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Monday, February 8, 2010

Rock Hill School Board Member Mildred Douglas - In The News!

Pilot program gives kids netbooks
by Tiffany Lane
1 month ago | 603 views | 1 1 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mildred Douglas shows off one of the new Dell Latitude 2100 ‘Netbooks’, a mini PC running Windows 7  that will be given to 240 students in early February.
Mildred Douglas shows off one of the new Dell Latitude 2100 ‘Netbooks’, a mini PC running Windows 7 that will be given to 240 students in early February.
MONROE - A free pilot program will put netbooks in the hands of 240 students by early February.

“Students in school now will be doing jobs that are not yet created,” said Mary Ellis, Union County Public Schools assistant superintendent for administration.

It’s the school system’s job to equip them for a global market, she said, beyond bubbling in test answers. “That’s what the state wants, and we’re going to do that, but we’re going to have to prepare them beyond that to collaboratively solve problems and to think.”

School officials say the computers will give teachers access to more information, train students for a technology-centered economy and provide interactive lessons that keep students engaged.

To test the program on different demographics and different sides of the county, UCPS chose 120 sixth-graders from Monroe Middle and 120 ninth-graders from Weddington High.

At just a couple of pounds, netbooks will include programs such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, and give students access to both the Internet and the school system’s own software and applications. They can take the computers home after school.

Ellis said pilot students might be ahead of the curve, but hopes to see all sixth- through ninth-graders with computers soon.

Monroe, a year-round school, will start the program in January; Weddington will begin Feb. 8.


Training for the pilot, dubbed the “1:1 computer program” for individualized instruction, began in early fall with five Monroe Middle and four Weddington High teachers. Training is done virtually, off site and in the classroom about twice a week.

Teachers use tablets, but students will receive netbooks. As a partnership with Dell, the computers are free. Training is paid for by grant money.

At Monroe, the computers will be used for math, science, social

See NETBOOKS / Page 10A


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studies and language arts; at Weddington, math and social studies.

During in-class training, Monroe Middle principal Montrio Belton said some students weren’t sure how to use the right clicker on the mouse or log on to Moodle, a Web application for online learning. Students are now learning computer lingo, such as “URL” and “download.”

Weddington High is already a wireless school; Monroe Middle is in the process.

Teachers as facilitators

Ellis said the computers will in no way replace teachers. They are another tool for teachers to use, Belton said, like notebooks, pens and calculators.

“The teacher is more important now than ever,” Ellis said, “but the teacher is a facilitator.” There will still be lectures and group projects, she added, but “this will be just about the end of whole group instruction.”

Director of Secondary Education Dana Crosson is a former principal of South Providence, an alternative school for students who have trouble in the traditional school setting. Students learn different ways and at different paces, she said, and computers are just one more way to give individualized instruction.

Many special-needs students are still “computer savvy” and interested in technology, Crosson said.

Discipline problems went down and attendance went up when the laptop cart rolled out at South Providence, she said.

Monroe teacher Mildred Douglas has taught for 41 years, but this is the first time she has used computers in class.

“I’m slowly moving into the technology world,” she said. “My children will not talk to me on the phone. I have to text them, and then I text them and say ‘Please, please, ... give me a call.’” Douglas recently learned how to pay her bills online and said the computer saves her time on lesson plans.

Using laptops in class will still be a challenge, she said, but she is open to learning with and from her students.

Computers will give her “more current information” and “instant feedback” on lessons, she said. Seeing 3D rotations and reflections on the computer will also be useful for her math students, she said, who won’t have to rely on her drawing skills.

When her own children went to college, Douglas said, the first thing they needed was a laptop, yet she isn’t quite ready to replace pencil sharpeners with wireless outlets.

“Am I going to give up paper and pencil? No. I think everything has a place.” Douglas said she wouldn’t be surprised if end-of-grade tests are online in coming years.


If a student went to the library to find a book on Senegal for a history lesson, Ellis said, there might be a couple of sources. The Internet, on the other hand, opens up hundreds of educational sites.

“We can create our own textbooks,” Weddington High principal Brad Breedlove said. It’s not just reading Web sites, either, he said, but activity-based learning through interactive sites like virtual labs. Virtual labs are also less expensive than real-life ones.

Breedlove is convinced the computers will be more of a learning enhancement than a distraction.

Ellis agreed, saying research shows that attendance and morale goes up and students’ perception of school is better when they are engaged — when technology is encouraged, not hindered.

David Clarke, a professional development coordinator for UCPS, said with fewer trips to the computer lab, it will also save instruction time. “You have your library with you,” Clarke said.

“Every classroom is a computer lab,” Belton said.

Teachers can project students’ computer screens onto SMART boards to show classmates their work.

Clarke said computers are also helpful for arts courses. As a former band director, he said, SmartMusic records students’ playing at home, shows how accurately they play the notes and lets them play with accompaniment.

Breedlove expects computers to be a classroom staple. “Three years down the road, it’ll be just like taking our textbook to school.”

Students without home Internet access

Monroe sixth-grader Cesar Reyes doesn’t have a computer at home, but prefers one to a pencil and paper. Why? “It’s a computer!” he said, pointing to a classroom netbook.

Reyes said he expects online assignments to be hard at first, but eventually more fun.

Classmate Kayla Hough already uses her home computer to play games and check Moodle.

Their teacher, Kamia Norman, said many of her students know how to use computers and find them easier to learn on.

As of this spring, Belton said just less than 50 percent of Monroe Middle students had Internet access at home. Only a handful more had home computers.

Until most students have Internet access most of the time, Belton said homework assignments won’t require it. Ellis said no grade will suffer for lack of home Internet access.

Mike Webb, assisistant superintendent for building services, added that students will still be able to access sites and assignments from anywhere on campus — the library, cafeteria or gym.

Web filters

As a former teacher, Ellis said “kids passed ugly notes and drew dirty pictures. ... I would take that up from them, but never one time did I say, ‘You can never use a pencil and paper again.’”

Any sites viewed on campus will be filtered through UCPS’ portal, Webb said. As long as students are using the portal at home, he added, that content will be monitored. Still, he said it’s impossible to block everything, and if a student plugs in a hard wire while at home, it becomes the parents’ responsibility.

In class, students off task can be spotted by a flashing light on the top of the computer. It will flash, for example, if the student goes to a Web site to which he is not assigned.

Teachers can see students’ screens from their own and use that function to watch students work through problems.

Future costs

The pilot program is free only through the spring semester. Webb said UCPS is negotiating costs to see how much it will cost past that.

In the meantime, with no need for multiple computer labs, Belton said he won’t need as many mobile classrooms, saving the school money.

Stopping in the hallway, Belton dropped a netbook three times, then turned it on to show its durability. If computers are damaged, Webb said, UCPS will try to repair them. If they are damaged again, parents will have to pay a fee.

Still, Ellis said computers could come out to be cheaper than textbooks, some as much as $150. Pilot students can download their chapters instead, also saving them from back aches.

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