You may not be familiar with the name Annalise Cathey, but she has at least one claim to fame: She was the very first McKinney ISD freshman to receive an MISD-issued MacBook Air when the district rolled out the 1:The World initiative three years ago.
Now a senior at McKinney North High School, Annalise is part of a student body in which every student in the school—from freshman to senior—has received a laptop that they will use throughout their high school career.
The same is true at McKinney Boyd High School and McKinney High School. The class of 2018 was the pilot group of the 1:The World initiative, the first to receive MacBooks, and each successive class that came along behind them received their own laptops at the beginning of their freshman year.
Now, with the start of the 2017–2018 school year, the program has reached full deployment.
“I think it has been super beneficial,” Annalise said of the program. “And, it totally changed how the classroom was run because all of our assignments started to be online. If we had any problems—like, if we didn’t understand our homework—we were able to get on our laptops and look up how to do problems… And, more assignments had video links to watch.
“It doesn’t take up as much class time as going down to the computer lab,” she added. “[You] just pull out your laptop and start working.”
Prior to 1:The World, such access to technology was an issue that the district had attempted to address in different ways (as had many other districts) but found that the various approaches they tried ultimately didn’t achieve what was most helpful for students.
“What we were discovering was at the high school, our standard was four desktop computers in a classroom,” said MISD Director of Instructional Technology Lara Lindsey. “But, in a classroom of 25 or 30 kids and a 55-minute time span, it is rare that a kid can touch technology during class.
“These students are familiar with all of the technology that’s out there,” added Lindsey, “and they’re used to having immediate access to information and getting their questions answered when they have them rather than waiting until Tuesday at two o’clock to go to the computer lab. What we had in place was just not a real-world experience for them.”
So, in 2012, Lindsey and other district leaders began to talk about how to better support high school students with technology.
One approach they tried was the “Bring Your Own Technology” program that allowed students to use their personal devices in the classroom. But, BYOT presented its own set of challenges.
“Because there was not a standard device being used, teachers didn’t know if students were coming with an iPad or a MacBook or their phone,” explained Lindsey. “Everybody had something different, and the playing field wasn’t level. It was difficult to manage in the classroom because when everybody is using something different, it’s hard to set expectations.”
The district looked for other solutions and spent nearly two years exploring the concept of what it called 1:The World, the idea of putting the same technology into the hands of every student. They weighed decisions about what device to use, what it might cost and what would make it successful.
They talked to school districts who had already implemented similar programs. They attended conferences and sought input from students, staff members and administrators. They considered reliability and platform flexibility.
“We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t work, what the best models look like,” said Lindsey.
And, in the end, all the information they gathered pointed to the MacBook as the best way forward.
So, on Dec. 8, 2014, Annalise Cathey stood at the front of a long line of students at North and received the first MISD 1:The World laptop. Where the program went from that point was a bit of a learning process for everybody involved.
“We had to juggle a lot before we implemented 1:The World because we had to make sure that our infrastructure was strong enough to handle it—a lot of logistical pieces—while at the same time walking teachers through what it was going to look like instructionally because having every student with a laptop really does change the way you teach,” said Lindsey.
“But, once those freshmen teachers got hold of it…We pushed back the second year distribution and did it, I think, the third week of school, and by that point, those teachers were ready for the students to get them. They were basically telling us, ‘We have to have these devices right now. We cannot wait anymore.’ They did not want kids starting school without those laptops in their hands because they were so used to having them.”
Which brings up an important issue: keeping them in kids’ hands.
Some parents had legitimate concerns at the outset that their kids might lose or damage their laptops—or not be able to complete assignments if they experienced some type of technical problem with their MacBook. The district offered $50 damage coverage to parents—which most purchased.
But, Spann said that the number of problems (e.g., spills, broken screens, damaged cases, lost/stolen laptops) his department dealt with during 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 amounted to a relatively small number—just over three percent, with the largest source of issues being liquid spills. And, techs at the high school campuses were available to assist students experiencing technical issues.
“When I reflect over the last four years,” said Spann. “I think overall it’s worked out better than what I think we ever imagined it would be. Our deployments have gone so smoothly. They’ve almost become like checking out textbooks. That’s how smoothly it’s gone.
“From my perspective, I look at how the MacBooks are holding up, and we’ve had very few issues with the MacBooks, period. From the standpoint of the way they’re built, the screens, everything has held up really well. So, it’s been a good, solid device for us,” he said.
And, if Annalise’s attitude about receiving her computer is representative of her peers, they take the responsibility seriously. “It’s a huge responsibility to be able to have a MacBook with you all the time, and you have to bring it everywhere and do all your classwork on it,” she said. “I was very nervous about dropping it. Really, the first couple of months I had it, I was very careful with it. Someone would be like, “Can I look at it?’ and I would be like, ‘No, you can’t touch my Macbook!’”
Lindsey has always been quick to point out, though, that 1:The World is about more than just the technology itself.
“One of our goals was to create learning experiences where kids were having to create and solve problems using technology,” explained Lindsey. “That’s what we talked to parents about—‘This isn’t a technology initiative. This is a learning initiative supported by really good technology.’ This was an opportunity for us to really reflect on how high school teachers teach school and then change it up to meet the needs of this particular group of kids—because we in education haven’t seen anything like this. These kids come to school already immersed in technology,” she said.
So, when teachers want to connect their students to real-world experts or collaborate with students from other countries, they have the tools to do those kinds of things right in front of them on any given day. While those of us from previous generations have had to acclimate to the bombardment of new technology over the years, our students have never really known anything else.
The Techno Cats of McKinney High School are putting that experience with technology to innovative use by partnering with teachers in the lesson design process to develop strategies for technology use in the classroom. The group meets with teachers to implement software in the classroom and explore ways to engage students with technology. In February, they are scheduled to present their experiences at the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference.
“Research tells us that today’s students are wired differently, and if we continue approaching their learning experiences the same way that we did 20 years ago, we’re backing up,” said Lindsey. “The change was always inevitable. It’s just that the shift was so quick, and we weren’t expecting it. Every day it’s changing. We’ve got to get our arms around it in some way because these kids expect it.”
So, 1:The World rolls on. And, when June comes around, Annalise Cathey and the rest of the class of 2018 will have the option to purchase their MacBooks or turn them back in.
Either way, the hope of MISD is that the learning experiences that they carry with them will be deeper and more meaningful because they have had great teachers and great tools along the way — including that 11-inch MacBook.
Read more about the ongoing 1:the World initiative and how it’s impacting student learning here: http://www.mckinneyisd.net/news-events/article/now-in-its-fourth-year-misd-1the-world-initiative-rolls-on/