Making their mark: Teachers, students note changes of using school district's new computers

TUPELO – Love them or hate them, there is no denying that Tupelo’s new laptop initiative has impacted the lives of students, teachers and parents throughout the district.
Change is visible around the community too – one doesn’t have to look hard to see teenagers carrying MacBooks across the street, using them at restaurants that offer wireless Internet access or holding them as they wait for buses to pick them up in the mornings.
It has been nearly four months since the Tupelo Public School District began providing the computers to each of its sixth- to 12th-grade students, enough time to begin to gauge the change they have brought – for better or for worse.
To get a sense of the initiative’s impact, the Daily Journal interviewed 49 students, parents and teachers about how using MacBooks has changed their lives. Students spoke of the ability to turn in more creative projects but also acknowledged the challenge of focusing in class when using a computer capable of displaying games and websites.
Teachers have invested time learning how to use the laptops and ways to incorporate them into their lessons, but also said that providing digital copies of notes has allowed them to cover material more quickly.
Parents have had a greater burden of needing to monitor how their children use their new tool but also spoke about seeing an added excitement from their children.
There have been changes in the classroom – teachers and students can instantly seek answers to questions that arise during a lesson, science classes can practice virtual labs and students can video a teacher’s lesson to review later. But not all the changes have been profound.
During a class at Tupelo Middle School last week, U.S. history teacher Richard Robold began his lesson by making students use pencil and paper to answer a question he posed on his projector. One student even used the classroom pencil sharpener. Robold said he intended to have the students write by hand.
The students then took out their laptops and took notes as Robold explained a presentation about the final days of the American Revolution. When his lesson was complete, the teacher used his laptop to show a video about the war.
In a previous class period, Robold’s students discussed an upcoming project where they would have to make a digital presentation about America’s early days; two girls in the back of the class planned how they would act out and film a discussion between two women of the American Revolution.
“All the laptops have done is widen our availability of things to do,” Robold said. “We still differentiate our lessons and do all the things we’re supposed to do. This gives us another tool to use.”
Tupelo High School junior Michelle Morgan said that she’s been helped by a computer program that will read recorded text.
Often she will use it to listen to her notes while she is cooking at home.
Kim Hopkins has two children with district-supplied laptops: junior Ameyia Ford and eighth-grader Josh Hopkins.
Because students now do all of their homework on the computer, instead of with textbooks, they have had to learn more responsibility in caring for the machine, she said.
She has also had more difficulty discerning what her children are doing while they’re on the computer.
“When they had textbooks, I knew what they had for homework,” she said. “Now I don’t know whether it is homework they are doing.”
“I think they are good to have and some children are using theirs to learn things,” she said later, “but it is not good when they are using them as a toy.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

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Click here for EDITORIAL: Digital Learning

CHRIS KIEFFER / NEMS Daily Journal