WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 11, 2000 —Students participating in Microsoft’s Anytime Anywhere Learning program are more creative, more collaborative and better writers, according to a study by ROCKMANET AL, a San Francisco-based independent research and consulting firm. The report also shows that teachers participating in the program are improving their teaching methods and demonstrating greater confidence in using technology in their lessons.
Over the past three years, ROCKMANET ALhas conducted surveys to assess the experiences of schools participating in the Anytime Anywhere Learning program, which has grown from an original group of 52 pioneer schools to include more than 800 schools, with more than 125,000 students and teachers using Windows-based laptops equipped with Microsoft Office and Internet connectivity as a primary learning tool. The results of the ROCKMANET ALstudy were announced today at a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and titled, “The Secretary’s Conference on Educational Technology 2000: Measuring Impacts and Shaping the Future.”
For the past 13 years, Dr. Mirian Acosta-Sing has been the principal of the Mott Hall School in New York’s Community District 6, one of the original schools involved in the Anytime Anywhere Learning program. Mott Hall is a public middle school, located on the grounds of the City College of New York in the Harlem/Washington Heights area of Manhattan. The school’s population reflects the mix of cultures in the surrounding community; the majority of the students are of Dominican descent.
What began as a program in one fifth-grade classroom has expanded throughout the school. Mott Hall is now a 100-percent laptop school, with all of its 450 students using laptops for learning at home and in the classroom. After measuring the success of the program at Mott Hall, District 6 officials decided to implement laptop learning district-wide. More than 4,500 students in District 6 are starting the new school year with laptops.
To learn more about the Anytime Anywhere Learning program, PressPass spoke with Dr. Acosta-Sing as she was preparing to travel to Washington, D.C. with Mott Hall students and teachers to participate in the conference on educational technology.
PressPass: Can you give us a quick picture of Mott Hall?
Acosta-Sing: First, picture a very old building. We are a public school, and we teach 4ththrough 8thgrade. Approximately 80 percent of our students are Hispanic children, and they come from the Washington Heights/Harlem area. Approximately 12 percent of the students are African-American, and the rest are Asian and Caucasian. We opened 14 years ago, when there was a real need for a school focused on math, science and technology. At that time, there was also a need to serve children who really showed potential for academic excellence and were sitting in classrooms with other children who required remediation. Parents and teachers agreed that these children deserved a different type of curriculum so that they could move ahead at a faster pace with a more challenging program. I came one year afterwards as the principal. The students are selected from other schools located within the geographical boundaries of Community School District 6.
PressPass: How did Mott Hall come to participate in Microsoft’s Anytime Anywhere Learning program?
Acosta-Sing: The goal of Mott Hall is to provide a world-class education for its students. We provide a challenging and rigorous program that goes beyond the curriculum required by the Board of Education.
Technology has always been a very important part of our program, but it wasn’t until we participated in Microsoft’s Anytime Anywhere Learning program that we really got into advanced technology. We had much the same paradigm that most schools around the country had — a computer lab where children were programmed to go for two hours a week to receive technology lessons from the technology teacher. When we started to participate in the Anytime Anywhere Learning program, we changed our paradigm completely.
Several years ago, our superintendent was invited to Seattle for a “laptop summit,” where he saw a video of an Australian school that had started a laptop program. Initially, he thought that the idea would never work in Washington Heights, because the kids would get mugged or the parents wouldn’t buy the laptops. However, back home at a principals’ meeting, he shared his growing interest in the laptop program. I knew that at Mott Hall we had to do more with technology, but I couldn’t open another computer lab, and I couldn’t give students more time in the computer lab. Technology was a major subject at Mott Hall, yet the access to computers was limited. I was immediately interested in the laptop program.
I met with people from Microsoft and the principal from the Australian school who had made the presentation to our superintendent. When the Australian principal discussed her experience, I saw how Anytime Anywhere Learning could solve the issue of the quantity of time that the kids are exposed to technology.
