Jan. 3, 2012, will be a big day at Monett High School. as the "One to the World: Cubs Going Global" initiative gets underway, revolutionizing teaching and learning at the high school.
Principal David Steward, Assistant Superintendent Brad Hanson and technology trainer Melody Paige presented findings of the 21st Century Learning Task Force to the Monett R-1 Board of Education at the October board meeting. Their research led to the board decision that every student at the high school should receive an Apple laptop computer as a personal teaching tool.
Steward said a 19-member task force explored what teaching and learning in the 21st Century will look like. The one-to-one decision linking laptops with students grew out of their studies.
Task force members will make their fourth visit to a school district using the one-to-one approach in mid-November, when they travel to Knob Noster, the district next to Whiteman Air Force Base where students have had laptops for the past four years. Previous visits were to Baxter Springs, El Dorado, and Kansas City, all in Kansas.
Steward said the increase in technology drives the need to use computers in teaching.
"Kids are used to using technology, like their phones," Steward said. "All the districts say student engagement goes up when you use technology."
With students more involved with the learning process, other districts say the need for discipline decreases. Steward expects students will stay engaged, thus scoring better on standardized tests and more will graduate rather than dropping out.
Laptop computers offer breakthroughs on several levels, Steward said. They enable students to learn anywhere, at any time. Students will also find new ways to collaborate with fellow students or teachers beyond the classroom, anywhere in the world.
Computers also become an economic equalizer. When every student, despite family income, has a powerful teaching tool, lower income students can compete in ways not possible before.
The entire process moves education into unknown areas.
"If students take leadership in their own education, how does that work in the traditional classroom setting? We may not know that," Steward said. "We may find out about what doesn't work before we find out what does."
Teachers, who have worked toward the big implementation day for three years, are showing some anxiety.
"Teachers know it's the right step, but they're asking, 'Can I meet the high expectations? How do I teach so instruction stays the focus?' Steward said. "The teacher will still be the facilitator, leading the learning. The dynamic will be different, going from 'the sage on the stage' to 'the guide on the side.'"
The teachers have already received their new laptops, which are slightly bigger than what the students will get. The students' laptops are very light, with no extra drives for inserting discs or DVDs. Steward said other schools report most of the repair issues have come from these extra drives.
"The students have seen the computers and they are excited," Steward said.
Parent community awareness nights have been scheduled. One was held Tuesday night and the others will be held tonight and Nov. 14. The purpose of the meetings is to explain the process and the requirements that go with the computers.
"These nights are critical," Steward said. "We really want parents there."
Information is available on the school district's website under "21st century learning resources," leading to another link for "1:1 Laptop Initative." Answers to frequently asked questions are posted. An e-mail account has also been set up at email@example.com to answer specific questions that arise.
A luncheon is planned for community leaders on Nov. 29 at the Southwest Area Career Center.
The implementation group looked at what will be needed to make the addition of laptops work, such as expanding wireless Internet service and how to limit computer breakage. In early December, students will get to see their computers in the classroom setting. Then the network will be tested to see if it can handle the load. If not, Steward said there will still be a month to make improvements.
A big point to get across to parents will be the need for insurance. Every user will be asked to pay $30 for insurance for the second half of the current school year. Coverage for a full year is $50. Payment options are available, including community service for students who need to work to pay off the premium.
The $20 student activity fee, charged in the past for handbooks and lockers, will be rolled into the insurance premium for a new total of $80 that will be requested to start the school year. Students eligible for free and reduced meals will be able to pay a lower rate.
On Jan. 3, 2012, the computers will be handed out in a student body gathering in the school gym where Steward and Superintendent Dr. John Jungmann will speak. The students will break into small groups, log in during training sessions and take the computers home after signing paperwork and paying insurance.
"Students will not use the computers every minute," Steward said. "They're just a tool. There's still room for paper and pencil and classroom discussion. This just adds to the variety. The computer should be used when it's the best tool to emphasize the learning. It will take some growing time.
"This is the direction the world is headed," Steward said. "In the last five years, technology has exploded. We say, 'What will it be in five years?' From this time forward, for the next four years for freshmen, they will have a piece of technology in their hands."