After all, computers have been in classrooms for years now, and what difference has it really made in learning?
Tupelo school officials – led by Dr. Randy Shaver, the new superintendent – wouldn’t disagree that handing over a bunch of MacBooks to students won’t accomplish much of anything if that’s all that happens. It might make everybody feel good for a while – you know, we’re a really “with it” school system – but the impact on learning would be negligible.
But that’s not the Tupelo plan. Imbedded in this whole computer initiative is nothing short of a transformation in the way teachers teach and students learn. In fact, one component of the change is teachers learning and students teaching.
No, it’s not about turning the asylum over to the inmates – pardon the indelicate analogy. It’s about teachers seeing themselves as continuously learning, and helping students master their subject matter so well that they can help other students learn it. In the wider world, it’s called teamwork. It’s what the best teachers have always found a way to do.
The laptops are not the end in this vision; they are a means to the end of a more creative teacher and a more engaged student collaborating to master a more rigorous curriculum.
Higher standards are coming to Tupelo Public Schools. Getting an Advanced Placement curriculum into the schools across the board is more important than the computer initiative and must accompany it, Shaver is quick to point out.
But if you’re going to demand more of students, give them the tools they’re comfortable with and use every day in their world outside the classroom.
As one Apple education executive said during a recent visit to its corporate headquarters by a Tupelo community group of which I was a part, “Students don’t consider computers technology.” They’re just part of life. Technology is what came along after you were born, and today’s students are “digital natives.”
Every student in grades 6 through 12 having a computer – and students in lower grades having greater technology access – eliminates the concept of technology as something separate and apart from learning, something to be studied in and of itself. After all, we haven’t had pencil and paper labs in the past, have we?
What computers do is put a wealth of resources and up to date information at students’ fingertips, greatly expanding the possibilities for research, analysis, experimentation, collaboration and presentation.
So what will this look like in the classroom? How will it translate into higher student achievement?
A lot will depend on the teachers. They’ll be challenged as never before to engage students in their own hands-on learning and do less of the spoon feeding that has become even more pronounced in this era of “teaching to the test.”
It will still be curriculum and standards-based. The teachers will know what the students will be expected to learn, and they will be held accountable for them learning it. But they won’t be simply following a textbook and giving rote worksheets or assignments. And students will have more flexibility in determining how best they can master the material by the options the technology tool gives.
In combination with a more rigorous curriculum, test scores will go up, Shaver promises. That’s been the experience in many other districts who have partnered with Apple and made laptops available to everyone. Mooresville, N.C., for example, rose from 37th to 8th in state test score rankings in two years’ time.
But that won’t be the be-all and end-all. Tupelo will need to determine new and better ways to measure its success in making the learning process more effective and meaningful.
If this initiative is done right and sustained, it will be more than a flash in the pan. It will transform the way education is done in Tupelo.
It won’t be easy, and the community will need to be engaged. But when was a challenging goal or community involvement ever an insurmountable obstacle in Tupelo?
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or email@example.com.