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January 6, 2010 > Moreau's laptop program respected nationwide

Moreau's laptop program respected nationwide

By Simon Wong

Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward is an innovator. The school, a model for other schools, recently welcomed an east coast delegation of school superintendents, principals and teachers interested in learning more about the use of technology in the classroom

Approximately 900 students and teachers have an Apple laptop issued through the school's 1:1 Laptop Program, now in its fourth year. Each freshman class joins the program as it enters the school.

Laptops, as a tool, have transformed the school's learning environment. They have improved accessibility within the community and access to scholarly resources and information, integrated teaching and learning and support the learning environment seamlessly.

"We consider it an essential tool to help transform how our students learn in the classroom. It's not the centerpiece of a lesson but facilitates what they need to do to accomplish project-based learning and to demonstrate their knowledge using content creatively. They don't use it daily in every class but all classes, even PE and ceramics, use it to access resources, information, etc. Some use it extensively; staff has adapted the curriculum and also learns," stated Technology Director Shawna Martin.

"Traditional tools, such as blackboards and whiteboards, are not obsolete but are used differently. Use of laptops has led to "blended learning." Learning continues beyond the classroom through MOODLE, blogs and wikis," explained Principal Lauren Lek.

MOODLE, an open source course-management system hosted on the school's servers, is available on campus and at home. About 70-75 percent of Moreau's courses are on MOODLE, e.g. resources for Peace & Conflict Studies. Students can complete assignments online and access the materials a teacher has made available. Utilizing the system and resources can be as simple as posting homework assignments, handouts and calendars or as complicated as hosting a Middle East Peace Summit simulation in which students follow the same protocols as real politicians and negotiators.

Not all teachers use MOODLE. Some use WordPress, an open source blog publishing application. Moreau's philosophy is teachers will use the most effective tools to help students learn; consequently, chat pops up and wikis develop in certain content areas because teachers make decisions about how best to employ these tools to achieve learning goals.

"Students who are shy in class have an opportunity to shine. Staff is now accessible round-the-clock, regardless of location. Some teachers tell their students when they'll be online so there is the opportunity to review works in progress and for feedback. Seeing the Principal on Twitter increases transparency and makes us all approachable," stated Lek.

"Uploading roll-call and grades to PowerSchool, a web-based student information system accessible to teachers, students and parents, has also increased transparency. Problems must be resolved sooner rather than later. We want to keep our students once they're here and we want them to do well," she added.

Greater transparency has flattened the hierarchy. The relative standings in teacher-teacher, student-student and teacher-student and parent-administrator relationships become less important. Students know teachers' email addresses and are now more likely to contact them to get things done.

An absentee can keep up with his/her studies by listening to classroom conversations via Skype, using the online chat boards to follow notes taken in class and accessing resources on MOODLE. Moreau invites professionals, authors and university lecturers to address students via Skype. Geography and location are not barriers to learning.

"This models the real world. Members of work teams are often in different locations. Good organization and knowing how to learn and work collaboratively, utilizing technology, are essential skills. We want them to have those abilities," explained Library Director Susan Geiger.

"Our students might be distracted by the gamut of media available but our philosophy is to train, not ban. There is a time and place for a specific medium, such as Facebook, so they are self-disciplined when at college," she added.

Students can also view original materials for context. Why read a Martin Luther King speech in a text book when footage of him delivering that speech is online? Why study paintings in a book about the Louvre when the Louvre has a website? When creating biomes, students can visit the Sahara via Google Earth and see the flora and fauna instead of relating text to illustrations in a book which, according to an Apple representative, can exert the drag of an anchor in a classroom whilst a laptop can fly.

The core of what is taught has not changed - critical thinking, how to manage content well, rigor and commitment to excellence. How to deal with the welter of information and form good questions are seen as more important than ever before.

Teachers no longer fill pupils' heads with information. They are facilitators collaborating with students to build knowledge, create, investigate, enquire and develop skills.

"We've used a lot of tools to facilitate that transition which started long before the Laptop Program's introduction. A decade ago, we switched from seven 45-minute periods per day to a block schedule of 85-minute periods with classes meeting on alternate days. Such changes have helped teachers re-think and re-evaluate the curriculum, how and what they teach. No-one can expect to speak constantly for 85 minutes and expect students to absorb everything. The laptop is just a part of that strategy," said Martin.

"We're a college-preparatory school grooming students for life and for college. We must teach them how to deal with the complexities of the lecture theatre where there won't be someone telling them what will be examined and how to approach it. We'd do our students a disservice if we do not prepare them," she explained.

Moreau constantly evaluates different ways to use its tools. The library is the school's learning center. The Library Team develops tools that might suit one department over another. Alternatively, some teachers specifically request a tool to improve communication with students; the Library Team might build a wiki. It does not matter how a teacher learns to use a tool; if it is good, the teacher is incapable of using it incorrectly and will automatically add it to their toolbox.

The school is not an ancient, richly-endowed establishment. The laptop program was founded on a tight budget and the school remains provident, subject to the same economic downturn as other schools. Nonetheless, Moreau tries to maximize the advantages staff decisions have created.

The 1:1 Laptop Program has become a national model. Each semester the school hosts a showcase for Apple whose guests wish to learn more about it. Moreau shares its experience because it went through the same fact-finding and feasibility process when considering the introduction of its own program.

"Many educators observe we're on the cutting edge. Many of our staff do not regard themselves as pioneers. They're very humble. When you see what others aren't, or are, doing, you become aware of what our teachers have developed and the program's impact. Our 60 faculty are just incredible. That's one reason Apple brings visitors to our campus," said Lek.

"It's necessary to develop 21st century learning skills for children. Inventive thinking and effective communication are integral to produce and deliver to one's audience. Technology has facilitated digital-age literacy. From the moment students enter Moreau, we talk about what they produce, their target audience, how they obtain that information, what information they utilize. Through Susan Geiger, there is an abundance of scholarly databases and journals which reduces reliance on popular reference sources such as Wikipedia. In the information age, we all need to process data and evaluate it qualitatively. The ability to navigate and use such materials, to distinguish between good and poor quality from the 9th grade will stand them in good stead for college and working life," concluded Lek.

For more information, visit www.MoreauCatholic.org or contact Kristin Delaney-Wiggins on (510) 881-4305 or by email at kwiggins@moreaucatholic.org

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