A Tale Of Technology In Two School Districts
A Tale Of Technology In Two School Districts
For schools, computers for students are essential, but they are also expensive. With budget pressures increasing, schools are looking for ways to cut technology spending. Here's a tale of two school districts, and how they are trying to trim their tech budgets without hurting learning.
At John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., teacher Amberleigh Klaus is getting her class of first-graders hooked up. Each of her students has a laptop, and they're all connected wirelessly to the Internet.
Miray Guneric, 7, is so young, she can't spell the password she needs for World Book online. She stares at her screen and asks a visitor for help: "I don't know how to spell 'student,' " which is the password she needs.
Miray may be too young to spell, but kids in Alexandria are never too little to use technology. Alexandria is a highly diverse system of 10,000 students. The school district, located just outside Washington, D.C., has a rich offering of technology.
Technology resource teacher Audrey Biggers says she wants her students to be able to jump online anytime. "It depends heavily on Internet access," she says.
To do that today, kids need regular-sized Hewlett-Packard laptops that cost the school about $800 each. Elizabeth Hoover, in charge of the district's computer systems, says these machines work fine. But she's looking to go smaller.
Migrating To Smaller Laptops
Hoover holds up a sleek, silver laptop that is much smaller than the machines the kids are using. It's an HP Mini, which takes up about two-thirds of the space of a regular laptop and weighs about half as much. The Mini looks more like an overfed smart phone than a laptop, and it fits comfortably into Hoover's purse.
She says her district can purchase this model for just over $400, half the cost of the larger machines that the students are currently using. In addition to the savings, she's hoping younger students will have an easier time carrying around the lighter machine. The smaller machine has no CD or DVD drive, but Alexandria no longer needs these because administrators load software over a network.
To accommodate a growing student population, Alexandria is planning to buy 500 HP Minis and take them for a test drive.
Beyond the cost, Biggers says there's another reason to give children technology that is more portable. "We have to play with the toys that they are playing with," she says. "More students are using hand-held devices for their communication and their creation. And this is more similar to the hand-held devices that they are using in their world."
In the Berlin Township Public Schools in southern New Jersey, budget pressures are just as intense. Superintendent Brian Betze says he was considering buying a package of 30 laptops.
"With the same amount of money, we got 350 NEOs," he says.
NEOs are small, dedicated word processors. The manufacturer, Renaissance Learning, describes them as the only laptop designed for the classroom. They do not connect to the Internet. Betze says that was a plus for his district.
"There are a lot of parents, including a number of my board members, who really don't want children to have Internet access in school. So that really wasn't an issue."
NEOs won't play music or send messages, so they don't create the kinds of distractions common with regular laptops. That's something Renaissance Learning highlights on its Web site in its "laptop smackdown."
In online ads, characters representing PCs and Macs appear as charlatans pushing irrelevant technology on students. A smarmy version of the "I'm a Mac" character tells a student: "You need Internet access, kid. How else are you going to IM your friends when teacher isn't looking!"
Teachers at Eisenhower Middle School in West Berlin, N.J., like the fact that the NEOs come complete with dedicated software for boosting basic skills. In Dina Botley's 7th grade science class, the teacher uses the machines to test the kids' knowledge of a recent lesson. She asks students, "Which of these planets is an inner planet?" Kids choose from among Venus, Neptune and Jupiter by clicking an answer displayed on their NEOs. A wireless signal immediately tells the teacher that they have all responded correctly. Teachers can use the information to gauge how students are progressing over the semester.
Students seem comfortable with the machines, but they're not crazy about them. Eighth-grader Rebecca Miller tells Superintendent Betze she prefers using her home computer.
Betze teases her about this: "You guys miss not having the graphics and the cool designs and colors?"
"Yeah, when it prints, it's kind of boring and plain," Miller says.
"You mean you have to focus on actual writing, as opposed to adding graphics! Oh, what a horrible thing!" Betze says.
Alexandria and Berlin Township are taking different approaches to technology, but they are tackling a common problem — the need to make computers a comfortable part of learning, without letting gadgets take over the budget.