Mars expands laptop program
Eagle Staff Writer
Written by:
April 21, 2014

ADAMS TWP — The program that had each Mars High School student this year receive laptop computers to complete most of their school work has been so successful that administrators are expanding it to the middle school.

The Mars School Board on April 8 approved buying laptop computers and docking stations for $66,196.

Matt Friedman, district assistant superintendent and director of curriculum, said the computers will be distributed to middle school teachers in anticipation of the program’s expansion to that school’s seventh- and eighth-graders.

Centennial School teachers also will receive laptops for use when the program expands to the fifth- and sixth-graders in that school. There is no start date for the program in the Centennial School.

Friedman said the middle school teachers will be trained on the machines during after-school sessions and professional development events.

“The main goal is to provide the teachers with the technology, as well as the (training), months before any students would have the computers in their hands,” Friedman said.

In addition to learning the software used to teach their classes with the computers, the teachers will learn skills that will help them integrate technology into the classroom on a daily basis.

“That’s really the premise of the program: the integration of technology as a teaching and learning tool,” Friedman said.

Once in the students’ hands, the computers will be used in varying ways depending on the subjects, Friedman said. Mainly, they will be used for research, note taking, document submission, assessments and projects.

Friedman said like the high school program, the middle school program will focus on building in students what educators call “21st Century skills” or “the four Cs:” collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication.

He said CEOs in major corporations have indicated they need future employees to have a firm grasp on these skills.

“If they have these four skills, they will be better equipped for the work force,” Friedman said.

The district builds these skills in students through the project-based learning program in which students work together and use critical and analytical thinking to complete assignments instead of taking notes and then a test.

“When we integrate technology into the classrooms, we can see we are building those skills,” Friedman said.

The initiative to give each student a laptop has worked well at the high school since it started at the beginning of the this school year, Friedman said.

“The evolution of integrating technology into the classroom has been a growth experience for both students and teachers,” Friedman said. “We have seen creativity and a higher level of thinking in all subject areas.”

He said faculty and students alike appreciate having technology at all times in the classrooms.

Middle school Principal Rich Cornell said teachers there have been using the computer labs, library and tech-ed classrooms to engage in project-based learning and research. He said teachers are booking computer labs a month in advance for their students.

“This will allow us to do it within the classrooms, and students can follow up with their devices at home,” Cornell said.

Once teachers receive training on their laptops, they will have the summer to discover ways to integrate projects into the classroom using the devices, Cornell said.

Students are expected to receive their computers in the fall.

The district will offer several meetings for parents about the laptops just as it did last summer when the project started at the high school, Cornell said.

“Mars Middle School is ready for this and embraces it wholeheartedly,” Cornell said.