Technology Program Graduates First Class

Evaluating effectiveness and changes six years later

Over the past six years, senior Haley developed the habit of getting home from school and logging straight onto her computer: she self-admittedly “lives on her laptop.”

“I’ll get on YouTube or CNN and just stay on for thirty five minutes going back and forth between articles.”

When the current seniors, the class of 2012, first got their laptops in sixth grade, they discovered the freedom and opportunity Haley mentioned. The then-sixth graders tried to beat all 26 levels of the computer game SuperTux, fought over the privilege of orienting the SmartBoard and used Google chat to talk during class without getting in trouble with their teachers.

But since that time, the girls have found uses for technology beyond fun and games.

In Upper School, the seniors experience “blended learning.” English Department Chair Dr. Deborah Moreland integrate laptops and technology into the curriculum, creating class discussions and arranging workshopping sessions on Haiku.

“Imagery on the SmartBoard makes grammar lessons interactive [and] technology adds another dimension to the classroom,” Middle School English teacher Glenys Quick said.

Moreland sees other advantages as well. “Textual discussion gives students who are brilliant but still need time to formulate their thoughts, or maybe their voice is soft…the opportunity to get into the discussion by typing it out; it’s more democratic”.

Haley sees the impact of technology in the lab as targeted software and programs “help us learn new things in the science labs immediately through LoggerPro that we might not be able to do as easily otherwise.”

Should the technology program not exist in its current state, would not be able to require WebAssigns, provide notes from class online or post videos for students who miss class, a practice favored by teachers like Math Department Chair Jeri Sutton.

Beyond the technology in the classroom, the laptop program provides other advantages.

Without the program, we would not have synchronization to backup all our documents to the server, which sometimes does cause problems, but also gives us reassurance if our computers were to all crash.

In fact, because of how integrated technology is in Hockaday’s curriculum, Haley said “it’s weird to think in sixth grade when we got our laptops that older girls got it for the first time too because it’s such a natural part of our lives.”

However, some see problems with the laptop program.

Quick encountered one such problem when reading over her sixth graders’ papers on “The Witch of Blackbird Pond,” in which the protagonist is named Kit.

On many of the papers, “Kit was spelled with a lowercase ‘K’ and I realized later that the girls were writing everything in lowercase, thinking that the computer would correct them which ultimately is a real disadvantage,” lamented Quick. “Sixth grade is just too young,” she said.

Haley agrees, “the technology program is so strong, but we just aren’t ready in sixth grade. I loved having a laptop but I didn’t really use it for school and what I did use it for I could have done that in the computer labs,” she said.

“Lower school has their own computers and sixth grade and up have their own laptops so fifth grade has two full computer labs at their disposal, so it kind of seems like a waste for the middle schoolers to have laptops when they don’t use them and the desktop computers we have aren’t being used either,” Haley said.

Haley’s brothers, who have laptops of their own, prefer to share the family desktop. By virtue of not having a laptop program, the boys do not feel as tied to their own computers when working on school work. For them, Haley said, “it’s easy to work and learn without them.”

Senior Ellen finds websites like Haiku and wikispaces for which the teachers use the laptops to be “a nuisance to students and way more work than necessary.” She believes some of the ways teachers try to integrate technology into learning and our community is contrived.

Moreland confronts these challenges, “sometimes it takes more time, sometimes the computers need to take a nap,” but still believes the program is good and productive. Teachers are “preparing our students to be leaders across cultures in the 21st century, which includes learning about technology.”

By senior year, girls are more mature and have a broad knowledge of grammar, spelling and punctuation, so the disadvantages laptops poses for the sixth graders are less worrisome for the upper school girls.

As such, Upper School girls utilize laptops more in their classrooms for LoggerPro in science classes and Haiku in English, unlike sixth grader Annabelle who says she only uses her laptop for “music and powerpoints.”

The potential for distraction is another commonly cited detractor of the laptop program, Haley admits. Even sixth grader Cameron said she ends up “wasting time on the computer more than working.” And, she does not even have a Facebook yet.

Although there is no solid data on the Hockaday program, teachers have found online exercises to be effective and many students think having a laptop offers an academic advantage.

Technology overall has been effective in facilitating learning when integrated into current curriculum; however, the laptops may not be good for the younger girls due to a lack of maturity and, they might not even be necessary at all considering the technology resources available to Hockaday girls at school.

– Megan N