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Farmington Learning Initiative FAQ
Moving education into the 21st century.

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                How does the district plan to finance the FLI?
                How many grade levels will the FLI include?
                Why start with middle school grade levels?
                Can parents decline the laptop?
                Will students still need text books?
                What preparation will teachers be given?
                What is a "Digital Native"?



Frequently Provided Answers



Funding Questions


Feasibility and Implementation
Yes, this initiative can be funded with existing technology funds from multiple sources which will not impact salaries, staff, school facilities or other sources of funding for the school district.

Yes, this initiative began with 6th, 7th and 8th graders at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year.  We prepared, prior to 2008-2009, by deploying staff laptops in the spring of 2008 and conducting professional development at that time.  The initiative was then expanded to cover 6-12 grade students.

Financing
A common question concerns how the district plans to fund the FLI. This is a large project and funding will need to be drawn from a variety of sources. It should be noted that all of these sources are specifically earmarked for the purchase of educational technology, instructional materials, or professional development. Funding sources that are used for school construction or to pay teacher salaries are separate and will not be utilized by the FLI.

Educational Technology Equipment Act

This act, approved in 1997, allows districts to increase their debt level for the purpose of purchasing technology equipment. The amount of funding that can be utilized is determined by looking at the difference between the district's debt cap, and the amount of debt already incurred through the sale of general obligation bonds. FMS has utilized this instrument two times prior to 2008 for a total amount of about $2 million dollars. With increases in the value of the local tax base, we have been able to generate $3 - 3.3 million annually from this source. This will be the primary source of funding for the FLI and is the source of funding recommended by the NM Public Education Department for all technology expenditures.






Logistics Questions


Laptop
All students will be provided with a current model Apple laptop. Each laptop will come with a power adapter and removable battery. The specific models deployed during any given year will vary depending on the available models from Apple.

When a school district purchases computers they generally have a choice between two major operating systems; Microsoft Windows (2000, XP, NT or Vista) and Apple's OS X. There are other operating systems available but Microsoft and Apple are the major players. Regardless of the decision made by the district there is an inevitable discussion regarding the selected operating system vs the other operating system. There are several points we need to keep in mind as we look at the goals of our initiative if we want to effectively evaluate the correct technology to put into the hands of our staff and students.

This Learning Initiative is about teaching and learning. It's about engaging the 21st century learner in their own language. Today's learners are not bound to any particular technology or company. They use what works and what satisfies their needs for learning, playing, living and sharing. A learning environment such as this is one where the teacher and the student have anytime, anywhere access to digital content, educational software and digital authoring tools.

We do not work to prepare students to use specific tools after their K-12 education, we work to prepare them to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and dynamic learners regardless of the environment they find themselves in. Some will continue their general education, some will focus on specific trade skills and some will go into the work force immediately. What tools they will be using at that point, which is anywhere from 1 to 6 years in the future, is nearly impossible to anticipate. Technology is changing so fast and systems are blending together so much that we cannot reliably guess what will exist in the next few years. This trend in change has been increasing exponentially over the past few decades and shows no sign of slowing down but instead appears to be speeding up.

In a modern classroom we do not focus on teaching specific technology, applications or operating systems because they change too often to be of use in the long run. It is best to teach students how to learn to use any tool they are presented with or expected to interact with. We use technology in the classroom to meet our primary goals of educating students in reading, writing, mathematics, science, history, language, music, health, visual and performing arts, social sciences, and how to be a successful member of our society. We need technology that allows us to continue educating students and which facilitates that education. If the requirement for selecting technology is not to prepare students to use a specific tool that they will operate after their educational journey with us then the criteria for selecting an operating system, and technology in general, changes.



Wireless Network
All of our campuses have a wireless network available which covers most of the classrooms and offices. We are constantly working on locating the weak signal areas and filling them in. This initiative will introduce a change in the way that the network is used, however, and we expect that the load on the network will not be excessive unless entire classes are using the internet simultaneously. All files and applications are local for students as well so many projects will not require network access or traffic.

This change from server file storage to local file storage is a major step towards more efficient and effective use of technology in the classrooms. Students will no longer spend time logging into a computer just to work with local applications, they will simply wake their computer up and authenticate through the security screen with no network traffic at all. When working with large multi-media files (such as iMovie or Keynote) the files are stored and saved on the local laptop under the student's account and don't need to transfer over the network. These types of files have cause network congestion in shared computing environments. This will no longer be the case.


