HISD Begins Distributing Laptops as Part of PowerUp Initiative

The Houston Independent School District began distributing laptops to teachers at 11 high schools this week as part of phase one of the PowerUp initiative, and the district held a press conference to celebrate the roll-out at Austin High School on Aug. 13.

“We all know how kids learn today,” said Superintendent of Schools Terry B. Grier at the event. “Even some adults are learning differently. If we want it to work, instruction has to be rigorous, relevant, and engaging, so we have to modify how we teach and what we teach to meet their styles.”

Dr. Grier said he was “thrilled” to witness the dawn of a new day in HISD, and when he thought about how providing students with laptops would help close the digital divide, “it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.”

“The world our kids are living in is very different than the one we grew up in,” added HISD Board of Education member Juliet Stipeche, who serves District VIII, in which Austin High School is located. “It really is a different world, and access to information is key (to student success).”

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Fellow trustee Manuel Rodriguez Jr., a member of Austin High School’s Class of 1970, recalled studying computers in the military after graduation. “Transistors were considered cutting edge at that time,” he said, “but our cell phones now have ten times the computing and storage capacity of even the mainframes back then.”

“The digital world is a part of how (our students) have to live,” said Chief Technology Officer Lenny Schad. “It’s no longer a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when.’ But our initiative is not about the device. It’s about changing the way students learn. Giving students the power to do the work they want to do when they want to do it—not within the confines of a school day—that’s where the power happens. And I am proud to be in a district with a superintendent who has the vision and courage to implement this type of program, and a board that is willing to support it.”

Catherine Smith, a CTE business teacher who also works with Houston Community College on behalf of Austin High School, described the PowerUp initiative as “awesome” and said she looked forward to exploring all of the new tools she can use in her classroom.

“These strategies will push us as teachers to really stretch ourselves and make the jump to the next level of instruction,” she said. “That in turn is where the transformation takes place—with the teachers first, then with the classroom, and then with the students.”

Before the press conference even began, Austin High School art teacher Daisy Guevara was already comparing notes with colleague Francisco Rodriguez on how they could use some of the new features in their classrooms.
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Austin High School teachers share their thoughts about PowerUp

“We were just talking about Padlet and how it would be great during critiques, because a lot of times, nobody wants to speak up in class, either because they don’t know what to say, they’re feeling shy, or they don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. But the relative anonymity provided by this new feature will be very helpful. Kids like texting so much already, this will encourage more open discussion.”

Teachers at the 11 schools in the pilot program will be undergoing intensive training on how to use their laptops and incorporate it into their lesson plans through the end of the year. Students at those schools will receive their laptops when they return from the winter break in January. The district plans to expand PowerUp to all high schools starting with the 2014–2015 school year.

Teachers at the 11 schools participating in the pilot phase of the PowerUp program are receiving their laptops!