By Will Ahern, Staff Writer
Students celebrated their good fortune-magic had arrived! The panacea to educational excellence was now within the reach of all ninth graders at Minnetonka High School (MHS). Apple iPads were being distributed to the students for use in all their classes.
Minnetonka, a school district of academic excellence in the western suburbs of the Twin Cities of Minnesota, was indeed distributing iPads to all ninth graders for use in all their classes, including Chinese. This was not a capricious or trendy solution, but a school district at the right place and at the right time able to leverage technology to accelerate and extend learning for its students—a long-established technology initiative supported by a communitywide referendum that worked in their favor. A 22-year Chinese program brought tremendous teaching experience to bear.
The technology initiative started in 2002 with the passing of a technology referendum. The vision of Superintendent Dr. Dennis Peterson and the school board had steered the school district to a point today where technology is an essential part of teaching and preparing its students for the 21st century. All Minnetonka classrooms have SMART boards, interactive whiteboards, allowing students to interact and participate like never before, and sound field solutions, enabling all students to hear the teacher's voice anywhere in the room during a lesson. Handheld student response systems are used in classrooms K-12. The use of technology in the classroom benefits all students. Minnetonka has become a national leader in using educational technology as an accelerator of learning.
In the 2011-2012 school year, a pilot of iPads was conducted in the ninth grade to test digital curriculum materials, student collaboration tools, and individualized instruction with goals to:
* Enhance and accelerate learning
* Leverage technology for individualizing instruction
* Promote collaboration, increasing student engagement
* Strengthen the 21st century skills necessary for future student success.
Half of the ninth graders received iPads and half were the control group. Midway through the year the evidence of benefits was so compelling the school board agreed to outfit the balance of the students with iPads immediately. This year, 1,600 ninth- and tenth-grade students are outfitted with iPads as well as hundreds more throughout grades 11 and 12.
The success of the iPad is made possible by a significant commitment to teacher engagement and training, a centralized learning hub, Google Docs, a robust wireless infrastructure and many other features.
In the fall of 1989, Minnetonka School Districts became one of the first districts in Minnesota to start teaching Chinese. Dr. Dale Rusch, then director of curriculum and instruction, proposed the addition of the Chinese language to the world language curriculum at Minnetonka High School. Then Minnetonka Superintendent Donald Draayer advocated to the school board to add Chinese, "My rationale to the school board was that the absence of a world language from Asia was like playing baseball without third base,” wrote Draayer. The board voted 4-3 in favor and 28 students enrolled in Minnetonka’s first Chinese class. During the summer of 1989, the Tiananmen Square protest happened and was forcibly put down by the Chinese government. More than half of those enrolled in Chinese, withdrew. By 2005, MHS enrolled more than 200 students and in 2007, the district started its Chinese immersion program. It has grown into one of the largest, most comprehensive K-12 Chinese programs in Minnesota.
The Minnetonka School District has 20-plus full-time Chinese teachers as well as an exchange teacher relationship with the Hangzhou Foreign Language School (HFLS). Since 1989, the Minnetonka School District has hosted Chinese teachers every year (except 1999-2000 when there were visa problems). Chinese teachers who come to Minnesota under this program are teachers of English at the HFLS, a prestigious high school in the city of Hangzhou, just west
of Shanghai in Zhejiang Province, PRC. The HFLS, a boarding school whose students are top students from the province, offers intensive English language instruction in grades 7-12. At Minnetonka, the Chinese teacher assists school staff in teaching Mandarin Chinese and is encouraged to attend/participate in a variety of school and community activities.
The two Chinese immersion schools embedded in elementary schools have now evolved to include the sixth grade, and are part of the middle schools as well. The plan is to continue the immersion through the eighth grade.
Part two of this article will discuss the specifics of a technology solution, including iPads and all the technologies in service at Minnetonka that go into a second-year Chinese language classroom. How the magic is made will be revealed.