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1-To-1 Learning At East Mills

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Students at East Mills Middle and High Schools are entering a new era of scholastics - East Mills rolled out a 1-to-1 Learning Program on Wednesday, Aug.15.

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This is the first year for the 1-to- 1 Program in East Mills, although many school districts in Iowa are attempting to implement a similar program. Technology teacher Lisa Allen explained the 1-to-1 Program in East Mills as “a learning environment in which all students are given the same opportunities to work with staff, peers and themselves.”

1-to-1 learning is a technology-based style of education. Students from grades five - 12 were issued laptop computers Wednesday to use both in the classroom and at home. The students turn in the laptops at the end of the school year.

The school board has been planning for the implementation of a 1- to-1 laptop program for years. Discussions and preplanning began shortly after a whole grade sharing project was implemented in the then-Nishna Valley and East Mills school districts in 2007. When the two districts merged last year, the teachers began preparing for this program technologically. The entire staff went to the Nebraska Educational Technology Association (NETA) annual conference in La Vista. They also had two days of technology training at the end of the last school year, and two days of training right before the start of this school year.

The schools contracted with Apple in May to implement this program. The lease includes 322 MacBook Air Laptops for students and 56 MacBook Pro Laptops for teachers, along with technical support, software and training. Apple, specifically, provided four days of teacher instruction.

The number of computers leased was based on the number of enrolled students, plus a couple of extras. The average price of these computers comes to about $1,000 per laptop.

Funding for this initiative comes from the state sales tax revenue that the district receives each year. A $35 technology/software deposit was assessed to all parents. The fee will be returned at the end of the school year. Students whose families are unable to pay the $35 fee were offered the opportunity to do community service. Many of those students have already completed this requirement, a few additional students will perform community service during the next couple of months in lieu of payment.

Nearly all parents chose to have their students receive a laptop to be used both in and out of school, but they did have the choice to have their students use a laptop at school only. This learning system does require the ability to have technology, so if a parent chose not to have their student bring the laptop home, their child will need to use different computers to complete the assignments. Superintendent Curtis Barclay said the information they use is all cloud-based (virtual), so any computer with the Internet will provide the necessary information. According to Barclay, only a few parents of fifth-grade students made the choice not to have laptops issued to their students for in-home use.

Barclay said the two biggest goals of this program are to improve student engagement and to change instruction to a more student-centered approach in which students produce a project on the computer and the teachers are there to help them.

“We feel this will help them in the workplace,” Barclay continued. “We believe that education in the past was more about giving students something to read and test them, or give students a writing assignment and test them. Our current workplace is more about getting research and developing something.”

East Mills social studies teacher Kari Miller is very excited to start this program. Miller said, “I don't think the kids were taking enough responsibility for learning before. Now, when I can phrase the questions differently, all the students can dig deeper and think critically.

“For example, instead of asking ‘Give me five causes of World War II,’ and receiving an answer through note memorization, I can have the students research various wars on their own, and then ask in the classroom, ‘What are the similarities of all these conflicts we have researched? What does that tell us about war?’”

Miller doesn’t have many concerns about the technology. She’s more anxious about the change in instruction.

“I’m more concerned about my ability to be a good teacher,” she said. “This is my 24th year as a teacher, and sometimes I feel like it’s my first year.”

The superintendent stressed this is a tool that will be used, but will not be solely relied upon. Teachers will also instruct in traditional methods.

Although students will be sitting behind a laptop during part of the day, they will not hide behind the Internet.

“We have Apple remote desktop,” Barclay said. “It allows teachers to see the kids’ screens. What we hope is that they are frequently engaged in small groups. That’s always good instruction.”

The school board is behind the new approach.

“We’ve been very careful about talking to parents and making sure there isn’t a perception that this is a substitution for teachers,” said East Mills School Board Member Pete Franks. “It’s an additional tool that will be used to help teach.”

Although there have been studies done about limiting the amount of time younger students spend in front of the computer, Franks said that 1- to-1 learning has been proven to improve achievement.

“We have special meetings several times a year so we are in tune with achievement,” Franks said. “Our hope is that with the 1-to-1, we will have very positive trajectory in student achievement and it will keep going in a positive direction.”