Back in 2001 when former Maine governor Angus King launched an initiative that funded the purchase of a laptop for every seventh grader in the state, he didn’t promise higher test scores. Instead, King recognized that tech literacy is a must-have 21st century skill, and all students need it, regardless of economic background. Now 10 years later, every seventh- and eighth-grade student in the state, every secondary teacher, and 60 percent of high school students have their own laptop. The technology costs $18 million per year, but its an investment that’s leveling the playing field and bringing in academic results.
Used properly, laptops make information incredibly accessible and can offer countless opportunities for skill and concept remediation. They also close the gap between students from low income backgrounds and their wealthier counterparts by equitably providing access to information. If a low-income student is assigned a research paper, without a laptop and internet access she has to rely on her school or local public library—which might not be stocked with the most up-to-date or relevant sources. Laptops circumvent those access issues.
A 2009 study by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern Maine concluded that laptops improve writing skills and have boosted state writing test scores. And, thanks to innovative laptop-based teaching techniques, 50 percent fewer ninth graders in Freeport, Maine now need remedial math.
Math teacher Alex Briasco-Brin told the Sun Journal that in 2009-10, 91 percent of eighth graders at Freeport Middle School passed the state’s math exams, up from only 50 percent in 2001-2002. And, the state’s success has attracted international attention. Delegations of educators from four continents have visited Maine to learn how the state is integrating laptops into teaching and learning.
Although the program has successfully created a generation of tech literate students, no matter how much money their families have, King believes “It’s now time to take it to the next level,” He says increasing teacher training and expanding the innovative ways laptops are used in the classroom is key. Countless individual schools or school districts across the nation have adopted one-to-one laptop programs, but there is no other statewide mandate for such a program. But, with the results Maine is getting, maybe there should be.
photo via Shoreline Schools