Stories From Main Street: Montvale School Ditches Books, Chalkboards For Laptops

MONTVALE, NJ (WCBS 880) – Times are changing. Technology is everywhere at the Pascack Valley Regional High School District in northern New Jersey. Forget about the chalk and blackboard.

WCBS 880’s Sean Adams in North Jersey

In this district, teachers don’t say “Open your textbook.” They say, “Open your laptop.”

“Basically, in every class, we’re using laptops to take notes on Microsoft Word. It’s more organized,” says Andrea, a sophomore.

Seven years ago, while Andrea was still in elementary school, Pascack Valley became the first high school district in New Jersey to give every student a laptop.

“Before, without the computers, I’d have to carry around a lot more textbooks and stuff. My backpack weighed 50 pounds. Now, it’s like five pounds of notebooks and stuff,” says Andrea.

Stories from Main Street - Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

Stories from Main Street - Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

RELATED: More Stories from Main Street

“I’d say the vast majority of our subject areas have broken away from textbooks,” says Erik Gunderson, director of curriculum. “We have our teachers collaborating with one another in the various school buildings that we have. And so they’ll either Skype or video conference.”

The students, too, are making internet connections with their laptops.

“Students in a molecular genetics course, they’re conducting authentic research in the classroom and they’re communicating their findings with graduate assistants and professors at the Rutgers Waksman Institute [of Microbiology],” says Gunderson.

Another sophomore, Annie, says, “In math, currently, we’re working on sketch pad, which is … a program where you can design different shapes and things like that and learn about medians and centroids.”

“If you were to walk around our classes, you’d see students using Google Docs to share documents, to peer edit their papers. You’d walk into a science classroom and they may be using a Wiki space so that they can their data that they’re getting from an experiment,” says Gunderson.

Do you think all schools should take up the same practice? Sound off below

Laptops link to sensors and collect data in science experiments.

He adds that students also videoconference with others around the world.

“Now we’ve had students that have been collaborating on projects with students in Taiwan, China, and we have an Italian class that holds class very early in the morning every Friday morning with a school in Italy,” says Gunderson

Matthew Kutolowski teaches Chinese. In his class, the flash cards are digital.

“They never lose the cards. They never get beat up. The dog never chews them. They don’t forget to brind them to class. They always have them,” says Kutolowski. “And these are talking flash cards.”

Students also learn digital photography, video editing, and web design.

“We’re using our laptops to film workout videos of us using the machines and we’re importing them into iMovie and editing them to show our class,” says Andrea.

Recently, the National School Boards Association even visited for a tech tutorial.

The Pascack Valley Regional High School District operates both Pascack Hills High School in Montvale and Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale.

More from Sean Adams
  • Gold Bug Chuck

    While we blog or comment and search the web, our dollars are becoming worth less and less. Last I checked, gold futures trading have been trading at $1903 a oz! Thus no matter what advice we exchange here, we must do something to guard the pennies all of us keep after expenses. So I wondered if anybody has experience acquiring Gold IRAs? Does it actually exist? How would you keep from getting conned?

  • WekFumesuetle

    So, I like to o play games about animals and taking care of them. I found a website called foo-pets. but its confusing
    What are some other websites you can adopt and take care of a virtual pet?

  • pvparent

    Many of the comments represent ignorance and backward thinking. It’s interesting how you can surmise the generation — and perhaps the environment — of each commenter.

    Re: power outages – first, laptops have 10-12 hours of battery life and second, we’re rarely without power – twice in 20 years due to storms. We have good schools AND utility companies!

    Re: cost – the naysayers should do their homework: Contract rates for these computers run about $700/computer which lasts approximately 4 years. That’s about $175/year, per student. Textbooks are about $50 each, five subjects per year (or more for semester courses) and also have to be replaced every 3-4 years. You can do the math.

    There are more than cost benefits with the laptops: better communications; better learning opportunities; WAY less paper use; and tech-savvy students to face the world.

    Re: the motor skill of writing – I agree it’s becoming a lost art. (So are a lot of tactile things!) But writing is most importantly about collecting, organizing and communicating ideas effectively. It doesn’t matter if you learn to do that well on a piece of paper, a blog, a Powerpoint, or a Google doc.

