Tuesday, March 9, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Mike Long, standing, teaches an interactive math program
at Moanalua High School. Also seated in the classroom are
teacher Francis Achiu and principal Jacqueline Heupel.

Pilot program provides
laptopsfor students
in two schools

By Crystal Kua


Alicia Taylor sat in her math class taking notes on a discussion of the Pythagorean theorem and the previous night's homework.

But instead of using paper and pencil, the 15-year-old Moanalua High School sophomore tapped on her laptop computer.

Moanalua High School and Shafter Elementary are taking part in a pilot project aimed at making laptops accessible to students for 24 hours a day, seven days a week in what's called the 24/7 Laptop for Learning Programs.

But parents would ultimately bear the cost of purchasing the laptops for their children, costing from $1,500 and up.

As a result, a bill making its way through the Legislature would help to subsidize the cost, school officials said.

"Supporting the bill would put this technology into the hands of a greater number of kids," Shafter Elementary Principal Katherine Sakuda said.

The bill proposes a 20 percent tax credit for up to $2,000 of the cost of a laptop computer that would be used "by an eligible student for educational purposes."

"The parents are financing this 100 percent," Mona Chang Vierra, an educational specialist with the Department of Education. "We need some financial support to help parents out."

This semester, Moanalua students in Mike Long's integrated math program -- or IMP II -- are the first in the school to use laptops as a group in a classroom setting.

"Because of the nature of the course, laptops was a perfect match," Long said.

Long teaches algebra, geometry and algebra II concepts through real life problems.

Students are working on figuring out why bees make honeycombs the size and shape that they do, Long said.

As part of the class, students share their findings using the PowerPoint presentation software, Long said.

Moanalua junior T.J. Faletoi, who is in Long's class, said the decision to buy a laptop involved a family and school discussion.

"For me, there was a financial problem, but I wanted to be in the class," said Faletoi, who needs the class to get into college. "Mr. Long and my parents had to talk."

Faletoi, who has a desktop computer at home, is currently using a loaner until he gets his laptop.

But he said it's worth it.

"To me, it's more exciting," he said. "It would be good in all classes."

Moanalua Principal Jacqueline Heupel said the school is now embarking on an ambitious plan involving a group of incoming freshmen next school year.

"If all goes well, we'll have 120 kids with laptops," she said.The 120 students will be part of the CORE Program whose lead teacher says laptops can help with core subjects like language arts, social studies, math and science. "The entire student portfolio will be on the laptop," Francis Achiu said.

Shafter has 14 fifth-graders using laptops in class.

Fifth-grade teacher Eileen Suda, curriculum coordinator Claire Sato and computer teacher Tom Anderson have come up with ways to incorporate laptops into lesson plans.

Students use the computer to write book reports and do PowerPoint presentations of the book. "They compute their grades on spreadsheets so they don't have to ask the teacher," Sakuda said.

The idea for the program came from Vierra after she attended technology conferences on the mainland that showcased the program in other areas.

Moanalua's and Shafter's principals decided to test the concept.

"We saw the vision of children learning while using tools of the future as well as being better students," Sakuda said.

Sakuda said in the three weeks since the program has begun in her school, they have already seen a marked difference in student performance. "The quality of the sentences are better," she said. "I'm excited because I see it makes a difference in the way children learn and teachers teach."

Vierra said national statistics have also shown improved student achievement in programs that have used laptops in the classrooms.

Because the students have access to the computers, they end up learning how to use the computer on their own and then teach other classmates and even the teacher.

"They went and taught me," Long said. "I don't have to teach them the computer skills. I can just teach my math course."

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