Below is a short article (not written by me) which appeared in the Summer, 2008 Sidwell Friends Alumni Bulletin, and below it is my response, published in the following issue as a letter to the editor. 

“One-on-One Learning: Next fall, every sixth grade student at SFS will receive a tablet laptop computer as part of an exploratory pilot program. The decision was made after a committee spent last year researching one-to-one student laptop programs, visiting peer schools that have such programs, and debating their findings. The committee recommended the pilot program, in which every student has his or her own tablet PC. Since the committee also found that one-to-one programs are most effective when tablet use is determined directly by the classroom teacher, the sixth grade teachers will decide whether, when, where, why and how their students will use the laptops. ” [italics added]

Fall 2008 Magazine

And my letter to the editor, published in the Fall, 2008 issue: 

Dear Editor, 

As a K-8 school-head myself, I applaud Sidwell’s initiative to bring tablet computers, 1:1, to its sixth graders. Doing so will greatly empower those students to be more effective learners, better able to construct their own knowledge, collaborate with others both near and far, and produce their own creative content in authentic and meaningful ways. Certainly, their teachers will be and should be setting goals for their students, and carefully guiding them in their use of these tools.   But, I feel confident that Sidwell teachers will not and should not entirely “decide whether, when, when, where, why, and how their students will use their laptops.” To say that they will, as the Alumni Magazine does, misses the point of both good 1:1 lap- top programs and good schooling in general. In the 21st century, the teacher’s role is to empower students to be better independent learners, to better make sense of the voluminous information the Internet provides, to better critically engage with it, and to better make use of it. None of these things will happen if the teacher is as omnipotent as the article states.  In my own experience, providing students digital tools like tablets is extremely energizing for classrooms, and changes the dynamic such that the students, being “digital natives,” are that much more able to be collaborators with their teachers, often suggesting and demonstrating excellent uses of the digital technology that the teacher wasn’t aware of. These empowered students are now part of a collaborative team with their teacher—who is still most certainly captain and manager of the team— and this team, with its new esprit de corps, advances with great enthusiasm on its learning journey. 

Jonathan E. Martin ’84 

The Bulletin also provided a response to my letter by Sidwell’s Technology Director: 

Thank you, Mr. Martin, for your warm praise and for your recognition of all that a personal tablet computer can empower a student to do in the classroom and beyond. Your thoughts summarize what we hope to find at the end of this year-long pilot. The statement in the original article, that teachers will “decide whether, when, where, why, and how their students will use their laptops,” may have been a bit misleading. As you mentioned, the teacher is captain of a collaborative team of students learning together. We wanted to make sure that the “captains,” the sixth grade teachers, were comfortable with the technology and with how students were using the technology before giving their consent to students’ taking their laptops home for the first time. Now that the students have had their laptops for almost two months and have started taking them home, they are ready to use them as both collaborative and independent learners. I have visited several of the sixth grade classes while students are engaged in learning with their laptops and have been overjoyed to see students working individually and in groups to solve both academic and technical problems. Their lessons are shared collaboratively through a software program called “OneNote” and all students are participating in wikis and blogs to contribute their reflections on new things they are learning. It is an exciting experience and one that we believe will grow richer as the year progresses and both teachers and students learn how to more fully integrate their tablet PC into the learning experience. Thank you again for your enthusiasm about our pilot. 

Patt Moser  Director of Information Services Sidwell Friends School