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Seventh-graders next up to work on devices

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When seventh-grade teachers at Greenwood Middle School wanted to use laptops with their students, they faced a question: Are you ready?

Using laptops in class meant the teachers would have to rewrite many of their lessons, which usually involved worksheets or lectures. Teachers who wanted to use videos, PowerPoint or other interactive lessons would have to find those materials themselves. And they’d have to start planning not one but three lessons each day, so that students who were behind, ahead and on task all had something to work on, director of secondary education Rick Ahlgrim said.

“We made it clear to our teachers: This is going to be disruptive at best,” Ahlgrim said.


But the seventh-grade teachers wanted the 300 computers.

Science teacher Mariah Sirkin wanted her students reading the most current science articles available, and that required Internet access instead of textbooks.

And language arts teacher Jordan Garrison wanted her students to get more experience with research projects. Seventh-graders had always done at least one research paper each year, but the laptops allow teachers in all subjects to do research projects with their students all year long. He said that will help them when they get to high school.

“Now, I think, (students) are going to have a much more solid foundation for how to research because they’re going to be doing it all the time, in all of their classes,” Garrison said.

Greenwood’s seventh-graders don’t get to take the computers home. School officials decided computers were less likely to be lost or broken if they remained at school. And if a teacher wants students to work on an online project outside class, they can use computers in the school’s media center or at the public library, school officials said.

Garrison’s hope is that the laptops will let her start showing her students earlier how they’ll be expected to work in their careers.

“I don’t want to be the only resource they have, because in the real world that’s not the case,” she said.

Until this year, many of Garrison’s classes were based around her lectures. Students memorized what they thought they needed to know for tests. Periodically she created scavenger hunt-style research projects, where students found answers to questions in their textbooks or from other books they’d read, but too often students came to her for help because they couldn’t find what they were supposed to be looking for.

“That’s kind of the point, guys,” she told them. “You’re supposed to be finding it.”

Neither Garrison nor Sirkin plans to use the laptops in class every day, and both want to start using them in class slowly so they can be sure students understand everything they’ll be asked to do.

Sirkin likely will use the devices with her students two days a week, for research and virtual labs. She doesn’t want to replace classroom experiments, as students will need to know how to work in a lab setting in high school. But if students have the chance to do versions of experiments on the laptops, they can make their mistakes on the computer instead, she said.

Garrison is slowly making the laptops part of her students’ research projects. This month students started reading a novel about a group of kids trying to stop a man from polluting the ocean, and Garrison had them watch videos and conduct research on pollution’s impact on the environment.

For now, Garrison is showing students what websites they can go to for their research and how to use search engines. But when Garrison gives her students a research assignment at the end of the year, she’ll expect them to know how to do their own research without any help, she said.

“I think for right now we are figuring out how to get things done in class time,” she said.

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