Middle School Laptop Program Parent FAQ

The parent information forum on the 1:1 Laptop Learning Program was held at Marticville Middle School on Wednesday May 13, 2015. Over 50 parents and students attended the session, which covered details of the August laptop distribution, student expectations, and classroom goals. A document summarizing frequently asked questions and concerns was made available to attendees. If you missed the session, grab the Laptop Program FAQ here. Additional resources, including the laptop policy, parent agreement form, and best practices guide are also available.

For the 2015-16 school year, all middle school students will receive a laptop computer for personal use in school and at home. The 1:1 program is designed to expand students’ access to resources that will enhance their personal intellectual development and help them construct knowledge for life after high school in a changing world. Penn Manor High School launched a laptop learning program during the 2013-14 school year. The district is excited to expand the program to all middle school students.

Student Linux Laptops Presentation

At our March IU13 Technology Directors meeting, I joined several district colleagues for a sharing session on student 1:1 programs. The discussion was titled: “1:1 Implementation: Choosing the Right Device”. I spoke about our Penn Manor’s guiding principles, open source philosophy, student apprenticeship help desk program, and how Linux offers unique learning options for students and teachers.

Slides from my potion of the talk are online here.

For those who inquired about the presentation format, the slides were created in reveal.js, an amazing HTML/CSS framework for building attractive presentations.

1:1 Laptop Program for Middle Schools

MS 1to1 Feature

I’m thrilled to announce that the district 1:1 student laptop program is coming to middle school students this fall. Penn Manor’s board of directors voted on Tuesday night to expand the program into grades 7 and 8. Approximately 800 students will receive a district-issued laptop at the start of the 2015-16 school year.

The middle school 1:1 laptop program builds on the high school initiative originally launched during the 2013-14 academic year. Over 1700 laptops were issued to students in grades 9 – 12. Our middle school 1:1 vision mirrors that of Penn Manor High School: Pervasive access to rich personal technology energizes personal intellectual development and enables students to construct knowledge for college, careers and beyond.

We believe laptops provide the best learning device for Penn Manor students and classrooms. Laptops are not only excellent day-to-day instructional tools for reading, writing, and web research; they are modeling clay from which students create new and meaningful learning artifacts. With an ample menu of applications for programming, 3D drawing, multimedia, and science, laptops offer the diversity of tools needed to create amazing new things.

Student computers will be low-cost, durable 11.6” laptops running 100% free and open source software on Ubuntu Linux. An open source philosophy is a cornerstone of the high school 1:1 program, and will be central to the middle school program as well. The powerful combination of inexpensive PC hardware and open source software helps contain costs without compromising instruction or student opportunities.

The existing 1:1 program underscored the fact that self-directed student learning  happens outside of formal classrooms. Middle school responsible use policies will mimic those at Penn Manor High School; students will be trusted and given the opportunity to be responsible with their school-issued devices after school hours and at home.

As a public school district, it is incumbent upon us to provide every child with outstanding academic resources. The expansion of our 1:1 laptop program demonstrated a deep commitment to this duty. I’m so proud to be part of a learning community that help make it happen. More to come as the initiative develops!

Amazing August Tech Updates

Summer Rainbow

The summer months are always a time of intense activity for district staff. Penn Manor’s IT Team has worked ardently to prepare for the 2014-2015 school year. Here are a few project highlights from a summer that felt entirely too short!

Centralized Online Student Registration
After a successful spring trial of online Kindergarten registration, we implemented centralized online registration for all new students enrolling for the 2014-2015 school year. The new system is a major reconfiguration of our registration procedures and represents the first significant process change in over 15 years. Changing PDE data reporting requirements are a driving force behind the change. Nearly 350 new students have been registered via the new system. Welcome to Penn Manor!

Relaunching the PM High School 1:1 Program
We’re excited to start the year with our 1:1 student laptop program fully engaged. Laptops have been refreshed with the latest version of Ubuntu (14.04) and dozens of open source learning software. Approximately 350 students took advantage of a our summer take-home program. All other Penn Manor High School students will receive their school laptop during the first week of classes.