    Re: cheating – Some kids will cheat no matter what, but these laptops don’t make it easier. Students have to run their writing assignments through a filter on their computers which checks for plagiarism and grammar before submitting. If it fails it’s rejected and marked late. Teachers can easily scramble test questions, administer real-time online tests and lab tasks, and manage collaborations. Moreover, students routinely turn in their computers for maintenance checks (they are given loaners) and if they are found to have games, or other unauthorized software or files, they lose their laptop privileges.

    Re safety, damage, internet use – There is a back up system, of course. All internet use (even from home) can be monitored by the school through firewalls and built-in security. Parents pay insurance for damaged machines. There is a great tech support dept. with plenty of loaners, as needed. Students are working on Macs now so not many tech problems.

    Re: taxes – NJ taxes are high. But it’s nothing to do with the laptops. We pay less in taxes in our community than many of the neighboring towns that don’t have our technology, and significantly less than towns in Rockland and Westchester counties. Look it up.

    Re: learning. NJ schools are routinely ranked highest in the country, and our district was recently ranked in top 5% of the state. We have dozens of AP courses, 99% graduation rate, 98% attend college, and PV schools win state, regional and national Robotics competitions — using their laptops.

    Hoping that someday, these kids will make all our lives better because of HOW they learned at our school.

  • Duke001

    Schools are failing because educators are always grasping for new and supposedly innovative ways of increasing a students ability to learn instead of teaching. They need to stop with the latest and greatest trend and just teach the kids to read, write and have a at least a 10th grade understanding of basic math. As a manager, I am tired of having to correct grammar and punctuation in the workplace. Also, give me somebody who can add, subtract, multiply and divide. Also, how can you give adolescents laptops and iPads etc., and expect that they are mature enough to use the tools correctly. I am positive that they will be texting each other during the school day instead of learning.

  • Chas

    I have read several of Liam R remarks, and must add mine. Computers of any sort are great adjuncts to learning because of the information available, however, today’s young people need to know how to write on paper. Today, they print. That is not writing. Liam R called all the midwesterners redneck stupid people. I guess he has never met an Iowa farmer driving a computer controlled $300,000 tractor pulling a 40 foot planter planting a crop that will be harvested with a $500,000 combine so that Liam can go to the grocery store for food. Is not ignorance is bliss.

    • Trish

      I applaud their innovative and creative way of reaching out to the youth who will soon lead. The old way of teaching is just that…old. It’s antiquated, outdated and should be put to rest. It was fine at the turn of the century (19th) when we were revolutionizing the world via machines but we need tech savvy, creative thinking individuals to move us forward. It’s a whole new world and it’s about time schools caught up.

      I also applaud you! Well written :)

  • If the Truth Be Told

    I’m so tired about hearing how advanced other countries like China and Japan are in comparison to American education. Though they do surpass us at the end of high school in their knowledge, by the end of our university education, we have surpassed them by leaps. This is due to the fact that in those countries students are pushed through high school to get into a “distinguished” university in their country where education virtually ceases. I have family members who lived in Japan for many years and this is just how it is. That is why so many come here for their post-secondary education….their universities are fluff! I’m not saying we don’t need improvement, but let the comparison game quit unless a comparison at the end of college is used.

    • SirGareth

      I am familiar with the Japanese education system having lived there. You miss the larger point. Our children are incapable of competing with the children of other countries where it really matters, in mathematics, language, and science.

      Our advanced industries cannot staff their engineers and scientists except by going abroad. These young workers show capabilities that our kids do not possess. Often these people were educated in third world countries with minuscule education budgets.

      We cannot build an economy out of lawyers and social scientists working for an ever expanding government. It does not work, yet . this is what our colleges and universities are graduating in the largest numbers. If they produce scientists (I exclude climate science which is a cult faith) or engineers at all, they are for the most part foreign students.

  • Sue Davis

    Lets see now. When there’s a power failure, where will the kids go to
    find information on “How do I wipe my own but?”

    • Bob

      Shouldn’t that be “butt”? And, isn’t that what batteries are for?

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