Tea time for technology
Marist jumps into the 21st Century with both feet
by By Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Sep 11, 2013 | 8222 views | 0 0 comments | 208 208 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HOW DOES IT WORK -- Glen Anna Abellane demonstrates the new Chromebook at Marist High School.
HOW DOES IT WORK -- Glen Anna Abellane demonstrates the new Chromebook at Marist High School.
What do you do when you just took one of the boldest leaps into the future that your school has even taken?

You hold a tea and invite parents to tell them about it, naturally. This is exactly what Marist High School did on Aug. 27.

About a year and a half ago when Alice Miesnik took over as acting principal at Marist High School, she struggled with the idea of how to better incorporate the Internet into day-to-day school activities.

Just prior to the opening of school, Miesnik, who has since dropped “acting” from her title, has found a way.

While the newly installed Google Chromebook system won’t totally do away with the purchase of schoolbooks, the portable computer each student in every grade must buy at the start of this year will go a long way toward providing up-to-date texts in many areas, and will allow the school to meet some of the new stringent testing requirements that the state is about to impose on school districts.

While distribution of the devices took place over several days, Marist kicked off the freshman session with a tea, during which staff talked to parents about the new innovative system being introduced in all four grades this year.

This is one-to-one technology and we’re the first Catholic school in Hudson County to do this,” she said. “It is a chance for our students to prepare for college and get 21st century learning skills.

Miesnik said it involves “the four Cs” (creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking), which she said is needed for 21st-century education along with “the three Rs” (reading, writing, and arithmetic).

“How do you get there?” she asked. “You need to bring in new technology.”

Chromebook is a personal computer running Chrome OS as its operating system. The devices are designed to be used while connected to the Internet and support applications that reside on the Web, rather than traditional applications that reside on the machine itself.

“These machines have no hard drive,” Miesnik said. “Everything is done in the cloud.”

The cloud is a term often used to describe storage on the Internet, rather than on traditional hardware.

“This is affordable, manageable, and centers on productivity,” she said. “In about a year, we knew it was to come out. It looks like a laptop but it has no hard drive. Everything is hooked up to the Google drive and everything is saved in the cloud. It’s cutting edge technology. We had to put in a $45,000 wireless Internet in order to support it because it is all wireless. This is a huge undertaking. The device itself cost $240, plus insurance.”

Every student attending Marist High School is required to purchase one, she said. But it is a one- time device fee for four years. Google, she said, constantly updates the content.

“Every teacher will implement the program at their own pace,” she said. “Each department has a turnkey instructor, somebody who will do the professional development and then pass along what they learn to the other teachers.”

The school purchased 400 devices which will more than cover the 386 students enrolled at the school this year. Every teacher received his or hers prior to the summer so they would be well-acquainted with the devises prior to the opening of school in September.

What this system does

Following a brief tea and talk with school officials, freshmen and their parents got a slideshow laying out the program, and then took a tour around the room where four students stood by their own Chromebooks and demonstrated the devices’ various uses.

Glen Anna Abellane, a senior, provided a demonstration on the online textbooks. She had to learn it at the beginning of the summer.

“Instead of bringing a lot of textbooks to each class, there are some that are online,” she said. “I show how to get access. There is something like a table of contents and you get to the subject.

This means no more underlining in textbooks—and in some cases, no more textbooks.

“You save it and it comes back when you turn on the computer again,” Abellane said, referring to the notes.

She said it was easy for her to learn it because kids her age are always on the computer.

“I’m pretty sure my classmates will pick it up,” she said.

After three years carrying loads of books, she laughs and says she’s only a little upset that now as she’s getting ready to graduate, the school leaps into new technology.

“But I’m glad I got a chance to try it for one year,” she said, noting that this will also give her a head start when she gets to college where she hopes to pursue a career in the biomedical field.

Candice Beboe, also a senior, was demonstrating math and science tutoring programs as well as homework applications. She said she didn’t start out as computer savvy as other students, but got the hang of it after a summer working with the machine.

“I volunteered to do this demonstration because I was really into it,” she said.

The programs can be geared for different grade levels and provides the most basic lessons to the most advanced. Even the beginning program gives you all the basics through almost the second year of college, she said, and it can show the solution or hide it, or reveal it later.

“That way you can see where you got it right or wrong,” Beboe said.

Beboe is good at math, and yet, the technology surprised her.

“I wish I’d had something like this when I was in the 9th grade,” she said.

She intends to pursue a career in social work, and while math may not figure into her career choice, she still takes this knowledge with her and can help others who might need help, she said.

“And what’s great about this website is that it is constantly being updated,” she said. “There is new information on it all the time.”

The system provides a place to find homework assignments, schedule classes, even directions to locate school or a classroom in the building. Teachers can assign homework online.

Priyanka Gupta, also a senior, demonstrated the calculator and school notebooks on the computer from login to more advanced options. Some functions can be used without being in the cloud.

“Most of us used to carry heavy notebooks and break our backs, so this is convenient. Most of us type fast and we’re good at it so this will be convenient,” she said.

She started researching applications and other aspects of the Chromebook the moment she got it, she said.

“So I practiced and figured it out,” she said. “I kind of came to it cold. But it’s pretty easy to figure out. The school made it easy with instruction. With Mr. Short, we could talk to him anytime.”

Dan Short is the school’s director of Information Technology.

Gupta, who hopes to become a doctor someday, believes this fits in with her education.

“I will have to do research as a doctor,” she said. “There are a lot more apps on science.”

Maggie Farha, a senior, demonstrated flashcards and a language tool, showing how the program can even give quizzes and allow students to advance from one level to another.

Although already having taken a number of courses in Spanish, she believes the duo lingo app can help her get ahead in Advanced Placement Spanish.

The system came together quickly

Norma Abreu, assistant to the school president and a member of the technology committee, said the school always imagined these kinds of tools, but affording them is a whole different problem.

“This is a dream that came fast and furious,” she said. “Last year we wanted to make this provision, we started a committee, threw out ideas, took steps that needed to be taken care of, such as upgrading infrastructure to hold this kind of technology.”

The committee sought grants to cover some of the costs, and once the infrastructure was in place—providing Wi-Fi in every classroom—the rest fell into place.

“With these even if a student isn’t in the classroom, the student can say they don’t know the work. They can participate at home (allegedly) sick in bed,” she said.

“This is a giant leap from where we were before,” Dan Short said. “Before this we had one computer for every four kids. Now we have a computer for every kid. Sometimes schools take a couple of years to roll out something like this. We did it within a year.”

While not every textbook is online, a number of them are, and the program with its associated packages will save the school money in a number of areas.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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