By Ruth-Ellen Cohen,
Of the NEWS Staff e-mail
Bangor Daily News Photo by Linda Coan
Meghan McCloskey, a Brewer Middle School
seventh-grader, reaches for the laptop with her name on it
Tuesday morning when the computers were handed
Last updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2002
BREWER — Preparing to dole out laptops to seventh-graders, teachers
here decided not to take the easy way out Tuesday.
In some school
systems, technology coordinators went through and configured the machines
for the children so there wouldn’t be any glitches, but not here. The kids
did their own, and English teacher Tom Burby didn’t mind in the least that
the Internet server kept hanging up on some pupils.
“We wanted the
kids to learn as much as they could about troubleshooting,” said Burby,
who cheerfully instructed his pupils to simply restart the portable
Everything — including glitches — went according to plan
Tuesday as the portable iBooks and their padded black cases were handed
out to all 105 seventh-graders at Brewer Middle School.
among 17,000 seventh-grade pupils and 2,200 seventh-grade teachers across
the state participating in Maine’s unique laptop program. Next year, a new
group of seventh-graders will receive the machines.
special what you have here. It’s pretty unique in the world. Countries
like Iceland and Russia and all the other states are watching,” Burby told
pupils as they assembled in his classroom where the white laptops had been
carefully laid out on tables, each marked with a child’s
“Hold it with two hands, please. Put the case under your arm
— there you go, good man,” Burby said to one boy heading out the
The laptops can easily tumble out of their cases, said Burby,
who plans on alerting Apple representatives.
Out in the hall,
pupils said they liked “being famous.”
“Some people didn’t think
we’d be able to be responsible, but we can be,” said Joanna Sinclair,
cradling the machine in her arms.
Tucking his “Internet license”
into the plastic window on the front of the case to show he had mastered
the use of the World Wide Web, pupil Nick Violette said the laptop would
help him “do my work quickly” and have access to a variety of
“Before, everybody used the same books. Now, with
different Web sites we can pick out stuff that others might not think of
using,” he said.
Later, during class, Burby figured he would have
his pupils dive right in. They logged onto a dictionary Web site designed
by Merriam Webster, and found the word “insinuate,” together with its
meaning and synonym and a sentence showing how it could be
Students can plug earphones into their laptops and even hear
the word spoken, Burby said.
The teacher has “big plans” for the
laptops, he said as he grabbed a quick sandwich for lunch.
will use a writing program that helps them organize their ideas, and
they’ll create an electronics portfolio — “a collection of everything
they’ve done” including movies, narratives, charts and graphs that will be
passed on to successive teachers, he said.
Math teacher Pam Towle
said the laptop would come in handy for its calculator, spreadsheet and
graphing functions. One program even enables pupils to figure out interest
rates, she said.
But pupils still will have to know basic math
functions and how to calculate using paper and pencil, according to
The computers are “another tool and another resource to take
what they’ve learned a step further,” she said. “It’s the wave of the
future. Students will be able to make better finished products and do more
complicated things than they might have on paper.”
the teachers room, Principal Bill Leithiser said many Brewer teachers
attended training sessions during the summer. The school will offer
additional training during the year, he said.
Art instructor Sue
Chadeayne said she wished she had been able to attend one of the summer
She was given a laptop, but the state offered training
only to those who teach core subjects such as English, history, math and
science, she said.
“I haven’t been shown how to use it, and I’m not
sure what to use it for,” she said. “If the state wants to use the laptops
in classrooms, anybody who works with seventh-graders should be trained.
The message from the state is that art isn’t as important as the core
subjects,” she said.
Still, she’s pleased with the laptop program
and is eager to use the “many graphic possibilities” that Macintosh
computers include, she said.
Although he was initially unsure
whether “it was the best use of money,” Leithiser said that after talking
to Gov. King and Commissioner of Education J. Duke Albanese he became
convinced that the laptop program would be a success.
“They won me
over, not so much as a principal but as a parent,” said Leithiser who has
two young sons and worries about the number of youths leaving the state
because they can’t find jobs.
“This gives kids in Brewer the same
opportunities as those in Machias, Wytopitlock and Cape Elizabeth,” he