From Textbooks to MacBooks in Tupelo

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – For decades, students in American classrooms have sat in rows, listened to lectures and studied textbooks that had been written several years earlier.
Tupelo Public School District Superintendent Randy Shaver wants to change that style of learning. His primary tool for making his changes will be laptop computers.
“I think Tupelo is unique and special and will always be on the cutting edge,” Shaver said in October. “We are going to put our education on the cutting edge by being transformational leaders in Tupelo, in Mississippi, in the U.S. and in the world.”

Ready for rollout
The district announced in October a new initiative in which it would provide Apple laptop computers for administrators, teachers and students.
Teachers began receiving their MacBook Pro computers this month, and Tupelo High School seniors will get their MacBook computers in two weeks.
Beginning next school year, all sixth- to 12th-grade students in the district will have their own MacBooks.
The computers will work like textbooks in the sense that they will be loaned to students and teachers for the school year and returned at the end of the year.
Returning students will get their same computer at the beginning of the next school year.
“It will help get more students access to modern technology,” said Tupelo High School history teacher Jeramy Turner. “When they get to the work force and to college, it will get them one step ahead of fellow classmates who haven’t had access to it.”
Tupelo will be the first public school district in Mississippi to provide computers for all middle and high school students, but it’s not the first in the nation.
Shaver oversaw a comparable initiative in his previous job as superintendent in Whiteville, N.C., and Tupelo officials recently studied a district in Mooresville, N.C., that provides computers for fourth- to 12th-grade students.
More than 2,000 school districts around the world have one-to-one computer initiatives with Apple.
“Students come up to me at school and say, ‘Did you know that …,’” said Julie Morrow, principal of Mooresville Intermediate School, where laptops have replaced textbooks. “When we were using textbooks they never did that.”

Learning tools
The idea is to use the computers as learning tools. Students might type assignments and e-mail them to teachers.
They may use the Internet to study a subject and find information that is either more in-depth or more recent than what was in their textbooks. Posterboard projects could be replaced by presentations or movies that students can make on their laptops.
Programs will allow students to discuss the topics they learned in class, even while they’re at home.
“Scientific information is exponentially changing,” said Tupelo High School physics teacher Sharon L. Davis. “Textbooks are quickly out of date, but we’ll have access to all of the information.”
Marrion Winders, who teaches science at Milam, envisions students using the technology to make movies for science fair projects.
She said the computers also will change the way teachers deliver instruction.
For instance, to teach a lesson about Earth processes, she could download pictures of the planet’s core and mantle and present them with her lesson.

New philosophy
The introduction of the computers is more than a technological change. It is part of a new philosophy on student learning.
Shaver said classrooms should not be characterized by students sitting in rows listening to teachers lecture. Instead, teachers should be like coaches who pose a question to students and then guide the pupils as they work together to solve it.
In solving the problem, they are mastering an objective from the curriculum.
“It gives ownership to learning,” Shaver said.
As part of that philosophy, and as a way to fund this program, the district is decreasing its use of textbooks. Shaver said it will buy just one set of textbooks per classroom.
“Textbooks are a resource,” Shaver said. “They’re not the curriculum. We envision the best mix of instruction methods.”
Shaver said that no textbook covers the district’s entire curriculum. Instead, texts should be one method students use to learn information, just as college students might use books on the syllabus for supplemental reading.
With computers, students will be able to do their own research and make presentations. They’ll also have access to learning tutorials.

The Mooresville example
The Mooresville, N.C., Graded School District began giving laptops to students in August 2007.
“It is absolutely imperative that we train our children for the world they will live in,” Mooresville Superintendent Mark Edwards said.
The results already have been significant for the district. District achievement has improved, and the district is now eighth in the state with 81.8 percent of its students scoring proficient or better on their state standardized tests.
Three years ago, the district ranked 37th in the state.
The attendance rate at Mooresville High School increased from 94 percent to 96.7 percent last year, and suspensions at the school decreased by more than 60 percent.
“The kids who didn’t normally shine in the classroom really shine when you put technology in their hands,” said middle school teacher Bethany Smith. “The kids that were higher-level learners can really excel.”

