Swedish educators taking lessons from Maine laptop program

Posted May 05, 2011, at 8:53 a.m.
Last modified May 05, 2011, at 3:28 p.m.

AUBURN, Maine — Hans Renman, a Swedish IT professional, was blunt: There are some things Maine educators are doing right now that are superior to what educators in his own country are doing.

“We are planning to be better than you,” Renman, one of 40 Swedish educators, politicians and information technology pros touring Maine schools, said Wednesday. “This is the place to go to see a large-scale experience of what you can do in the schools. We learn a lot from you guys.”

Renman, an Apple Computer of Sweden employee, and part of the larger group — about 12 — broke off to visit Auburn Middle School and Edward Little High School on Wednesday morning, meeting with teachers and students to get direct testimony about how the state’s laptop program helps. Other members of the larger group visited other schools around Central Maine.

Maine has made student laptops the centerpiece of its technology program since 2002, providing laptops for all seventh- and eighth-grade students and wireless networking for all of their classrooms. It was expanded in 2009 to include all high school teachers and most high school students.

It’s the largest one-to-one laptop program in the nation, according to Lori Twiss, technology integrator at Edward Little.

“Maine is the only place in the world people can come and see a program that is this intensive,” Twiss said.

Maybe, but not for long, according to the Swedish educators. Ebba Jansson is deputy mayor of Botkyrka, a city just southwest of Stockholm. The city has recently approved a plan to provide laptops for every student in seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

“We have had three different schools doing it in a pilot, and now we are looking to go full scale,” Jansson said. “What we are looking for are the teachers, how they developed their teaching and what happens when they are not controlling everything.”

Wednesday’s tour of the high school took the visitors from Edward Little’s basement to its top floor, with stops to talk to teachers and students about how the laptops had affected them.

History and psychology teacher Darren Leighton said he has entirely revamped his teaching techniques, going from an unorganized paper system to meticulous computer files.

His psychology class has been studying Jungian archetypes and Wednesday’s assignment was to watch the movie “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings” and identify the archetypes present in the movie. All of the work was done on the computer and students simply push a button to hand in their work.

It’s how adults work in the world today, and how his students will work in the future, Leighton said.

“Our kids, when they are outside of school, their lives are digital,” he said. “Before we had the laptops, we were teaching that industrial-age type of learning and kids were getting bored. Now, with this, they are doing what they’d do at home but with direction and academic goals. And it’s really taken off.”

Jon Vaughn-Carr, who teaches screen printing and career development, said all of his class work is done on the computer as well. Students are allowed to go at their own pace and that can be difficult.

“The ones that would always be motivated, you will find that they do the work and they go onto Facebook, and they do it all with record efficiency,” he said. “The ones that have always been reluctant to do the work may find that the other things are more enjoyable than school work.”

Vaughn-Carr said the teachers are scheduled for a software upgrade this fall, allowing them to block access to certain sites on a class-by-class basis.

“That, I think, will be huge,” he said. “They may still not pay attention to what I do, but they won’t be able to go to other places on the computer.”

The Swedish visitors left Auburn on Wednesday afternoon, headed to a seminar with former Gov. Angus King in Freeport. They are scheduled to return to Sweden on Thursday.

See more news from the Sun Journal at http://www.sunjournal.com/.

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