I kept thinking about the digital divide and about what Mott Hall stands for. We want our students to be the future leaders of our country. We want them to become CEOs of companies. Our curriculum is preparing them to go on to higher learning and to assume positions of leadership so that they can come back to their community and help future generations of students. It is gratifying to know that under the leadership of our present superintendent, Brian Morrow, and the director of technology, Linda Gutterman, the laptop program will expand and flourish throughout Community School District 6.
PressPass: What were some of the challenges you and your teachers faced as you started using laptops with the students at Mott Hall?
Acosta-Sing: We were concerned that the school wasn’t wired, that we didn’t have the infrastructure to support the program, that we did not have the money to get all the software and the laptops. Security was an enormous issue, and we had to ensure that none of our students would get hurt bringing their laptops to and from school on the bus. We decided that it would be manageable as a pilot program. I chose one of the fifth-grade classes with a classroom teacher who was a risk-taker and who was comfortable with technology. We’re a risk-taking school; we like to be on the cutting edge. I try to convey to the teachers that in order for us to move ahead we’ve got to take risks.
We had a small window of opportunity to start planning. We found out in late August 1996 that we were going to get a pilot program, and we were told that we’d receive the laptops for the fifth grade in November. We started to meet frequently to put everything in motion. We put together an infrastructure, we met with the parents, and the superintendent was very involved.
PressPass: What difference did Anytime Anywhere Learning make in the lives of your students, their families and their teachers?
Acosta-Sing: That fifth-grade class was under a lot of scrutiny, but those kids just took off. Let me give you an example. In the third month of the program, I walked in as the class was talking about marketing. They had been discussing how movie producers make millions of dollars, not only on the movie itself but also on the marketing and the merchandising of the film. The teacher assigned them a project to promote a movie among their peers. To my surprise, the children were creating PowerPoint presentations as part of the project. Their comfort level in preparing the presentations blew me away. When I asked how they had learned PowerPoint in such a short time, they said that because they had the laptops at home they had been experimenting with different programs on their own.
There were all kinds of great results from that pilot program. I saw incredible growth in a short time. Kids were telling me that they were quarrelling with their siblings — or with their parents –because they all wanted to use the laptop. I heard about a grandmother who was using the laptop for games, and a mother who wanted to put all the family budgeting and checking accounts on the computer. Parents were telling us that the younger children were learning to use the computer, and that they got motivated and excited because our students were teaching them. Our students became role models and mentors at home. Parents were talking about how there was more quality family time, because now they were all using the laptops at home. Teachers started seeing it as a powerful tool for teaching and learning.
The program has really changed the teaching and learning paradigm. Before, we focused on the technical skills of technology, and now we see technology being used as a learning tool enabling kids to produce polished, attractive, quality products that mimic what the business world produces.
I think that the parents feel we’ve given a lifeline to the students. They feel that the kind of quality education we provide at Mott Hall has been enriched with technology. And they feel good that their children can compete with students who come from very affluent homes. The digital divide and the equity issues are extremely important to our minority students — we have parents coming to us from all over the city who want to put their kids into Mott Hall.
PressPass: The findings released today mention that there is more constructivist learning and more constructivist teaching among laptop students and teachers. Can you elaborate on constructivist learning and teaching?
Acosta-Sing: Constructivist learning occurs when children are interacting with their environment and constructing their own knowledge. We found that with the computer the children were actually constructing their own learning, because they could do it anytime and anywhere. They would use the laptop on the bus, and they would use it during lunchtime. In essence, they were managing their own learning, and they were becoming more self-directed learners, which is a goal that all schools want to promote. Constructivist learning happens when there is less dependency on the classroom teacher. Our kids were actually learning from each other, on their own.
PressPass: How would you respond to critics who claim that programs like Anytime Anywhere Learning are nothing more than window, dressing because they have not led to dramatic increases in standardized test scores?
