EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- "Laptop time," said a high school student as he sat down at a table filled with MacBook Air laptops -- each one designated for a student at Eden Prairie High School.
That's some 3,000 students each getting a shiny, new laptop and the training they'll need to make that laptop central to their classes and homework.
It's part of i-Learn, a technology initiative Eden Prairie is rolling out at every grade level in various ways. For high school students, it means access.
"You introduce this kind of a tool for every student and all of a sudden the questions of access are gone," said Principal Conn McCartan. "What they can get their hands on for students as learners changes the dynamic in the classroom."
It also changes how teachers teach.
"Throughout the summer we had about 250 of our staff come in and spend a couple of days here working specifically with the technology," explained Josh Swanson, Executive Director of Technology at Eden Prairie Schools.
Integrating the technology in classrooms happens at every level. Physical education teacher Roxy Myhre utilizes software and heart rate monitors to track the progress of her students.
"I finally have concrete data I can take (to) conferences," said Myhre, who says some students are discovering they are working much harder than their peers, while others find just looking busy no longer cuts it in class.
"And then after a workout we can come back with our laptops and we can record what we're doing," said Myhre, who is utilizing apps and websites to help her teach fitness concepts.
Principal McCartan says the laptops are also giving students a collaborative edge that didn't exist before. Classroom discussions can flourish online where students who may not raise their hands in class feel free to speak up. "And that conversation can keep going when class is over," McCartan added.
The budget for i-Learn comes from a levy the district is asking voters to renew this fall. The district also re-allocated money from elsewhere in the existing budget.
"We actually took some of our capitol funds out of what we would spend on textbooks, and shifted about $400,000 into this budget," said Swanson, adding textbooks can cost up to $200 each.
Science teacher Brian Strand believes the laptops give students many different options for learning.
"They can use the electronics to visualize things that they might not have been able to visualize -- that I'd be trying to draw on the board or I'd be trying to explain," he said.
Strand also has his students utilize assessment tools so both he and the students know in real time if they are learning what they need to learn.
"The amount of time I would have had to put into that, or the amount of time I used to have to deal with that homework-- I don't have to do that as much anymore, so I can focus my instruction on 'let's see how you're understanding this' and more of the application aspect," added Strand.
Eden Prairie does restrict what's on the laptops and what students can access on the internet to keep content appropriate and to minimize distractions.
"Kids have always been off task on occasion," said Strand. "The vast majority of times students are always on task, it doesn't matter if they have a computer or not."
For the future, it very much does matter. "The world that our students are going to live in is going to be an environment that looks like this," said McCartan, referring to technology. "So do we want them to learn in an environment that has that tool or do we want them to learn in an environment that doesn't have that tool?"
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved.)