Maine: Maine Learning Technology Initiative Transforms Teaching and Learning at Freeport Middle School

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Last summer, a truck arrived at Freeport Middle School in Freeport, Maine, and unloaded more than 130 laptops - one for every seventh-grade teacher and student. What had seemed to be an unlikely pipe dream months before suddenly was a reality.

The seventh-grade teachers were eager to get involved in this project, even though they were not sure how this would all work out. As a group, they are successful in teaming and providing a great deal of support for each other. They had tried new things in the past, such as developing interdisciplinary units, but the arrival of laptops was another example of where their teaming could be a strong, supportive force.

Our principal immediately recognized that the newness of the one-to-one computing concept could be stressful in the absence of experience with it. He hastened to make it clear that he did not expect teachers to use laptops with students every minute of class. A more reasonable expectation was that each teacher should develop one classroom unit using laptops by the end of the first quarter. If there had been stress, this recognition eased it. So did the teachers' sense of teamwork coupled with administrative support of risk-taking in the interest of better teaching and learning. By the end of the first two weeks, every teacher was using the laptops during class in ways that established a growing comfort level for all, while allowing them to not lose sight of the importance of content in the presence of exciting technology.

The targeted use of laptops grew throughout the rest of the school year. Students were conducting research in the classroom instead of having to schedule time in the library. They were writing and editing papers, as well as developing oral presentations supported by slide presentations. They were engaged in collaborative efforts leading to iMovie productions and using interactive simulations online. In math classes, they were creatively using free software such as Chipmunk Basic to learn in the absence of a textbook. The list of new and exciting uses of the laptops in curriculum continued to grow.

In December 2003, laptops were acquired for the eighth-grade teachers in anticipation of their use in the next school year. It was known that the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) would provide laptops for these teachers, but teachers would have more time to become familiar with them by getting the laptops in their hands sooner. Our plan was to move these machines into the hands of our sixth-grade teachers when the MLTI machines arrived for the eighth grade, establishing an equitable technology environment for all our teachers. Throughout this school year, technology use has been extensive in both seventh and eighth grades.

So, what has been its impact on staff and students? The ready availability of technology has resulted in a significant transformation of the teaching and learning that is taking place. There is the changed atmosphere within classrooms, one of new excitement and curiosity for teachers and students, as well as a strong level of collaboration evolving within and between both groups. We have also experienced reduced absenteeism and discipline issues during this period. Overall, the laptops have made a huge, positive impact on the learning environment at Freeport Middle School, with users hard-pressed to imagine learning without on-demand technology.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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