One-to-One Computing in N.C.

By Lawrence Hardy

Jessica Sheley has some less-than-fond memories of Room 203 at Mooresville High School. That’s where her world history teacher used to project various pages from the textbook onto a screen with some key words whited out. Her task, and that of her ninth-grade classmates, was to fill in those missing words.

Of course, that work was made a little easier -- you might say, more mind numbing -- by the fact that the very same textbook would be sitting in front of every student, opened to the same page as the one projected on the screen.

“So all you’d have to do is find the word and write it in,” says Sheley, still incredulous that someone could teach that way in North Carolina in the late 1990s.

Jump to 2011, and Sheley is back in Room 203. This time she’s the teacher, and she does things a little differently. For a world history segment on World War I, she had students come up with questions on an aspect of the conflict -- any aspect -- that they wanted to study. The ninth-graders created a website, posting videos and podcasts on everything from the conflict’s impact on Europe and America, to the wartime roles of women and African Americans.

Sheley, an Apple Distinguished Educator and National Board Certified Teacher, is well known in the district for her ability to spark students’ creativity and interest in learning. But in this small town and suburban district of 5,400 students north of Charlotte, she is hardly alone. Since the Mooresville Graded School District launched its Digital Conversion campaign in 2007 -- one that resulted in all fourth- through 12th-grade students receiving laptops -- the district has made remarkable gains in student achievement and graduation rates.

Mooresville is one of a growing number of school districts that use laptops to fundamentally change the way teachers teach and students acquire knowledge. Ann Flynn, director of education technology at the National School Boards Association, says about one-third of the nation’s schools now have “significant” one-to-one computer initiatives in place.

But, Flynn says, it’s not just new laptops or iPads. In successful programs, there is a profound change in instruction and in the school’s culture.

“If all teachers do is keep teaching how they’ve been taught,” she says, “you’re not going to see a change in achievement or engagement.”

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