THE CHALLENGE: Children have different learning styles. Some are shy while others are more vocal, some are organized while others are less so. Some kids work best as part of a group, while others come up with their best ideas as individuals. The staff at Westside High School knew that integrating technology was a must-do. The challenge was doing so in a way that wouldn’t detract from learning but rather make learning easier and more interactive for every type of student.
THE CHAMPIONS: Principal Pat Hutchings and dozens of dedicated teachers at Westside knew that technology could help elevate the learning process but recognized that not every child would be able to afford the necessary tools. They petitioned for the one-to-one laptop program to level the playing field, giving all their students the access they need to succeed.
THE SOLUTION: Westside’s one-to-one laptop program started seven years ago when Principal Pat Hutchings and school administrators asked themselves “what do students need to know and what are the best tools to teach them?”
The goal was to use technology in a way that enhanced learning, and to empower teachers to use the technology when and how it worked best for them. For some teachers this means supplementing a basic textbook with tailor-made materials. For others it means using multimedia tools to allow students more ways to show what they’ve learned. One English teacher uses e-books to allow students to annotate sections of books they’re reading and then email a screenshot of the page for grading. The laptops and iPads replace the process of collecting students’ individual paper books that have been annotated with sticky notes, saving valuable teaching time and allowing the instructor to provide feedback more quickly. Technology makes learning materials accessible for kids to use whenever works best for them.
Because the students have to return the laptop at the end of the school year, the one-to-one program teaches responsibility and even organization skills. Parental involvement is one of the keys to the program’s success, and all Westside parents are required to attend a mini-workshop at the school before their kids can take home a laptop. Students and their parents both sign a contract promising to take care of the equipment and use it judiciously.
THE RESULTS: After the one-to-one program was implemented, Westside saw ACT and SAT test scores reach an all-time high in the school’s history. Though it’s always encouraging to see test scores going up, perhaps even more telling were the results of a survey conducted by the University of Nebraska Omaha.
The study showed that students were more interested in engaged and thought learning was more fun. The technology helped open the doors of communication for many students. Those who were too scared to ask a question in class (for fear of looking silly) could now email their teachers or fellow classmates in a more private setting. By giving the students a forum to ask questions and interact 24/7, class time is freed up for more discussion and debate, helping to grow critical thinking skills.
THE HOW-TO: Here are five tips for managing a successful school-wide technology program.
- Level the playing field whenever possible. If all students have access to the same kinds of technology, everyone will have the same chance to succeed.
- Empower teachers to use different types of technology in the ways that work best for them.
- Use the traditional classroom management techniques to maintain control of possible issues like cheating or plagiarism.
- Encourage parental involvement to ensure smart and safe use of technology at home.
- Technology can amplify what’s going right and what’s going wrong. You must be prepared to address issues that arise and course correct when necessary.
RESOURCES: For more information on Westside High School, click here.