High school goes digital with wireless laptops

By | August 19, 2009


Jennifer Miller, director of student recruitment for TCCES, and Eric Siems, TCCES technology director, display laptop computers similar to ones students and teachers at St. Mary Central High School will use in classrooms. (Amanda Lauer | For The Compass)

“Our teachers need to learn how to use their laptops and learn how to integrate them into their classrooms,” she said. “The next school year, each student in our freshman class will receive a laptop and if all goes well with that, then second semester the rest of the school will follow.”

Students will be required to have their laptops with them all day long.

“We will have loaner ones here if there are any issues with their laptops. Just like you would be expected to bring your textbook to class or be responsible for your textbook, that is the same responsibility you will have towards the laptop,” noted Miller. “The laptops can be taken home at night to do homework assignments. Students are responsible for making sure the batteries are charged.”

The laptops are cost effective. “Students will be e-mailing their homework assignments. We will be saving money on printing and toner, and textbooks eventually will be a huge cost saving.” The students will cover the expense of leasing their computers but will save money in other areas, like eliminating the purchase of TI calculators. “We found free software so students won’t have to purchase that anymore,” said Miller.

Restricted private funding was used to rework the infrastructure of the school. “There will be wireless in every nook and cranny of our school so the students will be able to take their laptop anywhere in the school, besides the locker rooms,” said Miller. Strong filters will be placed on the computers and those filters will follow students home as well so they won’t be able to access sites they shouldn’t, she added.

Eric Siems, TCCES Technology director, is the one who approached the school system with the laptop idea. “There are a lot of universities that require laptops in their schools. When I started at TCCES in 2007 I was thinking of different ways we could improve our technology and I thought of those universities. A lot of high schools and middle schools throughout the country have gone this route. We will be the first school to do this in northeast Wisconsin.”

He said this is something he would want as a teacher.

“The best part about laptops is their adaptability. It’s a mobile learning tool,” he explained. “With textbooks you’re tied to paper and pen and reading and taking notes. With a laptop you have far more interactivity.”

He said smaller schools do not always have funding for hand-on classroom experiences. “If everybody has a laptop, there are lots of tools on the Web to provide that experience, even for free,” he said. “When it comes to dissections, the specimens get to be very expensive, so you’re limited in the number of different lessons you can do. However, there are virtual dissections where the kids will have an animated frog, for example, and they can control the tools in a digital sense and still perform a dissection without having the high cost of having to purchase all these things and bring them in live for the kids.”

He said online tools are available for every area of curriculum. “If people are readers, it’s easy to find books online. If you need a video demonstration, you can go to YouTube and say ‘How do you do this?’ and it pops up as a step by step guide.”

Siems expects this program will make SMC more appealing to prospective students. “At Thomas More in Milwaukee, their enrollment increased by well over 100 students a couple of years after implementing this program. The other things that we’ve seen in our research is that is also retains faculty and staff. The teachers that are coming here will want to stay here and work in this environment. It gives us even more of a recruiting tool to hire the best teachers.”

Anticipation for the program is running high, said Miller. “Our students are really excited because this is the way students of this era learn. Students and parents feel we’re moving in the right direction.” During visits to schools with laptop program, she said they learned that attendance has improved because students are excited about learning. Additionally, students are better organized because they can keep all their material and information in one place.

“Behavior in the classroom is better because kids are more involved,” she added. “Teachers are getting more creative because this is another tool for them to use.”

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