West High School (WHS) is one of 17 high schools in the 16th largest district in the nation. Located in a working class neighborhood, the campus is reminiscent of the film location for Grease: a three-story brick building, nearly 70 years old, with wide, locker-lined hallways. The school draws from a low-mobility population, with most graduates taking blue collar jobs in the local area. The 87 WHS faculty are nearly all veteran teachers and turnover is low. Of the 1,176 students in WHS, 41% receive free/reduced lunch, 15-20 students are designated as LEP or NEP, and 86 receive special education services. Thirty-five percent of the students are African-American. WHS's technology program is one of the original five Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT). Nested on the school's third floor, the atmosphere of the ACOT program is charged with excitement, due, perhaps, to the non-stop parade of visitors, teams of intense teacher observers, the raucous interaction of teenagers with each other and the ACOT staff, or the nine ACOT staff themselves as they share strategies, problem solve, juggle schedules, adjust and readjust. The ACOT program serves 120 students at grades 9-12.
WHS faculty cite their Effective Schools Program as the main schoolwide reform initiative. This program has included site-based management and institution of a number of innovative practices, such as interdisciplinary team teaching, common planning times for a subset of teachers, and a thematic approach and cooperative learning for vocational education students, on a limited trial basis. The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) program, however, is the centerpiece of WHS's reform efforts.
The primary incentive for the ACOT program was the opportunity to fully equip a number of classrooms with the most advanced Apple technology, at no cost. The program had its origins in 1983 when Apple's regional office became interested in WHS because of its popular "Summer Tech" program, sponsored by the district with support from local universities and businesses. The office encouraged the Summer Tech instructor to submit a formal proposal to Apple's newly-forming ACOT program, established to study the impact of a high-technology environment, in which every student had a computer at school and at home. The Summer Tech instructor and the district supervisor of technology proposed a project for WHS, focused on interdisciplinary team teaching (English/social studies, math/science) and the use of the computer as a tool.
By the summer of 1986, the four original, interdisciplinary team members found themselves launched on the new venture. The team had decided to request Macintosh computers rather than Apples because of their greater power. At the time, this decision seemed like a real trade-off because there was no instructional software for the Macintosh. This situation was serendipitous in forcing the ACOT teachers to think innovatively about how the general tool software available for the Macintosh--MacPaint, MacWrite, MacDraw, and Excel--could support educational activities.
For each of the next four years, the program added a new class of approximately 30 ninth graders. In the summers, the ACOT teachers were flown to California for joint training with other ACOT site teachers. The summer training focused on constructivist teaching approaches rather than on technology per se. In time, the teachers began to work together in ways that integrated their subject matter more meaningfully and used the technology in new ways.
The ACOT program is designed as a school-within-a-school. Students rotate among four ACOT classrooms, each with 36 networked computers. The nine ACOT teachers use an interdisciplinary team teaching approach, incorporating the use of technology as a natural part of teaching and learning. Their major contribution has been demonstration of the instructional value of using general computer applications to support student work. With this approach, the teacher does much more coaching of individuals and small groups rather than lecturing (i.e., shifting from "sage on the stage" to "guide by the side").
Collaborative planning is a key part of the program. ACOT teachers are given every afternoon for common planning and are excused from non-instructional duties. In partnership with Apple, the school has recently implemented a Teacher Development Center (TDC) to allow teachers and administrators from other schools to observe the program for a full week and receive hands-on training in instructional uses of technology and in collaborative, interdisciplinary, constructivist teaching approaches.
An impressive array of technology supports the ACOT program. For student use at home and at school, there are 160 Mac Plus computers. Each ACOT classroom contains 36 computers, including 8 networked Macintosh IIs, as well as numerous multimedia peripherals and software available through local and wide area networks. Most of the software available is used by students and teachers as a tool for accomplishing tasks.
For example, a social studies and English teacher designed a unit on China. The students visited an exhibit at a local museum, accessed a videodisk of the artifacts in the exhibit, a database about the artifacts along with the curator's notes, and dozens of informational books on Imperial China. Students worked in groups of three to explore the videodisk and databse to come up with possible topics for an in-depth exploration, culminating with a Chinese New Year celebration. Groups were also allowed to decide how to present their material using videodiscs, scanners, MacRecorders, computers and cartridge drives. Students have also authored and pressed two of their own videodiscs, one describing their city and one presenting an in-depth study of eight French and Spanish artists and their work. Other examples of technology as a tool included students' resumes, newspapers, multimedia art projects, and video portfolios for prospective employers and college admissions personnel.
The principal way that the ACOT teachers have dealt with barriers is through collaborative problem solving, bolstered by generous amounts of training and release time. Apple has provided on-going technical assistance and advice on an as-needed basis. Faculty from the state university have also supported the program. Initially the ACOT coordinator had difficulty in maintaining the hardware, but eventually he became a certified Apple technician. More importantly, the district recognized the burden and arranged for on-site maintenance.
Teachers reported improved student communication, reasoning, information retention, collaborative skills, and self concept. None of the ACOT teachers mentioned test scores as appropriate measures of ACOT outcomes. All of the ACOT teachers talked about dramatic changes in their teaching philosophy (changing expectations for students, relinquishing the need to be the "expert," comfort with not "covering" all the material), methods (interdisciplinary, team teaching, constructivist approaches, cooperative learning) and dispositions (flexibility, increased willingness to "Play" and "experiment"). An independent evaluation of all of the ACOT sites (Baker, Gearhart & Herman, 1994) found that students did as well as comparison groups on measures of basic skills while also acquiring new skills. In addition, there was some evidence of positive effects on composition skills, particularly for the WHS ACOT.
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