Instructional supply money
The total cost to the district will be roughly $5.2 million over four years, Shaver said.
That expense will be paid over four years and also includes staff development work to help teachers find ways to best use the equipment.
The project will be largely paid for by money the district normally spends on textbooks and photocopies, Shaver said. Other money will come from federal funds that the district spends on instructional supplies and from a bond the district has already borrowed.
A lot of the savings will come from a reduction in paper costs.
Teachers creating handouts for students will now make those handouts into electronic documents, or PDFs, and e-mail them to students.
Shaver said because the district is buying the computers in bulk, they will cost between $900 to $1,000 each and will last for three or four years. The district will provide nearly 5,000 computers.
Said THS interim principal Glenda Scott: “It is a wonderful tool that will help us get it right for student engagement and real-world relevance.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at

Things parents need to know about the Tupelo plan to give students computers:
Q: Do I need to have Internet at home?
A:No. TPSD Superintendent Randy Shaver said 85 percent of what students must do on the computers can be done without the Internet. Students will have access to the Internet at school and will be able to do needed work on the Web then. Shaver is also pushing for more community businesses to add free Internet access.
Q:What if my student damages his or her computer?
A:Basic warranty coverage will be applied and other damage will be the financial responsibility of the parent or student. The student will have access to a loaner computer while his or her computer is being repaired.
Q:What if a computer is stolen?
A:The parent or student should file a report with the school and the police department. All of the computers will come with tracking software that will allow authorities to know where they are at all times.
Q:How will the district monitor Internet use?
A:The TPSD has an Internet filtering system to ensure inappropriate Web sites are blocked, and teachers will monitor activities in the classroom. Parents will be responsible for monitoring off-campus Internet access.
Q:How is the program being funded?
A:The district is paying for the program with money it normally uses for textbooks and paper. The district will just supply one set of textbooks for each classroom. It will also use money from a bond it already has borrowed and federal money tagged for instructional supplies.
Q: When will my child get a computer?
A:Teachers are in the process of getting their computers, and seniors will get theirs the week of Feb. 8. All sixth- to 12th grade students in the district will get computers at the start of the 2010-11 school year.

You can submit more questions to Chris Kieffer’s Education Matters blog at Click here to visit Education Matters. Or you can e-mail him at

Some differences between a Mac and a PC


– Drives are displayed as icons on Mac desktop.

– Access programs through the “dock” at the bottom of the screen or the Finder application.

– Safari is the primary Web browser.

– Less susceptible to virsuses because fewer people use them.

– Uses Mac OSX operating system.

– Favored by people working with graphics.


– Drives are located inside My Computer.

– Access programs through the start menu.

– Internet Explorer is the primary Web browser.

– More susceptible to viruses.

– Usese Windows operating system.

– Favored by gamers.

– Superintendent Randy Shaver stresses that the laptop program doesn’t depend upon students using the Internet away from school.

By Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo students will not be lost next year if they don’t have Internet access at home.
But the more they’re able to get on the Web, the better, and Tupelo Public School District Superintendent Randy Shaver is asking for community support to make Internet access more available.
Under the school’s new computer initiative, all students in grades six to 12 will be provided laptops next school year to use as learning tools. Current seniors will begin getting their machines the week of Feb. 8, and all other students will get them at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.
“The one thing I can’t emphasize enough is that Internet access is important to the program,” Shaver said, “but it is not nearly as important as the instructional capacity of the computer.”
Shaver said that 85 percent of the work on the new computers can be done without the Internet. That’s because the computers will come with software that will allow students to make Podcasts, film strips and even movies. They’ll also have Internet access at school and will be able to do required Web work while they’re there.

Important, but not critical
“I don’t want to downplay the importance of Internet access in the community, but I don’t want anyone to think this program will fail if children don’t have Internet access at home,” Shaver said.
Thus far, Shaver has found one Internet partner and is looking for more. The Link Centre has said that any student who wanted to come there and do school work would have full Internet access.
Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said he is exploring various options for offering Wi-Fi hotspots in the city but as of now, everything is still the research and fact-gathering phase.
Shaver also would like to see businesses install wireless Internet hubs. For instance, students could do their homework at Laundromats with Wi-Fi while parents do their laundry.
“I think it would be a great perk to any apartment owner to say it offers free wireless to all of its tenants,” Shaver said. “It would give wireless access to our students and to adults who might want to continue their education.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or

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