Each of these three schools has its own way to tackle technology and ignite student creativity.
In some ways, these schools are much like any school in the United States. Each of them is dedicated to teaching and learning and to starting a one-to-one program. The largest common goal: making sure the notebooks change the dynamics of each class and, in turn, the entire school.
But just a peek at these schools’ locations — Mumbai, India; Warsaw, Poland; and The Hague, Netherlands — tells you that in other ways these schools are figuratively worlds apart. Yet if the expectations for these schools are high, so is the freedom to remake their school models as they see fit, without any worries about meeting No Child Left Behind regulations or getting teacher unions to agree to changes. It’s this unique set of circumstances that makes these three schools ideal locations to study their growing use of one-to-one notebook programs.
Overcoming Language Barriers
International schools began to take root more than 50 years ago, mainly because of the globalization of the world’s economies among other factors. These independent, or private, schools are created for non-native students in the country. Often, these schools are known as “American” schools because they typically educate U.S. students whose families are living abroad. With the average family being well educated and well traveled, the expectations are high for these schools. Parents expect their children to be exposed to a variety of learning experiences, and technology plays a big role.
This is exactly the case at the American School of Warsaw. This preK–12 school started a notebook PC initiative last year for fifth and sixth graders. “Our technology department had been keenly watching other one-to-one programs in Europe and the U.S. for several years,” says Brett DiMatteo, the school’s director of technology.
The Warsaw school, the American School of Bombay in Mumbai, India, and the American School of The Hague all face two similar challenges — the language barrier and a turnover rate that churns up to 20 percent new children into class each year. And each of these schools is using technology to tackle these issues.
Jane Cameron, a fifth-grade teacher at the American School of Warsaw, talks about how the new PC program has helped students overcome their language barriers. “Students with developing abilities in the medium of instruction (in our case, English) are no longer being limited to learning in English in the classroom. With individual laptops and Internet access, they can be learning in their first language alongside the rest of the class.”
Shabbi Luthra agrees. “We are a mini global community at our school,” says the director of technology at the American School of Bombay. Teachers of all levels incorporate cultural studies and activities into day-to-day work. With their one-to-one program, the students have tremendous opportunities not only to learn in their first language but also to increase their global participation through discussion forums, blogs, podcasts and other methods. Collaboration and working with others from different backgrounds is the norm for both staff and students at ASB.
The backbone of this is technology usage. “Critical thinking, innovation, problem solving, leadership, information literacy — these are woven into the fabric of our school’s life, with students being provided learning opportunities to develop these 21st-century skills,” she adds.
The American School of The Hague faces similar issues. With slightly more than 1,000 students in preK–12, its teachers face students from 63 nationalities, with about 40 percent American. Faculty and students rely heavily on the use of technology in their environment. Lal Abraham, the school’s director of technology for two years, says the faculty is more willing to try new things in teaching, including technology usage.
“Some see the use of a laptop as socially isolating, whereas the emergence of the diverse range of Web 2.0 social technologies gives us just a glimpse of the powerful ways one-to-one builds 21st-century skills,” says Bruce Dixon, the head of the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation and persistent advocate of one- to-one computing.
He adds that collaboration and diverse social networking to solve challenging problems and independent learning paths are all at the learner’s fingertips in a one-to-one world.
“Through their own personal portable computer, young people can connect to a diverse community of other learners from countries across the globe. They can connect to subject matter experts in ways we can only have imagined just a decade ago, and they are able to build a shared knowledge around new and exciting subject areas that expand their learning opportunities in uniquely exciting and, most importantly, authentic ways.”
When the Only Constant Is Change
One area most international schools must plan for is the high turnover rate among faculty and students. The rate currently averages 20 percent a year at ASW, and DiMatteo says the school’s new notebook program is helping close the gap newcomers face.
“Students really take care of one another and get the new students up to speed with our procedures and using notebooks in the classroom,” DiMatteo adds. “We are seeing more teachers coming from one-to-one programs and their high qualifications and experience invigorate our program with new ideas.” In addition to training at the school, new teachers are asked to go to the Laptop Institute in Memphis the summer before their contract starts at ASW.
