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Mineola Schools to Consider Adding Netbooks to Classrooms

Mini-laptops may be added to sixth grade classrooms at half the cost of iPads.

As part of the continuing in Mineola School District, Superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler asked the board of education during its recent meeting last Thursday at the to consider the introduction of netbooks into sixth grade classrooms in the upcoming school year.

The request is a departure from the district’s which was and came about primarily because of the work of sixth grade teacher Vincent Interrante with a new Microsoft software suite known as One Note.

After attending a conference, Interrante petitioned Dr. Nagler to pilot the software in his classroom, creating a lesson on the weather using the software and netbooks – small, extremely portable versions of laptops running a full version of Windows.

The unique feature of the software is that it allows for collaboration between students at their desks, allowing them to work independently yet contribute to a larger project. The collaborative aspect of the program is similar to Google Docs which allows multiple users to access, modify and share documents. However, the students cannot use the service because it requires that user be 13 years of age and the students utilizing the devices would be younger.

A demonstration of Interrante’s project is scheduled at the next board meeting showing how the software works.

Interrante was even recognized by Microsoft for his work in creating the lesson and will conduct a presentation upstate and receive training as an innovator/ educator. “These invitations to be trained are few and far between,” Dr. Nagler said, noting that Mineola was fortunate to have two trainers certified this year:  Jackson Avenue principal Matthew Gavin was trained by Apple while Interrante was certified by Microsoft. The two are also the only individuals from Long Island to be trained.

“In a short month we turned around quite a project,” Dr. Nagler said, admitting the experience has given him “pause” about how to roll out technology and presented a battle between iPads and netbooks in the classroom.

“We originally thought we were going to give iPads to all the sixth graders and one fifth grade class,” Nagler said.

The main drawback of the netbooks is that they do not offer a touchscreen and no applications. The district’s two technology initiatives – a touchscreen vs. Microsoft – are incompatible with one another.

Another factor is cost as  the district can purchase two netbooks for every one iPad, which “has challenges” on how  the devices can be networked together. The biggest hurdle may also be that with two competing initiatives, one group’s work may be lost if switched to a single platform.

“If we want to capitalize on Vince’s project... we really can’t do that with the iPad,” the superintendent said. “If we want to capitalize on all the great stuff the fifth grade teachers have already done with the iPad, we really should not abandon the iPad, and therein lies the problem.”

Dr. Nagler recommended that the district purchase netbooks for the sixth grade and iPads for fifth grade next year, in essence doubling the technology initiative.

While the devices are currently incompatible, Dr. Nagler estimated that within 2 years one device would be able to be easily networked, have a touchscreen and provide apps.

“I’m sure that WIndows 7 is going to have some mobile device that will have apps in the next 2 years,” he said, “(but) I don’t want to wait for that.”

One advantage of having the dueling platforms in the district may be the opportunity to teach students how to navigate the two most popular computing platforms – Windows and Mac. Currently students do not encounter a Mac platform until they enter the .

“It’s not about the device, it’s about the learning that takes place,” Nagler said. “Let’s teach children concepts, let them get involved in the problem. If they’re experiencing the work and they’re enjoying it and they’re uncovering the answers to things they’re more apt to know it long-term.”

When questioned about any learning curve a class may experience, Interrante said the students were engaged “almost immediately” and were able to navigate the program “with ease,” erasing any trepidation within minutes.

“If they had a problem with an Excel document that they didn’t know how to configure, the kids figured it out together and then shared it with each other,” he said.

While he did not make a formal recommendation to the board that night, Nagler did state that “right now I’m leaning more towards where we can go with the Microsoft suite more than the Apple suite.”

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