Southside online, in the classroom

Published 12:30 am Thursday, January 26, 2012

Southside High School students Carter Finley, Basheba Jordan, Alex Graves, Junior Mendoza, Fernando Hernandez, and J’Asia Norfleet explore the new Dell laptops that will revolutionize science students’ classroom experience. Principal Rick Anderson established the one-to-one laptop initiative in which each student will have his or her own laptop for everyday classwork. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

 Science classes get laptops

They pulled them out Tuesday for the first time. Sleek and shiny, the new Dell laptops were passed around, each recipient given a login name and password required to access the Internet and, more importantly, access knowledge.

Classroom learning took a technological upswing this week, as the science department at Southside High School launched its one-to-one laptop initiative.

Students in Southside science classes will have their own laptop computer on which to do classwork, a move that will make each student’s classroom experience more individualized and allow students to work at their own pace on assigned projects.

The first project assigned in Jenny Paul’s biology and earth and environmental sciences classes: an Internet scavenger hunt, where students had to search for information on a list of unrelated items, in the process learning how to sort through the massive amounts of information supplied by a broad query on the Internet search engine, Google.

“We’re in the information age, “ said Paul. “Learning how to surf through this ocean of material — it’s essential to know how to do that effectively or they’ll become bogged down.”

The seemingly simplistic Internet scavenger hunt was a lesson in research via the Internet, as students learned how to refine searches and cite website sources of the gathered material.

According to Paul, a switch from chalkboards to computers in the classroom serves several purposes.

“It will increase our students’ ability to function in a 21st century job market,” said Paul. “A lot of these students don’t have computers at home, and if they do, they don’t have Internet.”

Behaviorally, it could mean a change in classroom dynamics as students who finish assignments early are moved on to other tasks, rather than left to their own devices.

“If a student finishes early, with the laptop and Internet in front of them, there’s a multitude of additional assignments. That way one student isn’t sitting there twiddling their thumbs or getting in trouble,” explained Paul.

For teachers, the new technology means wider access to learning resources like N.C. State University’s Friday Institute for Innovative Learning website, where educators can explore a wide array of teaching tools and employ interactive demonstrations, virtual labs, and classroom/computer activities related to every branch of the sciences.

“It’s going to make it a lot easier to do inquiry-based learning,” said Katherine Bogart, Southside biology and environmental and earth sciences teacher.

Bogart explained that now, any student asking a tangential question relating to a classroom lesson can be referred to their laptop and the Internet.

“I can just send them to the Internet and say go,” Bogart said.

Students don’t, however, have wholesale access to the Internet — a history of each website and each page visited on the site, and how long a specific user has viewed a site, is tracked by the central office. A firewall — a set of devices built into Southside’s network of computers to permit or deny network transmissions — prevents students from visiting such social media websites as Facebook and MySpace.

And the new technology will provide ample opportunity to reverse the traditional teacher-student roles, as Paul experienced Tuesday, as one of her tech-savvy students taught her how to adjust the brightness of her laptop’s screen.