Penn Manor continuously cultivates a culture of learning to better prepare our students for life after high school. Educational technologies are central to this mission. Today, we are undertaking the next great step in student learning opportunities. Next school year, all Penn Manor High School students will be issued a district-supplied laptop as part of a building-wide 1:1 laptop initiative.
Sparked by strategic discussions with the School Board of Directors, the recommendation to launch a 1:1 laptop program was reached after careful consideration by a district steering committee comprised of teachers, administrators and a school board liaison. After two separate public project presentations, the school board unanimously voted in favor of the program on April 1, 2013. The program will initiate with a pilot comprised of Open Campus students during the fall of 2013, followed by a full building implementation for all students in grades 9 through 12 in January 2014.
Continuing the success of rich instructional technology programs, the 1:1 laptop initiative will extend the reach of technology empowerment to all Penn Manor High School students. Our vision is that all students will use technology to energize personal intellectual development and construct knowledge for college, careers and beyond. Specific project guiding principles, distilled from the initial steering committee work, have been developed to guide our efforts.
The project’s timing coincides with a planned replacement of student computers originally provided by the PA Department of Education’s Classroom For the Future (CFF) grant. During the 2007-2008 school year, Penn Manor High School received $471,000 to purchase student laptops. Students and teachers have handled these devices with great care. However, five years later, the original grant laptops are showing their age and are rapidly approaching the edge of their usable lifecycle.
Fortunately, as open source technology has advanced and laptop prices have declined, the 1:1 option is now within the realm of affordability and sustainability. Our solution is to pair a low-cost, durable PC laptop running 100% free and open source software on Ubuntu Linux. The powerful combination of inexpensive PC hardware and free, open source software enables us to affordably provide computing resources to every student in grades 9 through 12. Cost estimates for the project are set at approximately $578,000.
Building upon our past success with Ubuntu, student computers will run a customized variant of the Ubermix Linux distribution. Ubermix is a free operating system designed specifically for education. Created by Jim Klein at Saugus Union School District in California, Ubermix includes a palette of over 60 local software applications. The Penn Manor IT Team will augment the base installation with additional software programs and modify the laptops to better integrate with our existing district systems.
Ubermix is unique in that students are given full access to the computer for inquiry and discovery. Documents and files are stored inside a partition separate from the operating system. Should something go awry, students could rapidly recover and restore the operating system back to factory defaults without erasing saved files and work. The simple self-recovery feature emboldens students to experiment without fear of upsetting or damaging the laptop operating system. Plus, the self-recovery system helps trim tech support needs.
Professional development and faculty preparation is crucial to achieving the 1:1 program’s goals. We have outstanding teachers and staff; their professionalism, proven tenacity and passion for learning is the reason we can execute this project. To help staff take these talents to the next level, faculty will participate in professional development sessions in the fall of 2013 and throughout the school year. To quickly build deep instructional capacity, key teachers from each academic department will be identified to receive additional professional development so they may better assist colleagues with discipline-specific instructional technology support and assistance.
Timely and helpful student tech support is also essential to our program. To meet this challenge, we are creating a voluntary help desk team staffed by Penn Manor High School student apprentices. Our school is fortunate to have a deep pipeline of talented and mature students who are eager to assist their peers with common tech issues and problems. Many of these budding technologists have already worked alongside Penn Manor IT staff as part of summer internship programs. Student help desk apprentices will build meaningful technical knowledge and problem-solving skills while providing valuable support to their peers. Under the guidance and supervision of Penn Manor IT staff, student help desk apprentices may work during the school day, for credit, as part of a career internship or service-learning project. These authentic learning experiences will carry forward as our students prepare for professional careers in technology fields and beyond.
This summary merely touches upon a few key project elements. New policies must be written, laptops evaluated, infrastructure prepared, processes developed and communication plans drawn. Our journey will be profound. We will work deliberately, thoughtfully and openly during the next 12 months and beyond. I could not be more electrified about what lies ahead; it will be an incredibly transformative time for our students.
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