2017-12-07 / News

OOB offers computers for younger students

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Fifth grade students at Loranger Memorial School are the first to try new laptops in Regional School Unit 23 as funding from the state appears to be running out.

The school board decided in late August to spend about $13,000 to purchase 65 Lenovo Chromebooks for the 57 members of the fifth-grade class. Under the Department of Education’s Maine Learning Technology Initiative, all high school, eighth- and seventh-grade students receive a MacBook laptop. Sixth grade students in Old Orchard Beach each receive an iPad and kindergarten through fourth-grade classes share five iPads per classroom. While the MacBooks were leased for $1,100 apiece over a four-year period, the Chromebooks were purchased outright for about $200 each.

“Maine Technology Learning Initiative has always had great success with Apple, but it’s expensive,” said Loranger Memorial School Principal Mike Flaherty. “With the state not knowing what direction to go in yet to continue this program, we thought it was a good time. We already had plans to roll one-to-one down to as many grades as we could afford and fifth grade was next.”

The Maine Technology Learning Initiative first brought 17,000 laptops to seventh- and eighth-grade students in fall 2002. The Old Orchard Beach School Department’s ultimate goal is to provide a device to every student in the district, kindergarten through 12 grade. Flaherty said the state program has worked well but lately he’s heard it may be more than the state can handle. He said he hopes the same doesn’t become true of Old Orchard Beach.

“We need to be fiscally responsible with this and make sure we don’t take on more than we can afford or manage,” Flaherty said.

Fifth grade students are not yet allowed to take their laptops home yet. That privilege is reserved for sixth-grade students and older. However, school staff is considering allowing them in order to continue projects at home and involve their families in their schoolwork. A popular program among students is Raz-Kids, which allows them to earn stickers and customize their own personal robot for every book they read online. Flaherty said his own son, who’s in third grade, has enjoyed the program.

“It’s all automated and it’s a wonderful extra data point without a lot of extra effort on their part,” Flaherty said. “They have more access to a high interest reading selections at their own grade level. My son likes to take screenshots and send it to my parents. He’s proud of his robot and (my parents) know he’s actually reading to get that.”

The increased number of devices poses a challenge for staff at times. Old Orchard Beach Technology Administrator David Lawler said maintenance for every laptop and iPad is time consuming. On top of that, managing the number of students in the district using the network can be tricky. He said the results, however, are worth it.

“Now we have five classes taking a test at one time vying for that bandwidth,” he said. “When they’re testing here we scale back the availability for other locations to have the best experience when they’re testing. It’s a challenge, but a good challenge.”

Lawler and teachers are able to precisely control what websites students can access on school-issued devices, as opposed to ones students bring from home.

“It’s important to note professionally, we realize this is not a baby-sitting tool,” Lawler said. “Screen time is definitely monitored, used carefully and within reason. It’s developed within curriculum enhancement or enrichment. It’s not like they’re all day on devices. We want parents and the public to be aware it’s important for kids to get access to it under supervision.”

While new technology for students won’t be a solution for all students’ needs, Flaherty said it provides teachers with more education possibilities.

“It changes the dynamic in the classroom,” he said. “Before this, teachers had to be the sage on stage and know everything they were presenting to the kids. Now teachers can facilitate based on knowledge out there and resources online. It adds another dimension to learning.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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