Teacher Laptop Upgrades
Marticville Middle and PM High School teachers are returning to new laptops as part of the district’s 4 year teacher laptop refresh. Teachers were given the choice of devices. The options were a single 13” Macbook Pro or the two-for-one-deal of a 15” touchscreen Acer laptop plus a 10” Android tablet.

Teachers received the new laptops during an August technology workshop. Along with the laptop upgrade we have fully implemented ownCloud, a district-hosted automatic backup and file synchronization service, for all K-12 teachers.

Hambright Elementary and Manor Middle School Building Technology
New construction and building renovation work mean new data cabling, new projectors, and new classroom technology systems. Both buildings received serious network infrastructure upgrades, including high-capacity fiber and CAT6 network cable. We’re also very excited to implement HDMI audio/video in each classroom.

These highlights are only part of the summer story. The overall volume of district IT work during the past three months has been extraordinary. I’m so proud of my capable, creative and tenacious IT team. August could have been awful; my staff worked together to make it awesome!


Enabling Students in a Digital Age: TEDxLancaster

It was an incredible honor and privilege to be selected to present our open source 1:1 laptop learning initiative and student apprenticeship program at the inaugural TEDxLancaster event on May 3, 2014. I hope I successfully captured the spirit of our program, and venerated our remarkable student tech team.

The Laptops Have Landed!

Student 1to1 Training Groups

After a year of planning, Penn Manor High School has officially launched a 1:1 computing program. Laptops are in the hands of approximately 1700 students! Here are a few fast facts and notes about the unique program:

  • Each student received an Acer TravelMate TMB113 laptop, mouse, flash disk and case. Kits were distributed, by grade level, during the week of last week of January 2014. The bulk of the distribution took 4 days. During distribution, students received an orientation session to help them get started with the new laptop.
  • The laptops are running Linux, specifically Ubuntu 13.10, along with several dozen free and open source programs. Our program is believed to be the largest open source 1:1 implementation in Pennsylvania. By using open source software exclusively, we estimate an initial cost savings of at least $360,000 on licensing fees.
  • Students are given full control of their laptops. They are permitted to install programs and experiment with software. They are expected, and trusted, to abide by copyright laws and district policies. Program expectations, guidelines, best practices and digital citizen tips were reviewed with all students last December.
  • The laptops will be used in the classroom and at home, and students will be responsible for any damages that may occur. As required by the Children’s Online Protection Act, (CIPA) each laptop is equipped with a filter to block material deemed harmful to minors. Filters are enabled both on and off campus.
  • Our student technology apprentices have been instrumental in program implementation and peer technical support. Student apprentices are enrolled in an honors level, independent study course. Shifts on the help desk are scheduled during the school day just like traditional courses. During distribution, student apprentices worked alongside Penn Manor IT staff and assisted with tech support and helped to facilitate laptop orientation sessions.
  • Several student apprentices helped develop critical software tools for the program, including the student help desk/ticket system utilized by their peers. Their code is available on GitHub.

Between logistic planning, teacher professional development, cardboard unboxing and all of the little details threaded into a project of this scale, the last two months have felt like a frantic sprint to the finish line after an intense marathon. The joint efforts of the district IT team, student apprentices, faculty and administration have flipped a profound classroom switch and empowered every student in every classroom. I look forward to the next part of the journey!

Welcome to the Laptop Machine

Image Party

Penn Manor’s 1:1 student laptop program reached another milestone this past weekend. After a two-day setup marathon, 1725 laptops are now ready for distribution and delivery to Penn Manor High School students. Manor Middle School’s cafeteria was transformed into a computer assembly line as the PM IT Team, student help desk apprentices and community volunteers worked to unbox, inventory, configure and prepare the laptops for distribution to students at the start of the second semester.

