October 9, 2013 | LXXIII, No. 28

Nespelem eighth graders each get laptops

Last Friday, eighth graders at Nespelem Elementary School gained something in common with students in far-flung school districts around the continent intent on making sure students are prepared for the future that’s already here.

Teacher Sheri Edwards helps Kalyla St. Pierre set up her new MacBook Air. — Scott Hunter photo

Each Nespelem eighth grader received a new laptop computer to use for all their school work.

While many “one-to-one” districts are opting for cheaper tablet computers (the Los Angeles Unified School District just launched a $1 billion program), the Nespelem School Board opted for the ultra-portable Apple MacBook Air, a super slim, lightweight, but fully capable laptop.

The district bought a dozen for a total price tag of $16,738.08.

Eight of those were unwrapped Friday morning by students whose eyes told an eager story.

They’ve been using similar technology in the classroom for years, but on desktop computers they share with others. Now, they’ll each get to “personalize” their individual machines for their exclusive use in all their classes.

They listen patiently as teacher Sheri Edwards [full disclosure: she’s the writer’s wife] goes over the rules of use, then get busy on the computers in a scavenger hunt lesson plan she has devized to guide their explorations.

For Edwards, that’s not just an introduction, it’s almost a philosophy of education: Today’s students will go forth from schools to find themselves in a world where they’ll be expected to know how to find answers to questions that will never stop growing in number and complexity. And they’ll find those answers using technology.

“This is the kind of world these kids are living in,” Edwards said, explaining the school board’s decision to fund the investment. “They want their kids to be globally aware, to be engaged as citizens and to be able to use and access tools like lifelong learners.”

Edwards, who teaches reading and writing to sixth- through eighth-graders, already has the students using Google Apps, a suite of free, online applications used and stored in “the cloud,” making it possible for students and their parents to reach their work from anywhere, using any connected computer.

“That’s the way the world is now,” she said.

Her students use a calendar, write in blogs and use presentation software.

“They are able to share what they know and interact with other people around the world,” she said, noting that the class is currently involved in the Global Read Aloud Project, reading the same novel as students around the world.

Superintendent and Principal John Adkins said the school did not fund the new tools through a grant.

“The board just decided we’re going to take this out of our general fund and we’re going to do this,” he said. “We have teachers (who) will take that and it will just become a part of their lesson plan, open us up to the big … world out there.”

Adkins said the school’s small size, with an average of 12 students in a classroom and teachers willing to use the technology, can give its students an advantage.

“They’ll explode with that stuff,” Adkins said.

Back in the classroom, students Ryan and Patrick offer their expectations. Ryan says the new laptop will help him write better. He also knows he’ll be able to check his grades and assignments online.

Patrick, working on posting a comment in a closely controlled, Facebook-like classroom social network, agrees it will help “to manage all our stuff.” And he’s aware that the school board “thinks that we need to be technologically up to date.”

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