Logins and Access
All staff and students will be local users on their own laptop and their authentication will go through the local machine instead of through a server. This allows users to log into and use their laptop anywhere in the world and to have internet access from any publicly available network (or through a private and secured network with the proper credential and authorization).

When at home students will be able to use the laptop even if an internet connection is not available. This will allow them to complete projects and use available applications (GarageBand, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, Keynote, Pages, etc...).

Although everyone can log into their own computer from anywhere, it is not actually recommended that they log out or shutdown/restart their computer unless they really need to. We recommend that users simply close the lid of the laptop to put it to sleep and then secure the laptop in a carrying case with padding for transport. This way a user can simply open the laptop to wake it up and then authenticate through the security screen to use it. Logging into your laptop and starting work, at school or at home, is a quick and simple process.


Initial Grade Level Deployment
The initial deployment of laptops will go to the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers and students starting with the 2008-2009 school year.

Our plan is to include an additional grade level every year until we have a full deployment from 6th through 12th grade. We currently provide a laptop to all 6-12 grade students in all schools except for Rocinante High School where all laptops are kept on campus.


Can parents decline the laptop?
Some parents have asked if they can decline the laptop on the basis of their personal preferences. Reasons may include a concern that their student would be singled out as having a laptop by others who do not have a laptop in the neighborhood or that they do not trust their child to be responsible enough to care for the laptop.

Parents would be able to decline the laptop by not signing the necessary paperwork for their student and thus prevent their student from being able to use the laptop and complete work with the laptop while not at school. The student would still need the laptop at school so an extra burden of security, charging, storage, etc... will be placed on the district for these cases but the laptop would be at school for the student to use daily.

The negative impact of this decision is that the student, and the family, lose the ability to use the laptop at home or around town. Teachers will have an expectation of being able to assign digital homework for students to complete (a presentation for example) and if a student cannot take their laptop home they will need to figure out how to complete that work while at school. This disconnects them from their peers in being able to effectively learn and work in the school environment.

Our research has shown that students are not singled out due to the laptop and therefore this is not a major concern. The laptops will also be branded as property of the school district and the labels being used cannot be removed without damaging the equipment and leaving behind an indelible mark indicating the equipment is stolen (and therefore can't be easily sold). The laptops will also be unusable by anyone else as they cannot be formatted or have a new system installed without the appropriate passwords. This renders them useless to potential thieves.

Additionally, we've seen that students are more engaged with the technology and therefore more responsible for that technology than they may be for other material (books, papers, etc...) for which they do not have such a connection. We encourage our staff and community to hold high standards for the students which they will rise to meet. If we expect them to mistreat the technology, we are creating a self fulfilling prophecy in which they are subtly told that we do not trust them and they will return that attitude in kind.


Why Middle School First?
Years of tracking proficiency across curricular areas has shown a trend of a drop in scores when student move from the elementary to middle school environment, and this trend seems to be independent of age as the same drop existing in a junior high (7-9) environment as exists now in a middle school (6-8) environment. We feel that our introduction of technology and a change in the pedagogical approach to more effectively meet the learning styles of 21st century students should be matched to when students are most receptive to such changes and tools.

The digital native that enters our middle school should be engaged and interested in an environment with the technological tools we'll be providing. This will then allow us to move upward towards high school with those students who have been introduced to the technology as a tool for education.


Research and Resources
We encourage your to conduct your own research into the studies, reports and feedback that other school districts are providing regarding their own 1:1 initiatives. As you do so, please consider the many factors which will impact the success of a 1:1 environment. The teachers are the most important part of this environment, administrative support and leadership in the use of technology is paramount, adequate and appropriate technology must be in place, reliable funding has to be secured, effective technical support must be made available, and the community and parents must want the initiative to succeed.

Without a collaborative effort on the part of all parties involved it is difficult to make this work.

Please refer to our Research Resources section on our main FLI page for a starting point of research links. You can also search online for other 1:1 initiatives and you'll find quite a bit of useful information.




Curriculum Questions


Text Books
We anticipate that a reduction in actual text books will occur as text book vendors increase their electronic offerings. With an increase in electronic text book formats, online subscriptions to resources and internet access to information the number of books a student has and is required to carry or keep should be quite a bit less.

This would also mean that the laptop is all, or most, text books the student would need. Having all of the text books at any time, from any location, using the laptop is a great advantage for students. The accessibility is just one benefit, the reduced weight is also important. Many students are now carrying around a backpack with up to 20 pounds of weight (paper, notebooks, text books, etc...) and by removing as many text books and notebooks as possible we should lighten their load in more than one way. We can't speak to specific health benefits that this initiative will provide, but carrying around less weight can't hurt.