Manually installing an operating system and applications on such a vast scale is impractical. Central to our setup process was a customized software toolkit developed by Penn Manor senior, Andrew Lobos. The software, titled Fast Linux Deployment Toolkit (FLDT), is derived from several open source projects. True to its name, FLDT makes Linux software setup fast and easy. Andrew’s program rapidly copies our custom Ubuntu image from one master laptop to as many as 50 laptops at a time. The entire FLDT copy process completes in less than two minutes and accelerates the process of cloning software to hundreds of laptops.

The FLDT system was tested and refined by student tech apprentices over the past several months. It performed exceptionally well as our team processed thousands of laptop images. In the spirit of the open source community, FLDT and other district open source projects are available via GitHub, a software development sharing site: https://github.com/pennmanor/. We encourage other schools to freely use and contribute to the code.

While the FLDT quickly replicates our custom software images, physically handling and processing over 1700 individual laptops takes a great deal of human effort. A large part of the setup work involved unboxing, labeling, scanning, inspecting and adding laptops to our inventory system. After nearly 24 hours of work with a 13 to 20-person crew, the laptops were ready to be shipped to Penn Manor High School.

It is difficult to overstate the incredible power of this learning experience. Pictures simply do not capture how our students demonstrated genuine ownership of the setup process, or their incredible passion for building systems that their peers will use daily. Pride and enthusiasm was palpable as traditional classroom roles dissipated and students assumed leadership roles in their individual functional areas. The project was a potent, authentic learning experience, one that I suspect our students will recollect for the rest of their lives.

For more on our approach to open source in education, check out this article on Opensource.com: http://opensource.com/education/14/1/trust-your-students

The Penn Manor Tech Technology Team thanks these students,

Collin Enders
Aaron Jandzio
Nick Joniac
Andrew Lobos
Ben Moore
Bri Reisinger
Tom Sowers
Zack Schucker
Ben Thomas

…and the following volunteers!

Jill Billman
Charlie Goodrich
Dylan Kostelich
Allen Markes-Lyon
Teresa Reisinger


Winter 2014 Tech Update

Winter Mountain

With another year nearly a wrap and the winter of 2014 upon us, it is time to reflect and recount recent Penn Manor IT projects. Summer 2013 was one of the busiest on record for the district, and the past several months have proven equally as exciting.

The summer teacher technology upgrade was completed when nearly 200 elementary and middle school teachers received Asus MeMO tablets. These Android powered 10” tablets are making regular appearances as part of classroom instruction and with special education services. Teachers are finding creative and inventive new ways of using Google Play apps with students. Huge thanks to district IT Specialists Jason Sauders, Shelby Foster and Tom Swartz for facilitating the tablet rollout, and for making the summer laptop upgrade happen so efficiently.

Much of the IT department’s work occurs behind the scenes. IT System Engineers Shawn Beard and Chad Billman completed a number of vital infrastructure upgrades and improvements including new network switches, server builds, and programming changes. Chad spearheaded the creation of Jenkins, a continuous integration server that will massively assist in the creation of new images for our Linux laptops. As December drew to a close, Shawn deftly migrated the district website to a new highly available cloud-hosted service via DigitalOcean.

Speaking of websites, our online viewership has continued to grow. The Penn Manor website received a record 744,000 visits. Thanks to the consistent efforts of our new Community Relations Coordinator, Brian Wallace, the Penn Manor Twitter account has rapidly reached over 860 followers.

The district also migrated to a new emergency calling system, SchoolMessenger. In addition to typical mass-notification services, the new system call home when a student is absent from school. We expect that the parent attendance calling features will be enabled in early 2014.

Open Campus, our online course partnership with Hempfield and Manheim Township continues to expand with new course offerings and increased student participation. Penn Manor student enrollment in Open Campus courses has grown to over 150 and total course requests for all three districts have approached 450. Thank you to Help Desk Specialist, Gina Brubaker, for helping Penn Manor and partner district students smoothly and successfully access and navigate their online courses.

Exploding PA Department of Education data reporting requirements consumes considerable district time and recourses. Our new Data Specialist, Dianne Bates, has rapidly mastered the intricacies of continually evolving PIMS submissions and expertly developed a PVAAS data plan for our student management system. In other data news, Dianne, Gina and Carol Alexander are working to create a fully online student registration process, which is scheduled to be unveiled in the spring of 2014.

