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March 18, 2005

Power to Learn: Important Information

Cobb County is proposing to transform teaching and learning at Mabry Middle School through Power To Learn! Pending approval by the Cobb County Board of Education, Phase I of the Power To Learn program will bring Apple iBook G4 portable computers to all of our teachers and establish demonstration/pilot sites at four high schools where students will receive laptops – 21st Century tools for a 21st Century education.

The school district has received input from parents, teachers and citizens through public forums and hundreds of emails and personal communications. We have listened, and have improved the proposal. This is a summary of some of the most common questions to provide you with the most recent information available on this exciting initiative.

How will Power To Learn impact my child’s education?
Power to Learn is a plan to transform education in Cobb County schools by providing teachers and students with the best learning tools available. The phased-in approach, with school board approval required for each phase, is a measured way to assess the viability of the program before moving to the next step. The long-term goal of one computer for every teacher, high school and middle school student – with wireless Internet access in all schools – will create a learning environment where information flows freely and can be accessed by all teachers and students anytime, anyplace. Students know how to navigate and communicate online – they thrive with interactive learning. Teachers will be able to enhance their instruction with the vast and up-to-date educational materials available online.

Do one-to-one programs really work?
Yes. A 2004 study by Silvernail & Lane on the state of Maine’s one-to-one laptop initiative noted:
• More than 70% of the students surveyed reported the laptops helped them to be better organized, to get their work done quicker and with better quality.
• Over 4 out of 5 teachers surveyed reported that students are more engaged in their learning and produce better quality work.
• Over 75% of the teachers reported having the laptops helped them better meet Maine’s statewide learning standards.

In addition, a study by SRI International reported many of the same findings in Henrico, Va., another large-scale one-to-one initiative. In addition, Henrico’s test scores have climbed significantly in all subject areas since students and teachers received laptops four years ago. A different study in February 2005 showed very strong support among teachers, students and parents for continuing Henrico’s program.

What is the school board voting to approve?
Phase I – which will issue laptops to all Pre-K – 12 teachers, establish four high school demonstration/pilot sites where students will receive laptops, and upgrade middle school labs. A related project will create a wireless network throughout all Cobb County schools so that teachers will have Internet and network access throughout their buildings. If, after months of evaluation, the demonstration/pilot sites are successful, the school board may consider extending the program to all high school students in Phase II at a later date. If the demonstration/pilot sites are not successful, the student laptops will be redistributed to high school computer labs and Phase II will not be pursued.

What is the timeline?
March/April 2005: School board votes on Phase I
If approved…Spring/Summer 2005: Laptops issued to all teachers Fall 2005: Demonstration/pilot sites established; middle school labs upgraded; wireless network upgrades begin.
How will success be measured?
At the four demonstration/pilot sites the school district will monitor student engagement, performance, attendance and discipline, among other indicators of student success. The district also will closely evaluate teacher, student and parent training, technical support, and network capability.

What is the cost?
Phase I of the program ¬would cost an estimated $5.9 million per year for a four-year lease of the computers for teachers, demonstration/pilot sites and middle school labs. That cost is based on the lease price of $350 per computer, per year, which includes full training and technical support. In addition, the district has budgeted $5.7 million to complete the wireless upgrade of all school buildings. If approved, Phase I would be funded by technology improvement dollars in SPLOST II.

Why Apple?
Apple has extensive experience in the education market. The iBook G4 is designed to be rugged for student use, lightweight and features long battery life and wireless connectivity. Apple’s Mac OS X operating system is stable, secure and features interoperability with computers running Windows. Further, the iBooks come with Microsoft Office software preinstalled. Of four vendor finalists, Apple provided Cobb County with the best plan at the lowest price.

Will my child be able to access inappropriate web sites?
Accessing inappropriate material is a violation of school district policy and will result in disciplinary action. Several security measures will be implemented to limit such activity. The district’s network firewall prevents any computer from accessing inappropriate material when students are in school. But parents will need to be vigilant in monitoring their children’s Internet use outside of school – just as they do now. To help parents and teachers monitor student Internet access, the iBooks will feature a tracking tool that maintains a list of all web sites visited by the computer.

The iBooks will feature several high-tech anti-theft security features. Other one-to-one school districts implementing similar security steps have found theft a negligible concern – less than .5 percent.

How much will parents be asked to pay?
As part of the bidding process, the school district asked vendors to recommend a fee parents would pay to insure the laptops against total loss or damage not covered by the warranty. The lowest price for insurance offered by a third-party vendor is $50 per year, per computer. The school district feels this fee is too high and is continuing to pursue other options to lower the insurance cost to parents.

