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North Carolina district uses computers to transform classrooms
[December 07, 2009]

North Carolina district uses computers to transform classrooms

Dec 06, 2009 (Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- A large wing in the building that once housed Mooresville Middle School now serves as the home for the technology department of the Mooresville Graded School District.

The middle school recently moved into a newly-renovated building and the tech department needed a bigger facility now that 4,000 of the district's students and staff have laptops for classroom use.

Sitting at his desk in the tech department, LAN manager Berry Williams spoke about the future of the digital age. Imagine what would happen if the entire Library of Congress was digitized, Williams mused. You could quickly research the success rate of left-handed generals in wars in Europe during the 19th century. Research that was previously too ambitious or took years to complete could be done in a matter of days, Williams said.

It's an eye on that potential that has driven the Mooresville Graded School District to provide MacBook laptops to all of its fourth-- to 12th-grade students, in part to prepare them for jobs of the future.

"It is absolutely imperative that we train our children for the world they will live in," Mooresville Superintendent Mark Edwards said.

The Tupelo Public School District is preparing to roll out its own one-to-one laptop initiative for sixth-- to 12th-grade students. In advance of the initiative, a six-person delegation from the TPSD traveled to Mooresville last week to see how the district was using its computers.

TPSD assistant superintendents George Noflin and Fred Hill, director of technology Brenda Meriweather and director of facilities Julie Hinds and Tupelo High School staff members Niki Peel and Tyrone Catledge toured classrooms where students sat behind laptops they used for taking notes, watching tutorial videos or making multimedia projects.

"I was really impressed with how seamlessly the laptops were meshed into the classroom," Meriweather said. "It was just like they had a pencil or paper on their desk." In Mooresville, the Tupelo delegation saw: -- Amy Whitaker's High School Algebra II honors class in which students learned math by making movies about how well two different makes of cars hold their value. Not only did the students have to do their own research about the cars they chose, but they also had to narrate and design the video, create and import graphics, site sources and add music.

-- A ninth-grade class on "Investigating Modern History" in which students used their computers to watch an instructional video at the beginning of class about avoiding plagiarism. Teacher Jessica Swearengin said she often uses such videos to introduce topics at the beginning of class.

"With laptops, they can stop it and go at their own speed," Swearengin said.

-- A psychology class studying abnormal psychology in which several students were assigned to bring to school songs with lyrics about mental trauma. The students used their laptops to play the songs at the beginning of class while lyrics scrolled on the projector. Teacher Steve Stith used the exercise to set the tone for talking about what drives people to such trauma.

-- Bethany Smith's middle school language arts class that used laptops to make bubble maps about a book the students had just finished reading, S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders." Smith's student, eighth-grader Maclean Bridges, said school would be "kind of boring" without the computers.

"Having something in front of you is a lot more exciting," Bridges said.

Miles Atkins, a Mooresville town commissioner, said he has seen a great increase in creativity from his daughter, a fifth-grade student at Mooresville Intermediate School.

"It has really opened up a lot of doors for her to have that comfort level with the technology," Atkins said.

Projects are an important way students have utilized their laptops, using programs like iMovie and Garage band to create multimedia presentations, several teachers said.

"I've never bonded with students like I have this year," said Swearengin, who teaches 11th and 12th-grade AP history in addition to "Investigating Modern History." "You are asking so much more out of them, but they have a lot more pride from making a video than making a poster." Mooresville educators emphasized that the computers are just a learning tool and that the true change has come from a vision to transform classrooms into digital learning environments. The teachers observed at the district's schools were not lecturing but were often walking around the middle of classrooms facilitating students who were solving problems. Students were using the Internet to find facts that went beyond material found in textbooks. Teachers said they were learning from their students.

"Students come up to me at school and say, 'Did you know that...,'" said Julie Morrow, principal of Mooresville Intermediate School, which no longer uses textbooks. "When we were using textbooks they never did that." Many teachers had vignettes about students who had previously struggled in the classroom but suddenly came alive and excelled with a multimedia presentation or comments provided on an online class discussion board. Suddenly those students began to gain confidence and show new potential.

