Oct 31 2006

How "Win a Wireless Lab" Is Changing Schools

CDW-G and Discovery Education equip three schools with wireless labs.

Winner’s Luck
Three schools won wireless equipment in CDW•G/Discovery Education’s annual “Win a Wireless Lab” sweepstakes.

Persistence does pay off. Just ask Diana McGhee, director of technology for the Fort Thomas Independent Schools in Fort Thomas, Ky. For about six months, she registered one of the district’s five schools each day for the 2005 CDW•G/ Discovery Education “Win a Wireless Lab” sweepstakes, a partnership to help K-12 schools across the country integrate technology resources into their curriculum. CDW•G has offered the sweepstakes since 2003 and brought the latest technology to six schools in six states.

“I put a task in my Outlook that reminded me every weekday to register a different school,” McGhee says. One of the schools, Ruth Moyer Elementary, was chosen as one of three grand prize winners from more than 78,000 entries. Ruth Moyer, a K-5 school with 372 students, received a Sony wireless lab including 20 notebooks, three Proxim ORiNOCO access points and a Bretford mobile notebook cart.

The two other grand prizes included 20 IBM notebooks with three Cisco access points, which went to Ellsworth High School in Ellsworth, Kan., and 20 Toshiba Tablet PCs with three Netgear access points, which went to Sheyenne Valley Career and Technology Center in Valley City, N.D. The packages also included a Hewlett-Packard laser printer, an InFocus projector, an APC backup unit and assorted Discovery Education software. Each package has a total value exceeding $40,000.


Although Ruth Moyer has two hard-wired labs with roughly 50 desktops, the wireless lab is alleviating some of the requests for technology time. Chris Capal, fourth-grade science and language arts teacher, says, “My science classes have used the [wireless] lab to do research on animal adaptations for a feature article they are writing. I have three classes a day, and it would be impossible for me to be in the regular computer lab for that much of the day.”

Kevin Hedenberg, Ruth Moyer’s physical education teacher, also likes the lab’s portability, which makes it easy for him to bring the Internet to his fourth- and fifth-grade health classes. He recently used the lab for a research project about the immunizations his students need to receive before entering middle school.

Since the upper elementary students are on the top floor of the building, but the computer labs are on the main and bottom floors, Hedenberg saves valuable time by “wheeling the notebooks right there to them instead of taking the students downstairs.”


For rural Ellsworth High School, the prize couldn’t have come at a better time. As Tina Bruning, district technology coordinator for the 650-student school system, describes it: “We had desktops in the high school library and had been in the process of replacing [them with] notebook PCs. But we weren’t sure we could do it, because money was tight.”

Through special state funding for vocational classes, the school was able to purchase a wireless lab in 2003 for a technical writing course. The notebooks get used for that class and by the other teachers in their own classrooms. Since the teachers were familiar with the wireless lab and liked its flexibility, it was Bruning’s hope to install the same setup in the library.

“This was exactly what we wanted to do, and we won it without having to dig into the budget and possibly cut into other programs,” Bruning says.

Bernie Schulte, a math/technology teacher at Ellsworth, now has three of the 20 notebooks in his classroom for use in his geometry, computer literature and A+ computer repair classes.

With regular access, Schulte can now assign research problems that involve going online in his computer repair class, and his geometry students use a computer-based tutorial program to help bolster their math skills. His Computer Literature III class also uses the new notebook PCs to update and maintain the school’s Web site.


Like McGhee at Fort Thomas schools, Frank Egan, tech coordinator and instructor at Sheyenne Valley Career and Technology Center, was extremely diligent in his entries. He not only entered the school in the sweepstakes every day himself, but he also enlisted the help of the 10 SVCATC instructors and administrators.

SVCATC — a secondary school specializing in elective career and vocational fields such as health care, automotive and computers — serves about 150 students in grades 11 and 12 from three area high schools. Egan is excited at the teaching possibilities for automotive technology instructor Jim McFadgen, who can now have his students complete an online automotive safety course or research parts on the Internet in their new building, which was recently added to the main school.

Egan hopes to have more training time to help his co-workers fully use the Tablet PCs’ capabilities. McFadgen, for example, might take a diagram of a wiring harness for a specific car, copy it, put it into a digital ink document, and then have his students identify and mark critical parts on the Tablet PCs with the electronic stylus.

Though Egan’s school was the only one to receive Tablet PCs, he says everyone at SVCATC is thrilled with the new abundance of technology. “Toshiba Tablets are very powerful machines,” he says. “They are capable of doing a lot of what [notebook PCs] can do, and they are very light.”


Chris Rother, CDW•G vice president for education, is elated by this year’s response to the sweepstakes. She says, “As a result of growing partner participation, the three 2005 winners can offer enhanced classroom activities and collaborative learning, as well as improved vocational and career courses. We are proud to take part in a program that enriches the way teachers teach and students learn through technology.”


The 2003 and 2004 winners of the CDW•G/Discovery Education “Win a Wireless Lab” sweepstakes are enjoying the mobility gained with their wireless labs.

All Saints Catholic School

Amy Kersten, technology coordinator for Davenport, Iowa’s All Saints Catholic School (named Holy Family School when it won in 2003), says, “I think probably the biggest benefit is that being wireless, we have a lot of flexibility on how [the notebooks] are used and where they are used.”

The notebooks can be used on a one-to-one basis in the classroom or, with the aid of a projector, a single notebook can be used for whole-group instruction. This enables the labs to be used nearly 100 percent of the time.

The K-8 school also has targeted a fixed number of notebooks for each of three grade-level groups — K-2, 3-5 and 6-8 — so machines are available for every grade. Two of the notebooks are designated for staff use, one for an administrative assistant who uses it to run the school’s automated lunch program and the other for the two principals who don’t have offices in the school.

Colman-Egan High School

At Colman-Egan High School in Colman, S.D., librarian Gail Scriver has witnessed the benefits of wireless technology since winning a lab in 2004. The notebook PCs have been used for everything from school board presentations and SAT registration to testing local water samples and keeping score at track meets.

Science Teacher Bonnie Gilbertson says the wireless lab has “totally changed my curriculum. We’re doing science everywhere now. We’re not bound to the lab. It’s allowed me to take science outside the classroom where it happens.”

Her 10th-grade biology class tested water quality last spring using lab probes that plug directly into the notebooks. They traveled to a nearby creek and tested water pH, temperature, turbidity and other factors. The notebook PCs enabled her students to gain immediate feedback, make any needed adjustments and retest right away, if necessary.


For more information about the CDW•G/Discovery Education “Win a Wireless Lab” sweepstakes, visit http://discoveryschool.com/cdwg/.

Jane Soung is a Skokie, Ill.-based freelance writer and editor.