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All of Natick's high schoolers, eighth graders to get MacBooks

Posted by Megan McKee  April 8, 2011 04:58 PM

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Starting this fall, Natick schools will be rolling out a $2.27 million initiative to ensure that every high schooler and eighth grader has a MacBook and knows how to use it.

The roll-out comes three years after the district started giving teachers laptops as the first step toward a one-to-one computing environment for high schoolers, which Superintendent Peter Sanchioni believes is the only way to adequately accommodate students' modern way of learning while priming them for success in the modern world after they graduate.

“The students who come into our schools are a different generation,” said Sanchioni. He said it's unreasonable to expect kids who spend their off-school hours interacting almost constantly with technology to come to school to learn via the traditional model. Or, as he wrote in a presentation to the School Committee, “We need to change our view of the mind from classic education/deductive reasoning to divergent thinking in a multisensory environment.”

Natick isn't the only area school district to develop laptop programs.

Wayland has been piloting one-to-one computing with a few dozen math and science students this year, said Superintendent Gary Burton.

“We're very, very pleased with what we're seeing,” he said.

Wayland Town Meeting has approved $500,000 for technology spending over the past two weeks, said Burton, and that money will be used to beef up the school system's infrastructure and equipment as the district moves closer to one-to-one implementation.

But how to fund computers for every student remains a question that Wayland must still work out, he said, which is why he is watching Natick closely.

“If we want children to function adequately in the 21st century, we can't do that with 20th century tools,” said Burton. “We also have to be terribly, terribly respectful of the taxpayers' money.”

Millis' answer to the funding problem is iPads, which cost about half as much as MacBooks.

In February, the district handed out iPads to all 110 eighth graders for its one-to-one pilot program, which has been in the works for five years.

According to a Millis school survey of 104 eighth graders, 60 percent said they were spending more time on their school work thanks to the iPad.

If the pilot goes well, Millis plans to expand iPads to freshmen next year, sophomores the following year, and so on. This will allow the current eighth graders to continue learning on the same technology as they advance in grades, while allowing the town to gradually build up its inventory of devices.

In Natick, eighth-graders will be the first students to get MacBooks this fall. Sanchioni said this will allow students to enter high school with a mastery of the devices, while giving the program time to take shape with a smaller number of students and teachers.

The eighth grade pilot program is estimated at $270,000 and will be funded from the school system's operating budget, according to school finance director Bill Hurley.

And starting this fall, the school system will outfit a portion of the temporary modular classrooms set up during the new Natick High School's construction with laptops to test the one-to-one computing environment at the high school level. Every teacher and student will spend a 45-day stint in the outfitted classrooms, said Sanchioni.

Then, when the new high school opens in fall 2012, all students will be issued laptops, he said.

The high school laptops are estimated to cost $2 million. School officials said they'll use $440,000 of technology reimbursement funds from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, with the remaining $1.56 million coming from the new high school's contingency fund, said Hurley.

The laptops will be given out just like books. They'll be issued at the beginning of the school year and students will need to turn them in. Sanchioni said parents will be expected to pay for insurance on the devices in case the laptops get dropped or ruined by rogue drinks.

And just like books, students can take their MacBooks home and share them with relatives so learning extends beyond the students, said Sanchioni.

School Committee Chairman David Margil said he and his fellow committee members are optimistic about the program's effects.

"We fully expect to see measurable improvements in student performance. I believe we'll see those improvements both in basic subject matter comprehension, and in test
results across the subject areas of writing, math, and the sciences," said Margil. "This initiative will give Natick students a real competitive advantage in the college admissions process, and in the workforce after they graduate.

Sanchioni said that he and other school officials have visited one-to-one computing districts from Maine down to North Carolina. Maine has had a statewide one-to-one computing environment in its schools for several years, and the results have been great, he said.

"This is a big initiative," said Sanchioni. "I've had this vision since I arrived here three years ago."

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com. And follow Your Town Natick on Twitter
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