by Larry Magid
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Click to listen to Larry’s 1-minute CBS News/CNET Tech Talk segment on Natick’s 1:1 program, including an interview with Natick High School principal Rose Bartucci
Natick, Massachusetts, a town of about 33,000 people situated about 30 miles west of Boston, has recently instituted a “one-to-one” laptop program, equipping each of its 8th through 12th graders with a MacBook laptop they can use at school and at home.
The program, which is being evaluated by researchers at Boston College, seems to be getting off to a good start, according to staff and students I spoke with when I visited the campus of Natick High School. This mostly middle-class district already has a low dropout rate and a high graduation rate but, according to high school principal Rose Bertucci, test scores have risen “and there is a lot more engagement with the students.” She said that students are retaining more information and that discipline problems are down. She acknowledged that there are some challenges including “making sure they stay on task in class all the time.”
The laptops have filters that keep students away from sites deemed inappropriate. Currently the district blocks access to Facebook but does permit students to use Twitter and YouTube. I visited a social studies class where the teacher was encouraging students to Tweet questions to students in other countries in an effort to begin an international dialog. Not everyone was pleased about the decision to block Facebook. I spoke with two students who felt that the school should allow Facebook access at least when the students are using their computers outside of class. Of course students with smartphones have unrestricted access to the Internet on their own devices using their carrier’s data networks unless their parents have equipped the phones with filters. High school students are permitted to use smartphones on campus, but not in class except during teacher authorized learning projects.
Natick also has a brand-new high school building that opened this year. It’s equipped with LCD screens throughout to inform students of campus events along with WiFi throughout the entire school. The school even has an incredibly well-equipped high-tech fitness center with tools to measure pulse rate, blood pressure and progress along with a staff of fitness teachers to help students and staff develop lifelong fitness habits.
Several years ago, when I took my own kids around the country to visit colleges, I kept thinking that I want to go back to college. But after spending time in Natick, I almost wish I could go back to high school. Almost.