In the summer of 2010, thanks to a grant, our high school received four carts of netbooks. As we began to discuss the best way to employ them, three ideas came to the top: have the carts available for teachers to sign out; choose teachers who would use the carts for a grading period and then pass them on; or select four teachers to use the netbooks full time with their students.

In the end, the decision was made to invite four teachers to fully engage the world of networked learning. The four were all members of our Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) team. Because the carts arrived in the summer, and the deployment decision still had to be made, the four did not have a lot of time before school resumed to prepare for this brand new environment.

So it began.  The four teachers were from four different departments — English, Science, Social Studies and Math.  Our first challenge was to configure the netbooks in advance of the new year. The netbooks would have multiple users throughout the day, so we opted to be cloud-based. Each netbook was configured so that no changes could be made to the desktop and no documents could be saved on its hard drive.

Once classes were underway, all students set up Dropbox accounts and used Google Docs and other web based tools to create work products. At the beginning of each class, they accessed a cloud-resident form and entered the number of the netbook they’d selected from the cart.

Each teacher approached this new learning environment in their own way, and they all brought great energy to the project. They frequently collaborated, shared ideas on our faculty Ning site (viewable by all faculty and staff) and also contributed to the O’Hara Empowered Learning Blog.

If you visit the blog, you’ll see reflections of the teachers on their practice, their challenges and successes. There are also some guest posts by students. And here is a video response by some of the kids who blogged in their English class each week on what were called “Get Your Blog On Fridays” (the teacher describes the project here).

Our netbooks pilot has set us on a path toward a 1 to 1 networked environment in our high school. In our next step, we’re expanding the group to include a Theology teacher and a Spanish teacher. Our first trial runs are teaching us something both about the challenges of 1-to-1 implementation and the powerful learning that can occur when classrooms become connected.

There’s a considerable learning curve for teachers and students, and implementation was by no means perfect. The connection was there instantly — the pedagogy valiantly tried to catch up. As we move into year two, we’ll be working to deepen our understanding of project based learning, the use of inquiry, and other strategies that can help us maximize the advantages of networking.

We are a fairly traditional school, with a sense of caring and community, and a love for the performing arts. Over the decades, we’ve always strived for excellence in teaching and learning, and our shift toward a fully networked environment will move forward — perhaps not always at the pace we might prefer, but we will reach the goal of becoming a 21st century high school populated by students and teachers who take connected learning for granted.

With the support of our Principal, the rest of the administration, parents, teachers and most of all the students, it’s going to be an exciting journey!

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