- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

SHANNON, Miss. (AP) - Students sat in groups of three in Leanna Walker’s classroom at Shannon High School researching facts to support speeches they were crafting.

Their task was to create a new charity and make a presentation explaining it. Each pupil sat behind a school-owned laptop while doing the work. One group investigated prices of toothbrushes and other household items as it put together a plan that would provide care boxes for victims of house fires.

“Instead of having to go to the library when we need to do research, we can bring the computers and tablets into the classroom,” said senior Alyssa Kelly. “It is easier and more convenient.”

Computers are becoming as common as notebooks and binders in a growing number of Northeast Mississippi classrooms. As districts try to better engage 21st-century students, prepare pupils for real-world jobs and position themselves to provide new online state tests, they have added devices and expanded Internet capabilities.

At Shannon, the school has used extra funding it receives because of its priority status from the Mississippi Department of Education to expand its wireless Internet capability and add laptops, tablets and electronic readers. That status is due to the school’s low graduation rate - 52.2 percent in 2013 - and Principal Bill Rosenthal said the digital classrooms will help better engage students.



“It gives our kids a better opportunity,” he said.

The 513-student school has become much more wired in the last three years. In addition to three computer labs with about 20 to 25 computers each, it now has 60 laptops, 30 tablets and 30 NOOKs that teachers can check out and use in their classrooms. It recently ordered another 60 laptops.

Its wireless Internet signal is strong throughout campus.

“We have enough capacity for everyone to be on their devices without it crashing,” Rosenthal said.

Because of that capacity, the Lee County School District, in September, passed a new policy that allows Shannon High students to bring their own technology to school and use it in the classroom, at the teacher’s discretion. It was the district’s only school to be included in the policy because it currently is the only one with the wireless Internet infrastructure to be able to handle it.

However, Superintendent Jimmy Weeks wants to expand that infrastructure at the district’s two other high schools - Saltillo and Mooreville - if he can find the funding.

“So far it has worked really well,” Weeks said of Shannon’s “bring your own device” policy. “We haven’t had any issues in the classroom with the use of it or problems with devices being used inappropriately.

“As soon as we are able to get the infrastructure up to the level it needs to be to support BYOD, I can see us doing that at all of our high schools, as soon as we have the money to do it.”

More impactful than “bring your own device,” Rosenthal said, has been the purchase of school-owned devices and the stronger Internet capabilities.

Teachers are not locked into having to schedule a time in a computer lab when they want to use the technology. In addition to 24 computers in the school’s library, its two other computer labs are used by its STEM and business classes.

“It opens up options for teachers so they are not locked into, ‘I have to do this this week when a computer lab is available,’” Rosenthal said, noting that the increase of online state tests ties up those labs even more. “Now you can use your own devices or the school’s in the classroom.”

Shannon High School has become a cutting-edge model of the changing Northeast Mississippi classroom. Walker said she has checked out the school’s computers often to facilitate research projects in her classroom.

“The best part is we can be in our own space with research or writing, and I can be here to help all of them,” Walker said. “It can be a distraction in the library with kids coming in and out. Here we can keep the continuity, and I can jump between groups and work with them.”

Algebra 1 teachers Pamela Rayburn and Jessica Gritter have allowed students to occasionally use their phones to play Kahoot! - an online program that allows them to compete to answer math questions.

“I have found there have been students who are never engaged in the lesson, but we start Kahoot! and there they go,” Rayburn said.

Students are not regularly using their personal devices, the teachers said. More often it is the school-owned laptops and tablets that are brought into the classroom.

The BYOD policy is helpful when a question arises suddenly during a class discussion. In those times, teachers can allow students to use their smartphones to research it online.

“Anytime a kid has a question and I don’t know the answer, I’ll say get out your phones and let’s look it up,” said U.S. history teacher Carol Cummings.

There are filters in place when the students are accessing the school’s wireless network to prevent them from accessing social media or inappropriate websites. Rosenthal said he has not had many problems with misuse of the devices.

“I was very negative about it at first, but it has not been an issue for us,” Rayburn said. “If you lay out the ground rules from the beginning of when they can use it and what is appropriate, that will help.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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