Governor King first announced the laptop initiative for Maine in February 2000, with a proposed launch date of September 2002. A worsening economy and State budget shortfall threatened the project on more than one occasion over the last two years.
King remained defiant when legislators suggested trimming or canceling the plan, calling the move “an historic mistake.” King noted that the state received a generous deal from Apple, which provided iBooks, networking gear and other material for $10 to $15 million less than market value.
“Change is hard and this is a big idea,” Governor King told MacCentral. “We have persevered, people in the education community have rallied around the idea, the legislature looked at it and passed the plan and now it’s happening.”
On September 5, 2002, Governor King traveled to Kittery, Maine to officially kick-off the program.
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Not all teachers, parents or students were on King’s side when the initiative was announced, but the Governor said he is receiving some great feedback from all involved in the program now. Anticipating the fact that not everyone would consider this a positive move, King set the implementation of the program two years in advance so the State could put it into effect properly.
One of the most important things the State needed to do was work with the teachers to show them what could be done with computers in the classroom, according to King.
“We received a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation last fall, so we developed a really good system of involving the teachers — that’s what’s really going to make this work,” said King. “These things are fantastic devices, but it’s going to take the teachers to figure out how to integrate them into their curriculum and supervise their use. We are going to have the Country’s most digitally literate teachers and students.”
King said the State chose the iBook for the long term and not just a cheap price in the short term.
“Part of the decision in a situation like this is value, which is price and quality,” said King. “The bids were roughly similar in price, but the iBook had a greater value than the other laptops. The truth is, Apple wanted to win this; they wanted to ensure they were involved in this project.”
Over the summer, Apple delivered 18,000 iBooks for 15,000 students and 3,000 teachers. Apple technicians also installed 239 wireless networks in as many schools throughout the State, which King said wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
King pointed out that all of the schools in the State differ in age, size, electrical configuration and the number of students that would receive an iBook. While some schools have 200-300 seventh graders others have just 7 or 8; Apple showed the same attention to detail in all schools, according to King.
“They [Apple] have been much more than a vendor; they have truly been partners,” said King. “The feedback from the schools, teachers, tech coordinators and everybody else that dealt with the Apple people as they worked over the summer to prepare 239 schools has been fantastic.”
Each school has a “lead teacher” to help students and teachers if they run into difficulty with the technology. But King said they took this a step further — they have also designated lead students to help fellow students and/or teachers if need be. Peers helping each other is going to be an important part of the success, according to King.
Maine started a pilot program with iBooks last spring to get teachers and students used to the idea of using technology in the classroom and for the State to get constructive feedback before launching the State-wide program.
“One of the amazing things that happened in our test schools that nobody anticipated was the degree to which it engaged the low performing students. We found the program affected students that were looking out the window, or students that had discipline problems or were absent a lot from school in a significant way. This is one of the things that teachers are most delighted with.”
Ultimately King’s plan is to have this year’s seventh graders take their laptops with them to the eighth grade and the State will purchase new iBooks for the upcoming seventh graders. In order for this to happen, King said the program is going to have to prove itself worthy of continuing on. The State is looking at hiring an outside consultant to weigh the pros and cons, and overall success of the program this year.
Not surprisingly, other States have been in touch with Maine to discuss the program over the last year. Just as King watched the transition Henrico County made in its iBook program, States throughout the U.S. are watching Maine, taking cues from their success.
When all is said and done, for King it comes down to the seventh graders that are now enjoying a piece of technology and possibly enjoying school and learning a little more.
“What I’m most excited about is that somewhere in Maine today there is a seventh grader who had no prospects of ever having a tool like this in their hands and now the whole world has opened up. That’s what makes it all worth it,” said King.