SHERIDAN — Fort Mackenzie High School English teacher Mick Wiest updated the Sheridan County School District 2 board of trustees Tuesday night about the status of the 1:1 laptop pilot program that is in its fourth year of operation.
Achievement scores at FMHS have risen dramatically during the past few school years and Wiest feels that incorporating laptops into the classroom have been a major reason for the improvement.
“There’s probably a whole number of factors, probably largely due to the teacher and of course the students themselves, but I think technology is a big part of that,” he said. “I think in all classes students are writing more, reading more and doing more math.”
“In math, we went from being well below state average four years ago (38 percent proficient the year before the laptop initiative) to being 91 percent proficient last year,” he added. “We were probably at or below state average in reading and writing and in one year with laptops we were 100 percent proficient in both reading and writing and were 91 percent proficient last year.”
Wiest explained that at the beginning of the school year, each student is issued a laptop. The student uses the laptop throughout the day in almost every class they attend, receiving homework assignments, document attachments and suggested website links from their teachers that help with research and homework.
At the end of the day, students place the computer on a charging station for the night. In the morning, the computer is ready for the day’s use.
The 70 computers were purchased four years ago for the Wright Place and FMHS, using funds from the stimulus package passed during President Barack Obama’s first term. Since then, the laptops have been in constant use and have actually replaced paper and traditional teaching methods in many classes.
“We really are in many ways nearly paperless, at least in some classrooms,” Wiest said. “It reduced our paper costs significantly. We were amazed when we ran the numbers the first year.”
Despite the financial savings, Wiest said the real advantage of incorporating laptops into the classroom has been the increased interest and involvement from students.
“I think the biggest benefit has been that it increases student engagement,” he said. “We have a lot of at-risk students and when we can find something that keeps them engaged, that is a great thing. But that also means they are taking responsibility for their learning and I think the laptops really help them do that.”
In one example, Wiest pointed out that in a traditional lecture format, a teacher may ask a question to the class, and a handful of students may raise their hands to be called upon to answer while other students sit quietly. However, with the laptops, Wiest said he will often provide a question to the class, which every student is then required to answer on his or her laptop and send to him within an allotted time frame. No student is allowed to sit out from the discussion.
“You can ask questions and everyone has to write a response within next five minutes, so every kid has to write and every kid has to think,” he added.
In addition to classroom use, students are able to request use of their laptop at home to complete homework assignments. Students are required to sign a laptop use policy at the beginning of the school year which outlines appropriate and inappropriate uses for the computer. Wiest said whether the laptop is at the school or the student’s home, an installed program allows Wiest or other teachers to closely monitor use of the computer.
“It allows us to monitor students use both in and out of school,” he said. “I know where they are (visiting websites) and what they are doing. It is a wonderful program that allows us to restrict and monitor the computer usage. We do random checks on a keystroke check and will know immediately if they have tried to get in somewhere they shouldn’t.”
Wiest said compliance with laptop use policy among students has been exceptional and only a few students have been reprimanded about improper use since the program’s inception.
In other business, construction documents for the new Henry A. Coffeen Elementary School have been out for bid, with the bid opening planned for March 13 at 2 p.m.
Discussion also continues on improvements to the Story School and the entrance at Sheridan High School.