In the Netherlands, Abraham agrees his school’s students and teachers have more worldly experience than a typical United States student. This comes across in their studies as well as their interactions with one another. “The kids are very good about not forming cliques and helping out new kids. They are accepting of everyone, regardless of their background,” Abraham says.
While all three of these schools have notebook PC programs, the American School of Bombay boasts the only K–12 notebook schoolwide program among international schools. Starting seven years ago, this school created an IB Primary Years Program (an elementary version of the International Baccalaureate program). ASB supports a 2:1 student-to-notebook ratio in grades one through four, and begins a one-to-one program with tablets in the fifth grade. Luthra says the goal of the notebook program is “to support and enhance the classroom and accelerate student learning.”
ASB has tech standards for all students, teachers, assistants, support staff and even the principal and the school board. “This ensures a strong collaborative culture,” Luthra says. “Our aim is seamless integration of technology in the classroom and in our school’s operations.” This is evident in an eighth-grade project on water issues in India. The students in the science classes spend time researching different issues concerning water in India. Using Microsoft products, they then develop movies that describe the issues and solutions to some of the problems.
Abraham’s school is planning to start a one-to-one program next year for sixth graders. “The grade six team of teachers are more aware of the benefits of a one-to-one program and give it the support it needs to be successful,” he says. He says he pushed the one-to-one initiative based on the use of one-to-one in other schools across the world. Taking into account the high student turnover rate commonly found in international schools, officials at ASH plan to lease the notebooks for this program and then lease them to the students on a year-to-year basis.
Of course, the results of these initiatives lie in the classes where students can put the technology to good use. For example, seventh graders in Warsaw create a digital video project by making a short film about the events leading up to the coronation of Charlemagne as the emperor of the Roman Empire by Pope Leo III. The film is shot as a news broadcast and includes interviews with actors playing Charlemagne, Pope Leo III and peasants discussing policies of the time, including education and political reform. Students learn from one another’s varied backgrounds as well as about the history of Western and Central Europe during this project.
In the Netherlands, seventh graders undertake a project for Global Nomads Inc., a local relocation company for expatriates. This entails researching the aspects of relocation to a particular country, then preparing a multimedia presentation for the parents and teachers who will act as families looking at relocating for a job.
Collaboration among international schools is vital in order to stay abreast of the changing nature of education. DiMatteo notes the camaraderie among technology departments in these schools is strong. “At least twice a year I see other technology directors at conferences sponsored by the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) and the Central and Eastern European Schools Association and discuss many topics including one-to-one.” The personal relationships developed at these meetings allow for close communication during the school year. ECIS also maintains a Moodle site that is used for collaboration by IT departments across the world, moodle.ecis.org.
Each year, Luthra and her team host numerous schools from around the world that are interested in beginning similar programs. The requests became so numerous recently that Luthra decided to hold a notebook conference in early 2008. “As more schools embrace innovation and a similar pedagogy, we hope to see a cross-pollination of ideas between schools and greater collaboration on one-to-one programs,” she says.
Sometime this year, Chinese will top English as the most used language on the Internet, according to a forecast by the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Chinese is already the most widely spoken first language in the world, extending beyond the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan to Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. But you don’t have to travel abroad to hear Chinese. In the United States, the Asian and Pacific Islander population is projected to grow 212 percent, from 10.7 million to 33.4 million, in the next 50 years, according to the Asia Society. This is a sizable demographic shift that will push this group’s share of the U.S. population from 3.8 percent to 8 percent.
So it’s no wonder that the demand to teach Chinese in United States classrooms is growing faster than the number of qualified teachers. The number of students learning Mandarin has increased tenfold in the past seven years, from 5,000 primary and secondary students in 2000 to as many as 50,000 today, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. But finding teachers is a growing challenge.
That’s why the U.S. Department of Education recently doled out $8.7 million to schools in 20 states to teach languages it deems “critical to national security and commerce.” Fewer than 1 percent of American high school students study Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Russian or Urdu, according to the State Department. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said learning these languages isn’t just a security issue but is also a civic issue for students who will face a more global workforce.
The federal money will help bolster or start programs in 52 different school systems, from border states such as Texas and California to Kansas, Connecticut and Nebraska.