersion class to driving a sports car and driving a horse and buggy," says Ulrich, a veteran teacher of over 20 years. "I can no longer imagine teaching in any other way."
Most teachers at the middle-school level also have classroom Internet portals called QuickPlace sites. Here they post assignments, handouts, the class syllabus, resources, project requirements, models of student work, helpful downloads, and upcoming events. Students and parents can also access grades, listed by student ID number.
Alta Sierra 7th grade Academic Block immersion teacher Carole Smoot's QuickPlace site includes animation of butterflies and flowers to highlight her spring calendar. She emphasizes that immersion classrooms are not technology classes. "The program offers students a relevant, real-world experience," she says, "as the laptops provide a different way to learn, research, and complete project-based curriculum set by the state."
Classrooms whose students have not purchased laptops also have access to technology. Projectors display teacher's laptop screens, and students have access to five laptops per classroom. A full class set of laptops is also available on a rotating basis. However, this is obviously a very different experience and limits the way that the technology can be used.
According to Philips, data gathered in 1999 pointed to better academic performance in immersion classes, but no studies have been completed since. But based on the anecdotal evidence, he believes the laptop-equipped classrooms help involve students in the content better. "If kids are engaged in what they are doing there is better chance that they will learn," he says.
Yet even with the success of the program, Philips doesn't see a digital divide between technological haves and have-nots developing. "I think that, on the contrary, we are bridging this divide," he says. Philips points to the tremendous increase in technology for all students due to parent participation in the laptop program. "I believe too many of us live in an either/or world rather than a both/and world," he says. "I am of the latter mind set, so I see the value of having the parent and the school partner in providing technology solutions for students."
Clovis has used a variety of professional-development opportunities, including traditional classes, in-service days, and online learning through SchoolKit.com. This year Chris Edmondson was hired as technical-training coordinator and has pioneered "techno-lunches" to serve as "quick hitters" of professional development. This format allows teachers to get the training they need when they need it. At each middle school there is also a lead laptop instructor working to better integrate technology—a library media teacher, for instance, handles hardware issues. Philips believes the district's experience with one-to-one also aids in professional development.
Because parents are an important component in this program, Edmondson and Philips make presentations for interested parents at what they call "road shows." Parents get to learn about the benefits of the program, see classroom examples, and get purchasing information through a representative of LaptopSchools.com. Once parents have made the commitment to purchase a machine (a laptop and software bundle runs about $1,400), they have the option of enrolling their child in the Laptops for Beginners Camp, where they practice using Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Internet applications using the school's wireless network.
Because parents pay for the laptops, required funding is greatly reduced. Philips believes this is what makes Clovis's one-to-one program sustainable. He has seen funding dry up in many of the other districts that attended the initial meetings in 1996. "It has to be a partnership in some kind of percentage with your parent community," he says.
In Clovis, all certified staff are provided with a laptop or desktop computer, and a wireless infrastructure has been put in place. Staff laptops are replaced every three years, with older ones going into the loaner pool. Because Clovis is an average socio-economic district (about 40 percent of the students are eligible for the National School Lunch Program), it is not eligible for many grant programs. State funding per student, based on daily attendance, is about average as well, and well below other districts in the Fresno area. The state funds were supplemented with grants, and money invested from the non-profit Clovis Unified Foundation. Funds were also provided through local taxpayer support. Philips credits the business service and budgeting teams with making sure dollars are spent wisely, and points to the established partnerships with vendors like Lenovo, Microsoft, and Adobe that allow them to get the best value for the tools they need. At times these vendors have provided new applications and hardware for little or no cost.
At this point the growth of the one-to-one program seems to have hit a plateau. Philips is particularly concerned with growth at the high school level, where laptop use drops off dramatically—even among students who purchased them in the middle school—and few immersion classrooms exist. He blames the nature of high school teaching and classes—more options and electives make scheduling immersion classes difficult, and many students who own laptops don't see the need to carry them to school simply for note taking. Still, Philips hopes new hardware and applications will spur growth.
Clovis will open its fifth comprehensive intermediate and high school in the fall. The Clovis North Educational Center will house both Granite Run Intermediate School and Clovis North High School in one building and will admit students in grades 7, 8, and 9 in the first year. Each of the teachers in this school will be issued a tablet computer. Philips says the use of the tablet along with powerful new software programs like Microsoft's OneNote will encourage high school students to use the machines for note taking, along with other applications. He also sees Internet tools like podcasting leading to more integration of technology in the classroom. "I think we can really make difference and let others see what it could really look like," he says.
Tom McHale is an educator in New Jersey.
Works with schools and parents to negotiate prices for machines and software, handles purchases and deliveries
An IBM Lotus internet application for collaboration
An enterprise solution for K–12 that helps educators smoothly integrate curriculum and technology
Windows XP Professional
Operating system and software bundle used by Clovis
Adobe Solutions for Education
Provides multimedia tools offered in a software bundle