1. Treat Technology as a Tool, Not a Curriculum Area
Bette Manchester, who directed the program for its first seven years, organized many training sessions for teachers, but none of them focused on how to use software.
"You would say, 'What are the objectives we’re trying to teach in mathematics?' And then you would work backwards and say, 'OK, what kind of software or what kind of resources would help the students in middle school learn algebra,' for instance," she says. "So you would be selecting your resources based on what you decided you were teaching the students and work backwards, instead of buying a bunch of math software and having no clue what you are going to do with it."
2. Think Differently About Teaching
"I think there’s still a lot of assumption that a school is doing a good job if kids are sitting in rows and being quiet and the teacher is at the front of the room directing the activities," Muir says. "And the new paradigm that took a while for people to get used to is kids working on projects, kids looking up the same information not necessarily all from the same place and sharing what they’re learning about a topic — a lot of small group work and kind of a productive hubbub in the room."
When the laptops were first introduced, there were some teachers who merely substituted a computer projector for a traditional one or used the computers only to assign homework. This kind of technology use obviously wasn't going to make a change worth the investment of the laptops.
Research suggests that classroom technology initiatives are only as effective as their teachers. It's only when teachers in Maine used the laptops to connect students to resources, interact with students in other parts of the world, extend discussions, create multimedia and work on collaborative projects that students started becoming more engaged. The new tools had the capability to diversify teaching methods, but only if teachers were willing to explore them.
3. Support Teachers as Much as Possible
"There was resistance, and it came from fear," Manchester says. "I can’t say that people weren’t very worried about how it was going to go and very fearful, because you can imagine as a teacher ... in a middle school you see 100 students over the course of a day, and all of those students are on the Internet at the same time and may be much more adept at using technology than you are. That's a pretty scary situation for a teacher."
One thing that Maine did right was not abandoning teachers with a class full of laptops and no direction on how to use them. The state paid for substitute teachers while full-time teachers attended training sessions and held workshops where school leaders could exchange ideas. Every principal was provided with a stipend to appoint a teacher as a tech leader. Maine continues to maintain a resource website as well as provide training sessions, web seminars and even instructional podcasts (iTunes link).