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  • Staff file photo by Don Himsel

    Dell representative Eric Schott looks on as Jack D’Amato and Marisa Rivera explore their new laptops in December. Two classrooms in the Nashua School District - one at Amherst Street and another at Mount Pleasant - will be outfitted with devices this year through the same grant awarded to a classroom at Bicentennial Elementary School last year.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Tanya Ackerman
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Joseph Cho, left, was one of Tanya Ackerman's students to reeive their new computer Friday, December 16, 2011.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Netbooks will allow ‘one-to-one computing’ in Nashua fifth grade

NASHUA – Wanting to liven up a class project on verbs with a picture of a Christmas tree, fifth-grader Kourtnie Hamel did a quick Google image search. She found a colorfully decorated evergreen in a matter of minutes and dropped it into a word document.

Kourtnie, a student in Tanya Ackerman’s class at Bicentennial Elementary School, didn’t have to go to the front of the room for this; she did it from her desk. She is one of the students who will benefit this year from a donation of 26 netbooks to Ackerman’s class, enough to establish one-to-one computing

“It’s like a new way to learn,” said classmate Tusha Kondaveeti.

Her family has a laptop at home, but this is the first one she can say is hers alone. She’s excited about the ways it can improve learning.

The netbooks come courtesy of the Dell YouthConnect program. Digital Wish, a nonprofit based in Vermont, worked with Dell to select Nashua as a recipient of the program and will provide the resources and training to help integrate the technology into the classroom.

Superintendent Mark Conrad said it’s the first time the district has one-to-one student computing and the students will also be able to take the computers home.

“We want to look carefully and closely at the outcomes to see if this is a model we could replicate,” he said.

The computers were given to students during a ceremony at the school Friday. Representatives from Dell helped students set up their computers and gave them a tutorial on how to use them and take care of them. Starting in January, the students will be able to take the computers home.

Sheila Marcoux, technology integrator with Digital Wish, has been working with Ackerman on preparing for using the netbooks in the classroom. Marcoux will be working with Ackerman and her students once a week for the rest of the year to help with the process.

Conrad said what makes the gift more meaningful is that it comes with the assistance and training needed to make sure the computers are used effectively. Putting a bunch of computers into a classroom doesn’t mean anything without that follow-up component, he said.

“You need to integrate technology in ways that are really going to make a difference for learning,” he said.

Ackerman considers herself computer savvy but admitted she has learned so much about the possibilities for how to integrate the new technology into her classroom since being awarded the grant.

“One of the big things I want to work on is developing wiki sites,” she said, discussing sites that use a type of software that can allow any reader to edit them. “I want to teach them how to blog and how to use Skype.”

Before the arrival of the netbooks, the classroom had an electronic white board, a document reader and a laptop for the teacher. Having each student equipped with a netbook adds a new level of educational possibilities, Ackerman said.

Ackerman could envision a scenario where, on a snow day, students in the class could connect via Skype and continuing the learning they would have lost otherwise. When the students move on to sixth grade, the computers will stay with Ackerman’s class.

Marcoux said there will be benefits to the entire school, as well. New wireless Internet was installed, along with the donation of seven other laptops for the school. These could be used for after-school programs, she said.

Ackerman said she wants to make sure there is a balance, not becoming too reliant on the computers. For example, while the students will be taking many notes on the computer, Ackerman wants them to continue practicing their cursive and writing in their notebooks.

Conrad said having a class with one-to-one computing in the district can serve as a model, considering how it is improving learning and using that to help make decisions about purchasing technology in the future.

Dell YouthConnect’s mission is to “bridge the gap between the technology ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ by placing Dell technology into underserved communities.”

However, Bicentennial is one of the most affluent elementary schools in the district, with only 11.5 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, the lowest rate of the city’s 12 elementary schools. There are eligibility rates as high as 70 to 80 percent at some low-income elementary schools in the city.

Conrad said the district wanted to put the technology into the hands of a teacher who would be able to use the laptops most effectively.

Ackerman’s class was chosen because of her enthusiasm for using technology in the classroom, he said.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or