MANSON - This fall, high school students at Manson Northwest Webster may find themselves reading and doing activities online instead of using a textbook. Students as young as fourth grade will have laptops to take home, and every classroom down to pre-kindergarten will have tablets to do activities.
All these changes are part of MNW's goal to bring cutting-edge technology into the classroom.
The one laptop per student program, which began for seventh grade and up two years ago, will now include fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.
The new laptops are Google Chromebooks - small laptops that feature many Google apps and easy integration with the Google Docs.
"We're already using Google apps at school," said Superintendent Mark Egli, "because they're free."
Not only does Google offer hundreds of free educational apps, Egli said, but with Google Docs, files are saved on Google's servers so they can be shared instantly.
"You don't have to attach it to an email, you just tell the system to share it," he said.
Younger grades will receive 10 laptops per classroom, and pre-kindergarten and kindergarten will have five per classroom.
"I emailed all the teachers and said, 'Tell me what you will use them for, and how many you would prefer.' Fourth, fifth and sixth grade were very excited about going one-to-one."
Fourth-grade teacher Jody Jacobsen said she knows her kids will like it, and that gets her excited too.
"The thing I'm most excited for is, we use lots of Google Docs and apps, so we can do a lot of collaborative writing with the students," Jacobsen said. "So I can see their work immediately, and they can see my comments immediately."
This will also make her job easier by reducing paperwork.
"Instead of bringing a stack of papers or notebooks home, I just get on my Google account and see all my students' work, because they share it with me," she said.
She can even work from home with a student working from home.
Another technology upgrade this year is the myOn e-reader book collection. Jacobsen said her students will read from this on their share of the district's 200 new Nexus tablets.
"Not exclusively, of course; we have lot of good books too. But that will be a really good resource for us to open up a world of lots of literature," she said.
The myOn reader is "a new reading program where kids can put in their interests, take some tests to see what their reading levels are, and it will match them up with literature online they can read," Jacobsen said.
With MNW's new contract with the online service K12 Learning, teachers will be able to use materials from the online classes as a part of their classes. Egli said many of the high school classes will be phasing out textbooks in favor of online content from K12.
Students will complete quizzes and respond to questions as they study, he said, rather than just reading out of a book. Teachers can then see how much time each student spends on an activity and how well they understand it.
"We believe this will increase the amount of reading the students do, and the amount they know when they come into class," Egli said. "Not only are we lightening the student's backpack, which has always been my goal, we also have access to content presented in a format that helps the student learn."
Using the system, students will have access to a greater variety of classes. Egli said Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, German and Latin will be offered as online classes, in addition to MNW's French classes. About 15 students are signed up for Spanish this year.
The program will also allow homeschooled students to get K12 online classes through MNW, and offer new options for the alternative school.
Egli said the upgrades were funded by the Physical Plant Equipment Levy.
"The intent of the school was always to integrate technology into the elementary grades," he said. "When the community passed the 50 cent PPEL levy, that made it possible to increase the implementation."
Egli said the plan was to have a whole staff training in January, but some teachers didn't want to wait.
"Ten teachers asked to be trained online prior to the start of school, so they can use it right away," he said. "So that would indicate the teacher response is really positive. That's almost half the high school teachers."
These changes in no way replace teachers, Egli said; they replace textbooks, and give teachers the chance to work with students who have better understanding.
Egli said companies with millions of dollars are able to hire the best minds and teachers in the world and create multimedia to make content more engaging than what local teachers can make on their own.
"It's becoming apparent that corporate-developed courses are likely more engaging and perhaps more academically sound than anything we try to create ourselves."