from Technology & Learning
At Mt. Abram Regional High School in Strong, Maine, the one-to-one program is student centered—and student initiated.
Since 2004, Mt. Abram High School students and teachers have participated in a one-to-one laptop program—one of many offered in the state of Maine.
In 2003 Principal Jeanne Tucker's student advisory group wanted to look into laptops as their service-learning project. At the time, the state was in the beginning of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which issued laptops to all 36,000 teachers and students in grades 7â€“8. Two of the students in Tucker's group had siblings in this statewide program and wanted to know why they also couldn't get laptops. The students wrote a letter to the school board and invited them on a trip to the only high school in the state that had a laptop program—Piscataquis High School in Guilford. The students, School Board Chairman Mike Pond, Technology Director Angel Allen, and Principal Tucker visited the school and were impressed enough with the Piscataquis program to pursue one-to-one at Mt. Abram.
Angel Allen worked with Quenten Clark, the superintendent of Maine School Administrative District No. 58, to secure funding and to develop a technology plan. They would have to find about $100,000 to fund the lease to purchase the laptops through Apple. The district was able to accomplish this through several federal funding plans including Title IIA (teacher improvement), Title IID (educational technology), Title V (innovation in education), Title VI (special program for rural schools), and E-rate, a program that reimburses districts for telecommunications services. Additional funds were provided by the district technology budget and money collected from students who elected to purchase their laptop at transformathe end of the lease. The laptop program, designed to have little burden on local taxpayers, was approved through a voter referendum.
Things were moving quickly at the school at this time. The school was named a Great Maine Schools Promising Futures High School in 2002 and was about to begin a shift to place-based learning, partnering with the national nonprofit organization, the Rural School and Community Trust. In 2004 the high school's 25 teachers and 323 students were issued Apple iBook G4 laptops. Student use of the laptops has grown so rapidly that this year Mt. Abram opted to go with Apple MacBooks, for their increased memory and media resources, before the initial four-year lease was up on the iBooks.
For this nearly 500-square-mile district in Western Maine, these changes have helped to level the playing field for a student population that is 50 percent to 55 percent Title I (eligible for free or reduced lunch). "We're in the middle of nowhere," Tucker says. "We have parents who don't have a phone line, let alone Internet access." Some students near the Canadian border travel 60 miles to get to school. Once there, they all have access to the Internet and many other resources and, in many ways, are applying it to learning about the culture and community they live in.
Place-based learning is applicable to differentiated learning, which is important in Mt. Abram's heterogeneously grouped classes. Teachers are encouraged to seek nontraditional projects based in the community.
Technology integration takes top priority in a classroom at Mt. Abram High School.
Many of these run across curricular lines. Technology Integration Specialist Darcy Pray works with teachers to make these goals become a reality. Some examples include a learning-venture partnering with Poland Spring Bottling, which taps into the aquifer 10 miles upstream from the school. Poland Spring has worked with teachers and students in freshman science and algebra to gather data using specialized probes, upload it to the laptops, and analyze the effect water extraction has had on the environment. Other co-curricular place-based projects include oral histories collected using iPods and Apple's iMovie program by social studies and English classes. These are presented in the form of documentaries or Web sites and presented to the community at large. In another project, the applied technology and biology classes are working together to create a nonmotorized trail that documents flora and animal life.
Throughout all these projects, along with other more traditional classroom activities, teachers look to integrate technology to transform education. In fact, the school has adopted a spectrum of technology use from the work of Bernajean Porter Consulting to assess the way technology is used in the classroom. There are three levels: Exploration (basic use such as word processing), Adaptation (using PowerPoint instead of a poster), and Transformational. This last stage involves "using e-mail to interact with students in another part of the country, going to a virtual museum, viewing primary documents in history classâ€”things that wouldn't happen without the technology," Pray says.
Working toward the transformational stage means adapting quickly to teacher and student needs. They are given the freedom to scrap the master schedule for relevant learning experiences.
"This program is not about school improvement; it is about systemic, whole-school reinvention that prioritizes individual student needs above all else," according to the project's Web site. To this end, technology is infused in the instructional and assessment process with nary a textbook in sight. "It's virtually impossible to find a chapter test in our school," Principal Tucker says.
The district employs two software systems to handle student information and communication with the community. FirstClass is a serverbased communication system. Campus e-mail runs on it, and it enables teachers to create discussion boards, paperless assignments, and capture images from interactive whiteboards to share with students.
Teachers were issued laptops in April 2004. Their formal training consisted of two full days the following September, with students being issued laptops two weeks later. There is a graduate course offered on-site called Effective Uses of Technology, which is taught through the University of Maine, Farmington. But for the most part, teachers explore technology use during their preps and by working with Darcy Pray. Teachers schedule her time, and she even team-teaches a new technology rich lesson with them on occasion. Teachers also get five release days a year, and there are two faculty meetings a month that might be used for issues related to technology integration.
Each teacher is required to develop a technology integration goal as part of his or her professional improvement plan and is expected to move along the technology spectrum guide. This becomes part of the observation process as Jeanne Tucker works with teachers to help them reach their goals.
Although several teachers chose to retire during the first year of one-to-one, teachers moved quickly to acceptance, Tucker says. They see how the technology engages kids in another classroom and they want the same results. "It's about their professional drive," she says.
The district looks to continue as one of the few in the state to provide laptops for every student in grades 7â€“12, as Mt. Abram continues as a model of high school reform and transformation. All of Mt. Abram's teachers are adept at grant writing, Tucker says, which provides them with opportunities to supplement the laptop program with additional equipment and professional development. The faculty is a large part of the success of this program. "Our teachers are facilitators of learning and that's the key," says Pray. They look forward to a future in which every classroom includes transformational uses of technology.
Tom McHale is an educator in New Jersey.