Saturday, September 15, 2012

Connected Learners at AHS

We've been talking about trying to get laptops (or other devices) into each one of our student's hands for a long time at my school. In fact, I believe it was the fall of 1999 that we started up our "Laptop Committee" (creative name, I know) to investigate how we might do that. But, over the years, we kept running into the same issue: how to come up with the funds necessary to make that happen on a large scale. We never did.

Now we definitely made some progress. Through some grants as well as from some district programs we have a fair number of classrooms where we have a class set of laptops/netbooks, which means that at least when students are in those classes, they have full-time access to technology and the resources and capabilities of the web. But when the bell rings the technology stays in that classroom and the student moves on to another classroom where they don't have that access.

Our district has also had a "Bring Your Own Device" policy for the last several years, where students can bring their own device and use our (filtered) wireless network to connect to the Internet. This has been great, but a limited number of students took advantage of that and teachers still couldn't plan learning activities that required the technology because they couldn't guarantee that all the students had access.

So this fall we started a pilot. While we don't have the funds to provide all of our students with laptops, we do have the funds to provide a limited number with laptops. We also are fortunate enough to have a population of students where many of them have their own laptop or can afford to get one, if only they had a compelling reason to bring it in to school (and take advantage of the bring your own device policy).

So, with tremendous support from both my building and district administration, we decided to implement Connected Learners in four sections of our core classes (one each in Algebra, English 9, US History 9, and Biology). We wanted classes that were "average" classes in the sense that we weren't implementing this just with "honors" classes with students that were more successful at school, nor were we implementing this with special classes that might have smaller class sizes. We also wanted to target mostly freshmen who were just starting at Arapahoe for a variety of reasons, including that if they purchased a laptop we wanted them to get to spread that cost out over four years of use in high school. Three of those classes are almost exclusively freshmen, and the fourth (Biology) is a mix of freshmen and sophomores.

We chose the classes after students registered for them in late spring. This was for several reasons. First, we didn't get everything approved and finalized until after they registered :-). Second, because we knew we were only going to be able to do this with a limited number of sections, we wanted to make it as "random" as possible in terms of which students got this opportunity. You can read the information we gave to parents here, but basically we contacted them over the summer and gave them the rationale for why we were doing this, and then asked them whether they wanted to bring their own device or use one of ours (eeePC 1025c running Jim Klein's amazing ubermix version of ubuntu Linux).

As of the start of school, 57% chose to bring their own device and 43% are using one of ours (I anticipate a few more trading in their school laptop after getting gifts over winter break, so hopefully we might hit two-thirds). We have 110 unique students in the four sections (there are several students who, by chance, were in more than one of the sections), so it's still a small portion of our 2150 students, but it's a start.

We will evaluate the program as we go along, including both informally and formally soliciting feedback from the teachers, students and parents multiple times throughout the school year. We hope to learn a lot from this first year of the pilot and, if all goes well, continue (and perhaps expand) the pilot next year. I'll let you know how it goes.


  1. What surprises me a bit is that the cost of netbooks really hasn't gone down all that much since we first saw them about 4 years ago. Instead of staying around the $300 mark, I thought they'd approach $200 where it would be much easier to promote their purchase in the same way we do with $100+ graphing calculators.

    1. The ones we got cost us $279. There are actually some closer to $200, but they cut too many corners so we stuck with the higher - and more capable - price point.

  2. This post was very informative to me as a college student. It is shocking to me that not many students have their own laptop. I think what you are doing for your school is a really good idea because everyone should have access to a computer at all times in order to teach them new things that they couldn't learn elsewhere. Funding is usually an issue where computers aren't available and that is pretty much everywhere you go. I like that you are trying to expand this program so every student can have the same opportunities rather they're less fortunate or not. I hope more parents start to agree with you and your administration and realize that funding wouldn't be lost if they invested in a computer. Computers are a thing of the future and a great tool for teachers to have.

  3. What changes of practice, scheduling, cooperation are you starting to see with the teachers of those four classes? I'm not sure of the overlap, but the four teachers need not be teaching the same kids to be able to feed each other's ideas.
    Is four enough for teachers to connect creatively and push each other to do new and creative things with teaching and learning in their classrooms?

    1. Mr. Chase - The four teachers meet regularly to discuss how things are going and to share ideas. Other than that, however, there is not much overlap - just too big a school and too departmentalized.

      I don't know if four is really enough or not, but it's what we've got at the moment. We'll be sharing the pilot with the school board on Thursday night.