Of course, the biggest story is the impending Penn Manor High School student 1:1 laptop program. After a year of planning, a successful fall pilot, dozens of hours of teacher professional development, multiple parent information sessions, student class meetings and great efforts from the Technology Team, we are on target to begin laptop distribution at the start of the second semester. IT Specialist Alex Lagunas has been doing outstanding work with the Penn Manor High School student technology apprentice team while preparing the final laptop software image, assisting with teacher PD sessions and troubleshooting existing building technical support issues. Thanks also to Shawn Canady, High School Teacher Technology Coach, for his role in planning and facilitating faculty professional development in support of the program.

Finally, a special shout-out to our students and staff–in the face of continuous change, they continuously demonstrate academic excellence. I am proud to collaborate with such outstanding students and staff!

Happy New Year!


Photo Credit: torremountain cc

1:1 Laptop Program Update

Student Help Desk

Penn Manor High School is approaching the day when every student has access to a personal laptop for learning. In preparation for our January 2014 building-wide 1:1 computing program, a pilot group of 90 students are testing district-issued laptops in school and at home. For the past two months, the pilot group, comprised of Open Campus students and others who are enrolled in online classes, have adopted the laptop as their primary scholarly device.

Student feedback is key to the program; student experiences help us refine installed software and test the laptops in various classroom situations. Based on student input, several changes will be implemented. One example is the neoprene case originally selected for the pilot laptops. It has proven to be less resilient than expected, and the IT Team is investigating a tougher case alternative. Additionally, several software image changes are being implemented to make the laptops more efficient and easier to use. Read more about the pilot program kickoff on PennPoints.

Pilot computers are the Acer TravelMate TMB 113 series laptops running Ubuntu, a flavor of the Linux operating system. The Acer/Ubuntu combination is a perfect blend of computing capability, battery life and software flexibility. Bugs and kinks have been minimal, and students have remarked positively on the laptop’s compact size. Given a successful device pilot, we have selected the Acer TravelMate with Ubuntu as our standard 1:1 program device.

The student help desk team is a vital component of the pilot program. Providing peer support to fellow students, the student team solves technical issues, prepares and configures laptops, trains peers and prepares documentation and help guides. You’ll find a great example of their work on the 1:1 help blog: http://blogs.pennmanor.net/1to1/. PennPoints, recently posted an excellent article on the student help desk.

Penn Manor High School teachers have participated in technology professional development for the past several years. To amplify their exiting skills and help build additional instructional capacity ahead of the full 1:1 program, teachers are participating in 2-3 days of educational technology sessions on a number of new and old topics such as, Open Educational Resources, Moodle, curating content with Evernote, file and resource sharing, student writing/blogging, LibreOffice, screencasting, Google Apps, and document annotation.  Technology professional development sessions are scheduled either after school or during full day trainings.

To keep parents informed of the program, three evening parent information sessions are scheduled. The first session was held on Thursday October 24th. Dr. Gale and I provided an overview of 1:1 program’s instructional goals and answered parent questions for nearly two hours. The next two sessions are scheduled for 7PM on November 20th and December 11th and will be held in the Penn Manor High School library. Registration is not required.

During the second semester, the full program will begin and all 1,700 Penn Manor High School students will receive a laptop. The IT Team is on-schedule for a full program launch by the end of January 2014. However, it is critical to keep in mind that our program is not about the device; it is for and about our students. Excitement is building as we move toward our goal of empowering all Penn Manor High School students with a laptop to explore personal passions such as creative design, engineering, programming, writing and music.

Finally, a big thank-you to PM High School Technology Specialist, Alex Lagunas. Alex has been working tirelessly to prepare for the pilot and guide the student help desk team while simultaneously supporting day-to-day building technology needs and staff help requests. While juggling his many tasks and projects, Alex always remains cool, calm and collected; I’m fortunate to have him on the Penn Manor IT team.

More updates to come!