The Dog Ate My iBook

Handing out laptops to incoming high-school freshmen doesn't come without risks -- especially the chance students can lose their laptops.

"The same thing happens as when they lose their $70 chemistry book," Baker said. "They have to replace it."

The laptops come with insurance, which includes a deductible, he said.

"We offered parents an insurance policy for $54 a year. Every parent bought it."

Fortunately there has been only one laptop lost thus far, he said, and it wasn't because the machine was misplaced.

"Interestingly enough, it was a parent who did it," Baker recalled. "They were clearing things off the counter at home, and shoved the iBook off the counter."

The school also offers loaner laptops.

Windows of Opportunity

"The students feel very professional because they are in an environment that ups their responsibility," Jensen said of her students' reaction to the laptops. "They're carrying this thing around, we're trusting them with it, and they're stepping up."

She admits that she expected her students would be whizzes on the computer because they are so computer savvy. But though they may know how to search the Web or download music, they haven't used programs like Excel or PowerPoint.

"By introducing them to these skills, we're giving them something they would have had to learn on their own later," Jensen said.

Although the tools of teaching may be different, the environment in most classrooms is the same. Students in Jensen's class still do most of their work using paper and pencil because it's laborious to do math on the computer.

"Kids are still taking notes and doing assignments," she said, adding that what has changed is how teachers plan for lessons. "Teachers often lean on textbooks when they're planning their lessons. Without the textbooks, it pushes you to be more creative."

She admits that laptop learning has created a lot more work and that she definitely feels the added pressure. But Jensen said this is often the case at any new school, and once there's a bank of lesson plans to draw from, the workload will decrease.

Having students surfing the Web in class also can present added challenges for the teacher.

"As soon as you go onto the Internet to do a search for something that's content related, they can very easily open an extra window and go off on a tangent," Jensen said. "That just requires extra monitoring on the part of the teacher."

Bookless Schools?

An all-wireless high school and an increasingly wireless world raises concerns for bibliophiles, and others, who wonder if books will become extinct.

"It's important to understand that there'll still be books required and in use. You can't substitute a computer for good literature," said John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association. "Certainly no high school is going to say, 'We're done reading books now. We're sticking to the computer.'"

Wright adds that what computers could alter is how students might produce a term paper on the books they read for English or social studies.

"Maybe that looks completely different in an online environment," he said. "Maybe it's not printed and handed in."

Students might post their work to their own Web site with links to Internet sites they used for their research.

"The possibilities are remarkable in terms of how you create a product to demonstrate your knowledge and your skills," Wright said.

No Teacher Left Behind

Curriculum is still defined by strict standards that must be met before students can graduate, but the laptops have freed teachers from the restrictions they've experienced

Sue Owens Wright  |  Contributing Writer