Students entering Watauga High School (WHS) in the fall of 2010 are opening a new chapter in the history of this public school in North Carolina’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountain high country. Along with marching into a modern new facility, they’ll also be entering a program designed to propel their learning beyond the newly-formed walls.
As the district broke ground on the new building—offering large open spaces for collaborative study, a media center, Wi-Fi® and video projection in every room -- WHS technology facilitators had a mission of their own. The goal? Put a PC in the hands of nearly 1,500 students within three-weeks of the start of the school year. First, though, instructional technology facilitator Nancy Zeiss had to test laptops in a 1:1 pilot program to gain critical support from the district technology team, teachers, students and parents.
Laying the foundation
Though Watauga teachers had worked with hardware from various vendors on and off, Zeiss had become acquainted with Toshiba’s Notebooks for Schools (NFS) program, which helps schools test, evaluate and demonstrate the value of laptops for learning.
As construction on the new school began, WHS completed an NFS grant application and was selected for the pilot program based on their commitment, dedication and enthusiasm for technology integration. The school won over $50,000 worth of mobile computing equipment, including Portégé® M700 Tablet PCs, docking stations and accessories, plus a mobile digital projector. The pilot program was on.
Students teaching students
Within weeks, the technology was receiving high marks from students, teachers, and parents. Geometry teacher James Eichmiller began using the Tablet PC together with Microsoft® Office OneNote® and a Web-based message board for in-class and after-hours collaboration. Using the PCs’ built-in wireless, students connected securely to his Web page, where they could send emails, get assignments, plus post and answer questions on assigned homework problems—all in a secure environment.
Even more notably, students began interacting through their classroom blog, showing each other how they solved geometry problems by way of audio and video demonstrations.
“We felt having a…website and requiring content from each department would help acclimate the teachers and faculty to digital media,” Zeiss said. “The combination of the website, the mobility of the Toshiba Tablet PCs and wireless access is truly changing the face of teaching and learning at our school.”
Building toward the future
Led by the efforts of Zeiss and Eichmiller, Watauga teachers and students embraced the new technology by the conclusion of the pilot period, securing essential support from the district administration.
During the pilot study, WHS saw improvements in the areas of test scores, note-taking skills, classroom participation, test preparation and collaboration. “I looked at students whose grades improved after being issued the Tablet PC," said Eichmiller. "These...test averages went up a letter grade during that period.”
Superintendent Dr. Marty Hemric captured the pioneering spirit of Watauga students and educators, saying, “It is our teachers’ use of instructional technology that matters most. When we place empowering resources in the hands of talented professionals, we achieve admirable results.”