Acosta-Sing: It’s inconclusive, because there are so many variables. It’s hard to isolate those variables in order to say the laptop increases student achievement. There are so many other ways in which we have found the use of laptops beneficial and rewarding for students’ learning. The goal of Mott Hall is to provide a strong foundation for these children to move on to higher education, and to major in the fields of math, science and technology where traditionally, minority students have been under-represented. We want to give our students the tools professionals use in the real world, and with the laptop program that’s what we’re doing.
PressPass: What are the specific, measurable gains your students have made through their use of laptops equipped with Microsoft Office?
Acosta-Sing: The quality of homework is much better, and the quality of the writing has improved because children are actually writing more. And there is less TV watching and more family time. We had children who were not inspired, not motivated. One child, for example, was having great difficulty — he was a child who needed a lot of help — and when he got a laptop, it was like magic. All of a sudden, this child became a leader in the classroom. He became organized; he became a much better learner. The laptop was a motivational tool for that student.
The laptops have become natural extensions of the learning process in the classroom. One of the children killed a mosquito during class and then decided it would be important to find out if the bug could have been carrying the West Nile virus. A spontaneous lesson was generated as the science teacher encouraged the student to investigate the properties of the virus and its carriers on the Internet.
We’re sold on the Anytime Anywhere Learning program, and we think it’s giving the kids a professional toolbox that’s going to propel them into the 21stcentury. The kids at Mott Hall can compete with any student across the country.
PressPass: Can you talk a little about your school’s relationship to Microsoft? Besides helping to make technology available, are there other things the company has done to help your staff and your students that you think are particularly noteworthy?
Acosta-Sing:We’ve been part of Microsoft’s Anytime Anywhere Learning summit conferences every year since they started in 1996. They have been very meaningful for us, because all of the laptop programs are featured from schools in other parts of the country. We come together as a learning community to share ideas and projects. We’ve also taken advantage of Microsoft’s Education Web site, which has sample lesson plans and products we can use on the laptops.
September 28 is a professional development day for the whole city, and we’re going to hold our professional development day at the Microsoft field office in New York, which I think will be very motivating for the teachers. We’ve also had the opportunity to make presentations at local and national conferences about our laptop program. In fact, we’re now going to have a “Mott Hall 2” — Mott Hall is going to be replicated by another district in New York.
Partnering with Microsoft was very appealing to me because of everything that Microsoft stands for. If the program had their backing, and they were going to be involved, I definitely wanted Mott Hall to be a part of it.
PressPass: How would you advise teachers and administrators at a school just starting a laptop program, or who are contemplating an increase in their school’s technological capabilities?
Acosta-Sing: This was not easy. There was an enormous amount of pressure and work involved. Teachers were frustrated with the infrastructure, and they were frustrated because they had to work harder. It’s much easier to do business as usual. They now had to think carefully about how they were going to use software to enhance instruction.
We dealt with the frustration with after-school student groups, and we’re planning a retreat. There’s a constant evolution of ideas, exploration, trial and error, and discussion. We started out with two technology teachers, and we now have three. We added a part-time troubleshooter who works through infrastructure issues like wiring. We have a curriculum specialist who works with classroom teachers — she’s been very successful showing teachers how they can use the Internet and laptops to enhance and enrich their curriculum.
Microsoft compiled the experiences and best practices of Anytime Anywhere Learning schools in a guide that takes you through the planning process and key questions and answers from Mott Hall and schools around the country. You can access it from the Microsoft Education Web site.
A lot of work goes into this program. You’ve got to establish an Internet policy and deal with all kinds of new problems. But we’re completely convinced that if we’re going to level the playing field for our students, this is the way to go.
PressPass: And you’re seeing the playing field start to level for your students at Mott Hall?
Acosta-Sing: The kids are the real stars of the laptop program. Teachers College at Columbia University asked us to do a presentation to the president of Chile a couple of years ago. He was amazed by the sophistication of the kids’ presentation. As a result, Teachers College received a grant from the government of Chile to train teachers. And the president of Chile was late to his meeting with Henry Kissinger, which was to take place just after our presentation, because he wanted to speak to our children and ask questions.