California magnet school boosts achievement and enrollment through innovative program

Acer helps power project-based and collaborative-learning environments and makerspaces with its laptops and desktops
By: | October 13, 2017 | Case Study

De Anza Academy of Technology and the Arts is a high-achieving magnet school with project-based and collaborative-learning environments and makerspaces. A few years ago, however, De Anza, part of Ventura USD in California, was a low-achieving middle school with declining enrollment and at risk of closure.

De Anza decided to become a 1-to-1 technology school to engineer a turnaround, which intrigued Alex Wulff, who is a STEM instructor at De Anza, but it also left him with a question.

“If we give everyone a laptop, then what are students going to do with them?” Wulff recalls saying.

His question was addressed with the help of Acer, which provided laptop and desktop computers for the students.

“I feel Acer cares a lot about helping students succeed” Wulff says. “They care a lot about education.”

Fostering collaboration

Wulff says Acer laptops and desktops offer more to students than a tablet, which is more of a “consumption device” that can be loaded with content but doesn’t necessarily foster collaboration and creation.

“Without a keyboard, it’s difficult to collaborate on blogs and design things in CAD” Wulff says. “Coupled with the fact that some tablets cost two and three times as much as an Acer laptop, it was a pretty clear choice for us.”

Instructing students and teachers

Wulff’s position evolved in a way that he spends half his time teaching and the other half helping other teachers with project-based curriculum and integration of technology in their classrooms.

“I feel those two components go hand in hand” Wulff says. “If you’re going to innovate, you pretty much need to have technology because there isn’t a textbook for integrating an aquaponics project with next-generation science and math standards.”

Wulff says he is also able to interactively evaluate his students in real time. He delivers “measures” to his students through their Acer laptops via an internal school website. Wulff can create questions to see, based on their answers, what students know or where they may need improvement. If 90 percent of the students answer the questions correctly, Wulff can move to the next lesson. If 40 percent of the students answer something correctly, he adjusts his lesson for additional learning. Wulff broadcasts collective class “measures” which allows the students to analyze the data as well.

“It’s a really powerful thing for students to be able to analyze their own data” Wulff says.

Continued learning

Students can also leave with their laptops after eighth grade after paying a nominal $1 purchase price.

“If you consider that more than 70 percent of our student population is on free-and-reduced lunch, then this makes a huge impact” Wulff says.

Wulff often wonders where his students will be five years after they leave De Anza, though he has a pretty good idea based on the results so far.

“If they’re given this opportunity to continue down this pathway, these students are going to be in college and already are going to have an incredible range of skills” Wulff says.

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