Printing
A shift in thinking needs to happen regarding the use of paper and printing. The intent is to use digital tools where possible and this will facilitate the electronic submission of work from the student to the teacher, and the electronic correction of work (and grading) from the teacher to the student. Printing would be something reserved for work that is intended to be printed as a final product and which cannot be done digitally.

The ability to pre-write, write and re-write digitally means that students can do more work quicker and easier. Correcting a 500 word paper, introducing a new paragraph or restructuring the content, will not require re-writing the entire document. Corrections can be made as needed, where needed and then resubmitted for review and grading. This can all be done electronically. Digital work reduces the time spent on each step of the process, the workflow from student to teacher back to student is shortened, the expenditure at each school on paper and other consumable materials are dramatically reduced and the students are engaged using their own digital language.


Bringing Laptops to School
Students will be expected to bring their laptop, fully charged and protected in the provided case, to school every day. Although some classes may not need or use the laptop on any given day, there are many other classes which will quickly discover that they are an integral part to teaching our 21st century students. The laptop will be the indispensable tool, more important than paper and pencil, that students must bring to their classes.

When the laptops are taken home they will have access to all of their school and class materials and can complete work that was assigned or unfinished while at school. Although much work can be submitted to their classroom teachers online and electronically they will still need to bring their laptop to school every day.


Teaching Technology
Our research and experience with smaller deployments of technology in focused use has shown that there is less need for educating students on the actual technology than for how to use that technology in the existing curriculum. Students are eager and willing to learn new technology tools and tend to have a propensity for doing so quickly and then sharing with others.

The collaborative environment that a 1:1 initiative fosters is an excellent place for students to share their knowledge with others. It is more important to teach the curriculum content and use technology as a tool for that education than it is to learn a specific program in great detail. Since all students will have the same tools and all classrooms will have the same opportunity to use those tools, students will take the skills learned in one class (how to create a presentation for instance) and use them in other classes without time being spent on the mechanics of the software. Once students are exposed to the tools at their disposal they will be able to use them throughout their educational career.

At the beginning we expect to see more effort on how to use a specific technology in contrast to actually using that tool for an assignment, but as time progresses everyone will become more comfortable and familiar with the tools and there is less of a need to spend time on the teaching of technology and more time can be spent on the use of technology in the curriculum.

With our current use of technology in the schools we've seen how the students are actually educating teachers on how to use a tool while the teacher is educating the students in the course content. A give and take environment arises and the collaborative classroom is created.




Professional Development Questions


Professional Development
Staff will be faced with some major changes to their pedagogical approach in their classrooms when every student has access to a laptop, but they will also be given a great opportunity to facilitate their students' education. Technology is flattening the world and this is translating into a flattened classroom. No longer is the educator the vessel of all knowledge with the teacher version of the text book, students have access to the same information as the teachers now. Right now. In order to accept this and turn it into an advantage an educator must understand that knowledge is not just the memorization of information, it is the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn. The ability to access and use information, even create information, is a rising skill in today's students.

To assist our educators with this difficult and demanding task we will be providing professional development prior to the deployment of laptops and throughout the year on a 'just in time' basis. We will be working to show our staff how to integrate technology into the curriculum, not to have technology supplant the curriculum. At the beginning the integration will be small and in conjunction with traditional classroom methodology; however, we expect to see changes in classrooms as teachers become more comfortable with the available technology and tools. By discovering that even using one tool or technique in the classroom introduces a change to the classroom dynamics and that it's very feasible to master a single tool at a time educators will begin to transition to a more collaborative and electronically based environment.

Historically, the use of technology in the classroom was dependant upon many scheduling and logistical factors such as bringing laptops into the classroom, reserving computer labs, etc... and these issues will be removed when each student has a laptop of their own. Their use of the laptop will not be bound to the network nor to the classroom or school. Assignments which require technology, and electronic presentation for example, can be given with the knowledge that students not only have the tools they need at home to complete the assignment but that students will also be more engaged when using technology and multi-media tools in place of traditional hand written work.

The professional development process is an ongoing one for educators. There has never been a time when educators have not wanted to improve their own teaching skills and we will work to provide the appropriate professional development to help our staff succeed in the education of our 21st century students.

