By Afra Hussain
In the next four years, public high schools across Indiana may move towards adopting a completely new curriculum, one that would allow laptops on campus and involve more technology. These drastic changes are part of the New Technology or New Tech program first suggested by Gov. Mitch Daniels early this March. The proposal calls for all public high schools in Indiana to change before Daniels leaves office in 2013 if the state implements the proposal. (Click here to read the Indianapolis Star article on the proposal.)
As for the proposal’s effect on students, junior Luke Bunting once visited a school in Kailua, Hawaii called Kailua Christian Academy with a program similar to the New Tech program. He said he liked the technology-based approach the school had.
“I did like it because I felt like I was able to get more out of it,” he said.
Bunting described one classroom with individualized cells and laptop ports for each student. The cells also doubled as workstations. Bunting said the role of the teacher was mostly to supervise and guide students through their individual work. He also said if a student needed help, they would simply place a white flag outside of the cell and the teacher would help.
Bunting said in the Kailua program, work and curriculum seemed based more on the individual student. Here the program Bunting described differs from the New Tech proposal, which focuses on more group projects and hands-on learning as well as technology.
According to the New Tech High School Web site, it was founded by a group of business leaders in Napa Valley who saw the importance of implementing more technology at the high school level.
Since then, a non-profit organization has been set up by the school to promote the program at other high schools around the nation.
As far as what else the curriculum entails, Assistant Principal Ronda Eshleman, who oversees the curriculum at the schools said, “Our biggest thing would be to look more at problem-based learning and higher level thing.” Eshleman said the goal of the New Tech program is to allow for more real world skills.
However, she added that the transition would not be as drastic as it seems. “I think our teachers do a good job of that already,” she said.
One hurdle that the school might face, Eshleman said is its size. Eshleman said she has been researching New Tech schools and observed their sizes compared to a school like this one. Most of the schools, she said, are smaller charter schools with about 300 to 400 students. She said it would be difficult to find a model school the size of this school.
Additionally, the transition to a New Tech high school is not an easy one in terms of cost. Estimated costs for making the switch reach up to $500,000 per school. Also, Daniel’s proposal still has not defined where the money will come from to finance the change for about 350 public high schools.
Another potential snag in the program, according to Bunting, is the pace at which students learn.
“It was a problem when some of the kids fell behind, they stayed behind,” he said.
However, he said if students learn faster, they are able to move faster through the lessons and students who learned at a slower pace could still get help and work at their own pace.
Bunting said having each student use his own laptop also helped make the program better. He said each student was able to put all of his programs on a laptop and keep everything in one place. The school he visited in Kailua had a mainframe, to which all students and teachers were connected. Bunting did, however say said some students might abuse the Internet. He said the school in Kailua was able to block use of the Internet during classes and, because of the mainframe, block certain Web sites as well.
As for the transition, Eshleman said she thinks changing to a New Tech program would have to be gradual, especially here.
“I hate to see a drastic all-or-nothing change, but I think we can update the curriculum towards incorporating problem based learning,” she said.
As far as the changes that might happen soon, Eshleman said, “I think we can take the best parts of the model and put it into the system we already have.”
QUICK FACTS ABOUT NEW TECH SCHOOLS
INDIANAPOLIS STAR / SOURCE