"The kids who didn't normally shine in the classroom really shine when you put technology in their hands," Smith said. "The kids that were higher-level learners can really excel." Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at [email protected]

TPSD officials learn from lessons of Mooresville MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- When the Mooresville Graded School District began giving laptops to students in August of 2007, teachers needed to make an adjustment.

Not only did they have to change the way they had taught for years, they also had to use Apple computers, which many of them had never touched before.

Mooresville High School history teacher Jessica Swearengin said that before last year, she had never used an Apple. By the end of the year, she was the district's Teacher of the Year and an Apple Distinguished Educator.

"The biggest thing was getting teachers to understand they don't have to know all of the technology at the beginning," Swearengin said.

Mooresville schools have provided about 4,000 computers to teachers, administrators and students in grades four to 12. As expected, the district has had to work through some kinks since beginning to implement its computer initiative in 2007.

That experience is one of the big reasons that officials from the Tupelo Public School District traveled to this town some 20 miles north of Charlotte last week to learn how Mooresville's schools overcame some of the challenges of a one-to-one computer initiative.

"If you can avoid some issues by taking advantage of what others have learned, I say go for it," said Tupelo High School technology teacher Tyrone Catledge, who was among the TPSD representatives on the trip.

Among those issues was getting teachers to buy into a new philosophy that has turned classrooms into digital learning environments. Instead of lecturing, teachers are now encouraged to guide students as they use computers to complete projects and solve problems.

And while some teachers were resistant to the change, Mooresville Superintendent Mark Edwards said he hardly lost any teachers because of the new model.

In fact, Mooresville Intermediate School Principal Julie Morrow said that teachers at her school are closer than they've ever been.

Not only have they had to work together to teach each other the new technology, but they've used the district's online database to collaborate on ideas and lessons that have worked well.

The district's teachers also have invested many hours of staff development in technology training.

Like Swearengin, several teachers in the district admitted that the key was coming to an understanding that it was OK to ask students for help in mastering the technology and to benefit from the students' expertise.

Of course, parents had to buy into the program as well and to adjust to a world where textbooks were being replaced by new learning tools.

Although students in the district read tangible novels and Mooresville High School still incorporates textbooks, Morrow said her fourth-- to sixth-grade school no longer uses texts.

Instead students use online tutorials and programs. They do research that goes beyond the material in textbooks that can't be instantly updated.

Dale Gowing, editor of the Mooresville Tribune newspaper, hasn't heard any complaints from the community about the dramatic shift in educational philosophy.

"Whatever complaints, it is the way of the future," Gowing said. "There are people who don't like change. We didn't have much change in the school district in Mooresville for a lot of years. Our new superintendent came in and really has pumped a new life into the district. Probably not everyone is on the same page as him, but more are than aren't." Likewise, Miles Atkins, a town commissioner, said he hasn't heard negative feedback from the community.

Atkins, who also has two children in the school system, said his biggest advice for parents in Tupelo is that they monitor their children's computer use, just as they would monitor what their kids watch on television.

Parents should check the history of the Web sites that their children have visited and make sure their children understand the importance of online privacy.

"You should do it in a way that is inviting them to show their work, instead of implying that you don't trust them," Atkins said.

The school has bought a program that allows administrators to monitor what is on the students' computer screens. Students who are using their computers inappropriately are disciplined.

The results already have been significant for the district. District achievement has improved, and the district is now eighth in the state with 81.8 percent of its students scoring proficient of better on their state standardized tests.

Three years ago, the district ranked 37th in the state.

The attendance rate at Mooresville High School increased from 94 percent to 96.7 percent last year, and suspensions at the school decreased by more than 60 percent.

"I know we're concerned about all the negative things that could possibly happen by going to one-to-one, but it doesn't compare with all the boundless educational opportunities our children will have," Tupelo assistant superintendent George Noflin said.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at [email protected]

To see more of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo, Miss. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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