The Laptops Have Landed!

After a year of planning, Penn Manor High School has officially launched a 1:1 computing program. Laptops are in the hands of approximately 1700 students! Here are a few fast facts and notes about the unique program:

  • Each student received an Acer TravelMate TMB113 laptop, mouse, flash disk and case. Kits were distributed, by grade level, during the week of last week of January 2014. The bulk of the distribution took 4 days. During distribution, students received an orientation session to help them get started with the new laptop.
  • The laptops are running Linux, specifically Ubuntu 13.10, along with several dozen free and open source programs. Our program is believed to be the largest open source 1:1 implementation in Pennsylvania. By using open source software exclusively, we estimate an initial cost savings of at least $360,000 on licensing fees.
  • Students are given full control of their laptops. They are permitted to install programs and experiment with software. They are expected, and trusted, to abide by copyright laws and district policies. Program expectations, guidelines, best practices and digital citizen tips were reviewed with all students last December.
  • The laptops will be used in the classroom and at home, and students will be responsible for any damages that may occur. As required by the Children’s Online Protection Act, (CIPA) each laptop is equipped with a filter to block material deemed harmful to minors. Filters are enabled both on and off campus.
  • Our student technology apprentices have been instrumental in program implementation and peer technical support. Student apprentices are enrolled in an honors level, independent study course. Shifts on the help desk are scheduled during the school day just like traditional courses. During distribution, student apprentices worked alongside Penn Manor IT staff and assisted with tech support and helped to facilitate laptop orientation sessions.
  • Several student apprentices helped develop critical software tools for the program, including the student help desk/ticket system utilized by their peers. Their code is available on GitHub.

Between logistic planning, teacher professional development, cardboard unboxing and all of the little details threaded into a project of this scale, the last two months have felt like a frantic sprint to the finish line after an intense marathon. The joint efforts of the district IT team, student apprentices, faculty and administration have flipped a profound classroom switch and empowered every student in every classroom. I look forward to the next part of the journey!

1:1 Laptop Program Update

Penn Manor High School is approaching the day when every student has access to a personal laptop for learning. In preparation for our January 2014 building-wide 1:1 computing program, a pilot group of 90 students are testing district-issued laptops in school and at home. For the past two months, the pilot group, comprised of Open Campus students and others who are enrolled in online classes, have adopted the laptop as their primary scholarly device.

Student feedback is key to the program; student experiences help us refine installed software and test the laptops in various classroom situations. Based on student input, several changes will be implemented. One example is the neoprene case originally selected for the pilot laptops. It has proven to be less resilient than expected, and the IT Team is investigating a tougher case alternative. Additionally, several software image changes are being implemented to make the laptops more efficient and easier to use. Read more about the pilot program kickoff on PennPoints.

Pilot computers are the Acer TravelMate TMB 113 series laptops running Ubuntu, a flavor of the Linux operating system. The Acer/Ubuntu combination is a perfect blend of computing capability, battery life and software flexibility. Bugs and kinks have been minimal, and students have remarked positively on the laptop’s compact size. Given a successful device pilot, we have selected the Acer TravelMate with Ubuntu as our standard 1:1 program device.

The student help desk team is a vital component of the pilot program. Providing peer support to fellow students, the student team solves technical issues, prepares and configures laptops, trains peers and prepares documentation and help guides. You’ll find a great example of their work on the 1:1 help blog: http://blogs.pennmanor.net/1to1/. PennPoints, recently posted an excellent article on the student help desk.

Penn Manor High School teachers have participated in technology professional development for the past several years. To amplify their exiting skills and help build additional instructional capacity ahead of the full 1:1 program, teachers are participating in 2-3 days of educational technology sessions on a number of new and old topics such as, Open Educational Resources, Moodle, curating content with Evernote, file and resource sharing, student writing/blogging, LibreOffice, screencasting, Google Apps, and document annotation.  Technology professional development sessions are scheduled either after school or during full day trainings.

To keep parents informed of the program, three evening parent information sessions are scheduled. The first session was held on Thursday October 24th. Dr. Gale and I provided an overview of 1:1 program’s instructional goals and answered parent questions for nearly two hours. The next two sessions are scheduled for 7PM on November 20th and December 11th and will be held in the Penn Manor High School library. Registration is not required.

During the second semester, the full program will begin and all 1,700 Penn Manor High School students will receive a laptop. The IT Team is on-schedule for a full program launch by the end of January 2014. However, it is critical to keep in mind that our program is not about the device; it is for and about our students. Excitement is building as we move toward our goal of empowering all Penn Manor High School students with a laptop to explore personal passions such as creative design, engineering, programming, writing and music.

Finally, a big thank-you to PM High School Technology Specialist, Alex Lagunas. Alex has been working tirelessly to prepare for the pilot and guide the student help desk team while simultaneously supporting day-to-day building technology needs and staff help requests. While juggling his many tasks and projects, Alex always remains cool, calm and collected; I’m fortunate to have him on the Penn Manor IT team.

More updates to come!

Back to School with Open Source Software

Note: This article was originally posted on opensource.com, Red Hat’s community hub for all things open source.

For parents: Shopping for back-to-school supplies, textbooks, clothing, and other accouterments can be frustrating and expensive. To help take the sting out of this ritual, students and parents might consider turning to free, open source software and tools in preparation for a new year of study.

For students: Beyond cost savings, open source software empowers students to take ownership of their work and be free of software licensing treadmills. And, perhaps the ultimate educational opportunity is the ability to examine, analyze, and contribute to open source software and tools like these.

For teachers: Turning theory to practice, students can learn by doing as they help with documentation, quality testing, bug review, or even code contributions. Teaching is not simply the delivery of content, via lecture-taxi, to passive minds. Participation and collaboration ignites powerful learning, and empowers students to engage in thoughtful, meaningful scholarship. And open source can be the catalyst.

Here are five great open source applications for learning:

Xournal

Annotation, journaling, and note-taking apps are incredibly popular on tablets and smartphones.Xournal brings these capabilities to the Linux desktop. Students can utilize Xournal to annotate PDF files and capture ideas. Alternately, teachers might use Xournal to grade submitted papers. Extra credit: Use Xournal in conjunction with GfxTablet, an app that allows you to draw on your PC via your Android tablet.

Kazam Screencaster

Forget Kahn Academy; put students in the driver’s seat and let them teach the class. Screencasting is a powerful tool for demonstrating student mastery of concepts and ideas. Inspire students to become teachers, trainers, and digital experts with Kazam Screencaster, a simple desktop video and audio recorder.

LibreOffice

Microsoft may offer a reduced cost student edition of Office, but who needs it when LibreOfficecan handle your productivity tasks with vigor and vim. LibreOffice is a flagship open source product and continues to set the bar for other collaborative projects. With the ability to handle standard Office documents plus Publisher and Visio files, LibreOffice is a personal productivity powerhouse and a big step toward student document liberation.

MuseScore

Unleash your inner Mozart with MuseScore, a high-quality music composition and notation program similar to commercial software such as Sibelius and Finale. MuseScore boasts an impressive list of features and runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows.

Kojo Learning

Play with math, programming, music, and art in the powerful Kojo Learning environment. Based on ideas derived from innovative programs such as Logo and Geometers Sketchpad, Kojo offers a rich platform for students to explore the synthesis of mathematical ideas, coding, creative thinking, and learning.

What applications are loaded into your open source backpack? Are you already using some of these applications in the classroom? If so, tell us how in the comments below.