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Plugging in progress with laptop learning

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Wiki anyone? It’s not exactly how I remember life in the classroom, but it just shows how far things have come in a couple of generations.


OK, I’m no spring chicken, but I’m not quite 40 yet, either. And granted, I did go to school in England, but have memories sitting at a wooden desk, engulfed by piles of paper, flicking rubber bands at the poor girl in front of me and perhaps not listening as intently to the teachers as I could have (and where would I be now if had?)


But there was none of this imagery at Dakota Collegiate last week, when I was part of a media tour to visit students using their laptops in the classroom.


Now in its second year, this compulsory initiative for Grade 9 and 10 students (at this stage) is part of Louis Riel School Division’s vision to harness the power of technology — and move with the times — after two years of planning, development and preparation with staff, students and parents.


Superintendent Terry Borys said the initiative makes sense because it mirrors the society we now live in, noting the division controls which sites can be accessed and the students can’t get on Facebook and other such sites.


"We live in a world where we’re surrounded by technology. Young people use technology regularly and this is opportunity to let them bring it to school in an ethical and responsible way," Borys said. "This tool needs to be part of learning in school."


The soon-to-be-retired Borys added the division has made sure that students from different economic backgrounds aren’t left out in the cold.


"We’ve made sure all students are equipped with a device. The school has provided approximately 40 students, confidentially and discreetly, with devices with a payment plan, as we want to make sure it’s a level playing field."


In one Grade 9 social studies class, student Feden Cheway, 14, showed me how she was using a wiki (a website which allows its users to add, modify or delete its content via web browser) to look at geographical regions.


"It was difficult at first, but it’s gotten better," she said. "It was hard finding pages on the website, but it’s gotten a lot easier. It’s a great idea."


Samuel Bibentyo, 14, said the laptop is great because he doesn’t have to write notes anymore: "It’s easier online and more convenient."


In a math class, Kevin Singh, 15, was using the Math XL program on his laptop — along with a pen, paper and calculator.


"It’s like a worksheet. It gives you questions online and you have to answer them online," Singh said. "I still do the basics on paper with a calculator and the program tells you if you’re right or wrong.


"It makes some of the stuff easier, instead of asking someone if you’re right or wrong all the time."


Travis Reimer, 14, mentioned the benefits of mobile learning: "It’s really good, as they get us to download some files and I can do it at home, which is very helpful."


Dakota’s principal, Jill Mathez, said the initiative has changed the learning culture of the school.


"I’ve seen the kids take ownership for their learning. Every time I enter a classroom when they are using their laptops, the engagement is much higher. It can only benefit their education," she said.


Full steam ahead with progress, then. One thing, though. How are you supposed to scribble a love letter and slip it in the pocket of the girl with the pigtails?

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