For more information, please visit our website at the county Power to Learn web site.
If you still have questions and concerns, please send them to

Posted by Tim Tyson at 12:41 PM

March 17, 2005

Rising 6th Grade Summer Program

This summer the SPLOST construction and renovation project should come to an end with a flurry of activity at Mabry Middle School. A great deal of demolition will take place within the building, and 6 different inside areas will be completely changed. Additionally, the entrance and parking lot will be completely changed from what they are today. Fortunately, these activities were scheduled for this summer and therefore did not adversely impact the learning environment during the school year.

Because of safety and accessibility issues and concerns, we will not schedule any activity in the building this summer. Therefore, we will not have our summer program for rising 6th graders this summer.

We anticipate that the building will be completed just before school starts. Beginning the school year with access to about $8.8 million in new and renovated facilities will be an exciting way to start the 20005 - 2006 school year.

Posted by Tim Tyson at 9:51 AM

March 10, 2005

I Just Have to Brag

On Monday, March 7th, Mabry students, parents, and teachers were invited to the capitol to share with our elected state officials the innovative ways we use technology at Mabry Middle School. We were one of only 13 schools around the state invited to attend!

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The students presented their digital video Wild Life Documentary project. Mr. Swanson, one of Mabry's excellent 7th grade Life Science teachers, went to Botswana and Zimbabwe this past summer to shoot digital video footage of the wildlife, habitats, and ecosystems in those countries. That footage, along with footage donated by an international expedition company, about 60 gigabytes all total, has been loaded on our Mabry servers and made available to our 7th grade Life Science students.

Both Mrs. Carroll's and Mr. Swanson's students are presently in the process of creating their movies. (Because of limited resources, only 2 teacher's students can do this, in groups, at a time. If every child had a laptop from The Power to Learn initiative, every single child in the 7th grade Life Science curriculum could make his or her own movie project.)

Each team of students selects a topic, for example: comparing and contrasting the Cheetah and the Leopard, researches various aspects of the species (for example: adaptations, interdependence with other organisms in their biome, etc.), and puts together a movie from the footage that applies to their research. I suspect that the only way learning these Georgia Performance Standards could be any more engaging for our students would be if our Life Science teachers took them to Africa to shoot the footage themselves! (Actually, they want to do that too...)

The team that went to the capitol has been meeting before and after school to create the first (beta test with this footage, if you will) movie project. A number of people at the capitol stopped by their display and watched all 3 of their movie projects. Ms. Lynda Martin, Cobb County Area 4 Superintendent, came to see our students' work. Cathy Cox, Secretary of State, spent about 30 minutes with the Mabry team, watching their work in its entirety and asking them numerous substantive questions about their project. The students did an excellent job of presenting their work to the many adults and other students who visited their display.

Congratulations to these students and teachers for their outstanding work which has gained state recognition: Shane, Katie, Diamond, and Anna (all 7th grade students representing the group), Matt, Will, Logan, and Marli (additional 7th grade students who participated in the project), Mrs. Carroll, and Mr. Swanson (teachers), and Mrs. Janet McCrary (Instruction Lead Teacher).

Once again, I couldn't be any more proud of our staff and students who work every day to reach our school goal: maximize student academic achievement of the Georgia Performance Standards!

Posted by Tim Tyson at 1:32 PM

March 2, 2005

New 6th Grade Math Curriculum

As many of you are aware, the state of Georgia is phasing in a new math curriculum. The first year of implementation at the middle school level will begin next year with our rising 6th grade students. Each year thereafter the new curriculum will be added, first in 7th grade and the following year in 8th grade.

A few important items of note:

For those few students who are highly talented in math and function at levels well beyond the new math curriculum, Mabry will offer an accelerated math program. This program will have strict and stringent placement requirements.

As you can see, the accelerated math curriculum will be extremely demanding and rigorous. Placement decisions will be made by the Mabry Middle School staff during the summer and no later than the end of the first 9 weeks of the sixth grade year. We will share the placement criteria with you before the end of this school year.

If you would like to learn more about the new math curriculum, I would invite you to talk with our 6th grade counselor, Mrs. Cindy Jackson, and/or visit the State Department of Education's web site.

Posted by Tim Tyson at 7:40 PM

Technology @ Mabry

Here are a couple of pictures from Mrs. Abrams' last live internet video conference with the Technology Reporter of USA TODAY, Kevin Maney, and Ken Paulson, the Editor in Chief of USA TODAY. I blogged about this several weeks ago (February 5th) when it happened, but I didn't have pictures to share at that time.

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Left: A picture of the live internet video of the editors at USA TODAY as seen on the large screen in the theater. If you look carefully, you can see a small window inset in the bottom right hand corner of the computer window--a live picture of the student asking the question--what the editors at USA TODAY saw on their iBook.

Right: Our students asked their questions in front of the Apple iSight camera connected to the Apple iBook computer. The iBook was connected to speakers and a display device so all of the students seated in the theater could hear and see the USA TODAY editors as they answered the students' questions.

This was a powerful educational experience for our students.

Posted by Tim Tyson at 4:36 PM

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