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Middle Schools : Maine : Laptops for All

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IN 2002, MAINE EMBARKED on a bold educationalinitiative intent on preparing its students for living and prosperingin the 21st century. Since its launch, the Maine LearningTechnology Initiative (MLTI) has providedall of the state's middle school students, and their teachers, withlaptop computers. All Maine middle schools are equipped withwireless connectivity, allowing students and teachers to use theirlaptops during the school day in a variety of settings and contexts.Students can also take their laptops home for use during theevening, weekends, and school vacations.

In support of MLTI, school districts provide technical help to teachers and students, while a "teacher leader" at each middle school site helps teachers integrate the laptops into their curriculum and instruction.

Six years into its implementation, Maine's laptop program is demonstrating the benefits a 1-to-1 initiative can have on education. In a recent study from the Maine Education Policy Research Institute, more than 80 percent of teachers say the laptops have made them better able to diversify and individualize their curriculum and instruction, and an equal percentage report that the laptops have helped them explore topics in greater depth with their students, and better assist students in meeting Maine's learning standards.

Teachers also say that the 1-to-1 program has improved how and what their students are learning, and the quality of the work they produce. They cite improvements in students' ability to integrate information from multiple sources, study real-life problems, and express ideas. On their end, students agree that the quality of their work has gotten better, which dovetails with their feelings that they better understand what they are learning. Compellingly, about three-quarters of Maine's middle school students report that they are more interested in school as a result of having their own laptops.

But the data that speaks most persuasively to the success of the initiative is beginning to surface, indicating that the 1-to-1 plan is having a positive impact on achievement. Eighth-grade writing scores on Maine's statewide assessment were compared before and after laptops were introduced into the schools. Scores improved approximately one-third of a standard deviation-- meaning that the average student in 2005 scored better than roughly two-thirds of all students in the state before the adoption of the laptop initiative. Another interesting finding showed that economically disadvantaged students who used their laptops extensively while writing outperformed their economically advantaged classmates who wrote without the aid of laptops.

Economically disadvantaged students who used theirlaptops extensively while writing outperformed theireconomically advantaged classmates who wrote without the aid of laptops.

In mathematics, for the past two years, Maine has been studying the impact of technology-infused professional development on helping teachers improve students' pre-algebra skills. Using a randomized control trial, a group of teachers were provided comprehensive face-to-face, technology-based professional development activities designed to improve their own content and pedagogical knowledge as well as their skill in using the laptops for math instruction.

The performance of the students of this experimental group of teachers was far better on the state's math achievement test than the performance of the students belonging to a control group of teachers who did not receive professional development. However, students' improved scores were dependent on whether or not their teachers' own content knowledge had improved, and whether the teachers used instructional strategies and assessments that were aligned with the achievement test.

Data on the laptop program has also revealed some critical components that play key roles in the success of MLTI. These include strong administrative support, ongoing professional development, the use of laptops as instructional tools to facilitate learning, and the matching of instruction with assessment.

Research is continuing on MLTI's impact on teaching and learning, as well as its impact on student achievement. To facilitate this work, former Maine Gov. Angus King, who initiated the laptop initiative during his term in office, led a successful effort to create the Maine International Center for Digital Education on the campus of the University of Southern Maine. The center will be devoted to advancing the work of using technology to advance learning.

David L. Silvernail is director of the Center for Education Policy,Applied Research, and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.

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