Our timeline for teacher training has some introductory laptop training in the spring immediately after they get their own laptops. This training is more about the laptop and how to use it as a teaching tool, even before all the students have their own laptops. There are many ways that the laptop can be used by the teacher in the classroom prior to the full deployment of laptops to students, and it is very important that staff are comfortable with their own laptop. We'd like to see the staff taking their laptops home to play and experiment. The more familiar they are with the system prior to the 2008-2009 school year the better the deployment will go.

Continued professional development will be focused on the use of specific tools that can be used by the teacher alone or as part of assignments provided to students as well as some best practices for teaching in a 1:1 environment. We plan to provide several resources for staff to reference regarding how to replace some traditional assignment outputs into digital processes and outputs. One quick example of this would be a book report. In place of the traditional written report presented to the teacher and perhaps the class, consider allowing students to create a Keynote presentation, a movie interpretation, or a ComicLife storyboard and comic to fulfill the same assignment objectives and goals. You may be surprised by how much more interest and participation you get from students when they are engaged at the digital level.




Support Questions


Laptop Security
Security is vital in order to provide working and reliable systems for students and staff to use. The district will be taking several steps to insure the integrity of the software and the security of the physical unit.

The student laptops will be secured with the same software and hardware that we currently use, which requires users to authenticate with a username and password in order to use the computer. Once logged in they cannot modify core system software, although they can modify their own documents and preferences to 'customize' the appearance of the laptop and create a working environment that is their own.

Each laptop will also be configured so that it cannot be booted off of any external media (USB or CD) without a password. This prevents anyone from being able to install their own system on the laptop and effectively makes a stolen laptop worthless to anyone.

The laptops will also have a security tag located on the outside of the unit which is impossible to remove without damaging the machine. If the tag is removed it leaves behind an indelible and permanent tattoo indicating that this is stolen property.

Every laptop has software which communicates back to our system whenever the computer is turned on, thus informing us of the location and name of the laptop (as well as other physical information about the laptop). This allows us to locate any of our equipment no matter where it is on Earth.

These security measures make our equipment an unattractive target for theft as the risks are higher than the potential payoff.


Network Access
All laptops will have both wired and wireless network connectivity available. On our school campuses the laptops can be connected to a network with an Ethernet cable or they can connect to our wireless network from almost any location in all schools and offices.

The laptops will be configured to look for other available networks when not within range of our own wireless network. This means that they can work with home wireless (or wired) networks as well as public wireless networks (coffee shops, restaurants, most hotels, some airports, etc...) which provide an address to public visitors. The laptops can also be used on private or secured networks if you have the proper credentials and authorization to use the network. Any network you connect to must provide an IP address to clients as the security on the laptop will prevent a student from being able to change network settings.

Farmington Municipal Schools is not providing internet access from students' homes at this time. We are working with some local ISPs and looking at our own infrastructure to see if that is something we can provide in the future.




General Questions


Digital Natives
The term 'digital native' generally refers to someone who has been surrounded by technology from a very early age. These are our students. This tends to imply that they look to technology for solutions as a first step rather than as an after thought. Many of our students are more engaged by technology oriented tasks and projects even if technology is not the focus of the project but simply a tool to meet a goal.

Wikipedia has a succinct article on this concept and while there is still debate over the accuracy of some research regarding how embedded technology is in the lives of our students, the general concept of students being more willing to accept technology solutions appears to be supported by our own observations and experiences.


Liability
Farmington Municipal Schools knows that what parents and students are liable for is an important issue for families when a laptop is being used on and off our campuses. We are finalizing our policy for family liability with the school board but at this time the following policy is being put into place.

Families will be required to pay a yearly service and maintenance fee of $35.00 for each student with a laptop. This allows the district to service and maintain the laptops through out the school year and also covers the cost of the protective sleeve which is customizable by students (they can add patches, labels, etc... to the protective sleeve but not to the laptop itself).

Any repairs that need to be made that are covered under warranty (e.g. equipment failure) will be taken care of by the school district with no financial cost to the family.

If any damage or loss occurs the family would be responsible for up to, but not more than, a $100 deductible towards the repair or replacement of the equipment unless the damage was due to extreme negligence, intentional damage/loss or is a repeating problem caused by the user.  In those cases families could be charged up to the full repair or replacement cost.  This would not include warranty repairs as mentioned above, which are covered by the school district.

We feel that this small investment of $35 is necessary to encourage a commitment to maintaining the equipment in good working order while being sufficiently inexpensive compared to the total cost of the equipment being provided. The deductible is generally less than would be required by personal insurance and guarantees that families are not responsible for the entire cost of any damaged or lost equipment.