For sixth grade students at the Newcomerstown Middle School, the new "norm" has been logging on to their new netbook computers for science, math and social studies classes.
Netbooks are a category of small, lightweight laptop computers, and allows the students wireless Internet access, virtually anywhere in the school building.
Those new netbooks were provided through a federal grant totaling $246,000. The "21st Century Learning Grant," which was applied for in June 2009, allowed the school to purchase four labs worth of netbooks or 120 total netbook computers.
Newcomerstown Middle School Principal Jason Peoples gives credit to many for their help in obtaining the grant, including former Technology Coordinator Craig Collins, the new Technology Coordinator Shawn Dakin, and a core group of teachers at the middle school. Those teachers who are utilizing the netbooks include, Tara Supers, sixth grade science; Scott Thomas, sixth grade math; Barb Davis, sixth grade social studies; Donny Stevens, seventh grade science; and Carol Boltz, who serves as the Technology coach for the grant.
"She's been instrumental in this," Peoples said about Boltz and her commitment to the netbooks and its accompanying technology. "She has done a phenomenal job at this."
She has taken many hours of training and even a portion of the grant -- $90,000 to be exact -- was allocated for the purpose of professional development training for the new netbooks.
The netbooks are utilized through a server called Moodle. Moodle is a school-only resource that allows teachers and staff to post daily and weekly plans, flash cards, quizzes, tests, notes, classroom videos, etc.
"It does not replace classroom instruction from teachers," Peoples said. "But, it allows our students more access to curriculum from anywhere."
In her 12th year as a teacher, Supers said, "It's just rejuvenated everything I've done before. I love it. It's awesome."
She said her students now receive instant feedback on quizzes, tests, assignments, etc. Recently, her students were able to dissect a frog through the netbook technology instead of the mess a real-life dissection makes for the students and the school."
"It's very interactive," Boltz said. "Learning doesn't have to end, it can go on 24/7."
Boltz said the students know the rules and know the ways in which they are allowed to use the netbooks.
"They respect the equipment because they want to keep using it," Boltz said. "They're more engaged because they want to try new things."
Sixth grade student Brittnay Hennis said she likes using the netbooks because she can receive instant feedback from her teachers.
Classmate George Brode agrees and said, "I like them. It's a lot of fun ... better than writing stuff down. I just like using technology."
"It keeps our students up with an ever-changing world. I truly believe they are going to be better prepared because of it," Peoples said.
Right now, the biggest challenge Peoples said about the new netbooks is that not all students at the middle school are using them. The grant was written to assist sixth grade students but he would like the entire student body to have access to them.
(Stevens was a sixth grade reading teacher at the time the grant was first written. He was relocated to a seventh grade science teacher so seventh grade science students are also using the netbooks).
"This is cutting edge and we feel like we are leading the way on this," Peoples said. "This provides the best educational opportunities for our kids."
Peoples said he has even added an "Ask the Principal" section where students can ask Peoples anything about the school. He said students that may never have spoken to him before have asked him questions on the site. For instance, students asked about having French fries every day in the cafeteria or having classroom instruction outside.
"Our staff, students, parents and community should be proud of this because the world is changing fast and we need to keep up," Peoples said. "This is really where education is going."