Personal computers aid learning for Ferndale middle school students

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 3, 2014 

The educational landscape is changing, not only in Ferndale but across our state and the entire country. Based on recent studies, consider the following:

53 percent of all sixth- through eighth-graders have a laptop or tablet style device (In Ferndale that number is 100 percent);

60 percent of all high school students have a laptop or tablet-style device;

There are now more than 4.6 billion mobile phones in the world, and children under 12 years of age constitute one of the fastest growing segments of mobile technology users in the United States.

The teachers in our Ferndale schools are using a variety of technologies in their classrooms to create engaging curriculum, grade assignments and track student progress.

Recently, Ferndale School District was selected as one of only 20 signature school districts in the United States by a research organization called Project RED. This organization brings together the work of schools across the nation that have chosen to make an investment in the education of their young people by giving each student a computing device. The goal of one-to-one programs is to personalize education by creating a student-centered learning environment for each young person. Research shows one of the best ways to accomplish this is through personal and portable technologies. In Ferndale, we deployed such devices to each of our middle level students last fall.

While we are at the beginning of our work with the one-to-one project, early evidence suggests students are more engaged and motivated on a regular basis. Both teachers and students report increased levels of confidence and comfort using technology in and out of the classroom. Students have found various ways to access learning and information. We are beginning to see a positive shift in teaching practices. Such practices include different ways to communicate with students and support their learning beyond school. Some people have asked about the cost of providing students with mobile devices. Among the data points Project RED is helping us track are ones related to costs. A recent study showed textbooks for a single student over their four years of high school averages $1,020. The mobile device we purchased was under $700. In addition, we are saving money on copying and paper, which are among the school districts' largest non-employee expenditures.

Our plan is for our eighth-grade students to take their devices to the high school with them next year. Immediately, excitement grows when we consider 25 percent of our high school students will have a district-provided device. Unfortunately, we're concerned the infrastructure at the current high school won't be able to support full implementation of one-to-one. For our high school students to realize all the advantages our middle school students are discovering, we will need an upgraded facility. Otherwise, students will take a step backward.

Our initial work with giving each student his or her own technology learning tool promises great dividends. We're excited to continue at the high school level, which is another reason we need a new facility!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Brittain is executive director of Educational Technology and Special Projects for the Ferndale School District.

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