The plans to bring the freshman curriculum further into the 21st century starting next fall.
Although bidding hasn’t ended yet, the high school tentatively plans to lease about 350 laptops for the incoming freshmen to use for more technology and research-based projects in their core classes.
Administrators have estimated the cost to be about $600 per laptop and included $58,000 in the budget for the program. This money was already in the budget for the school district as part of its overall fund balance. The costs may also eventually be offset by reducing the need for text books and computer labs in the school over time.
If the program is successful, administrators plan to expand it within three years. The current plan is that the second phase would bring laptops to the rest of the high school while the third would extend laptop use down to sixth grade.
The decision to bring laptops into ninth grade classrooms has been on the agenda for the school board for much of the academic school year. It has followed the nationwide trend of encouraging technological literacy in schools.
“The expectations are much more significant for students now, so the tool access has to be much more significant.” Superintendent Patricia Greco said.
While some schools have adopted a “bring your own” laptop model, Menomonee Falls school administrators decided to provide students with the technology in the beginning before easing into a more blended program in which students would have the option of bringing their own laptops to use on the school network.
“Once we learn how to move around the network and what it can do, we want to make sure it can do everything including accommodate units that are brought from the outside,” Jeffrey Nennig, the director of technology and assessment, said.
Concerns about allowing students to bring their own include problems connecting to school printers, according to Nennig. He has set up focus groups with eighth graders to determine what would work best. He said that the main concerns that have arisen are what to do if students forget their laptops or if the batteries die.
He has also met with parents and teachers to address their concerns and expectations.
The main purpose is for teachers to plan activities around the use of the technology and to be able to use class time more efficiently by posting videos and other materials for students to access on their own, according to Greco.
Other ways that the school district is using more technology in the classroom is through the use of SMART Boards. It is also getting WiFi and faster Internet at the high school to prepare for the laptops. All of this means a shift away from traditional teaching tools. The School Board recently of the district's technological infrastructure. Installation of the upgrades will be completed over summer.
“You know, it’s different,” Greco said. “When I went to school, there was only one computer in the building, it was the size of a room and kids got to touch it maybe nine weeks out of their entire high school career.”