When Cameron McCune was a child, it was science class that made his school day fly. Ever curious about nature, animals, and how things work, he became a teacher who hoped to incite the same excitement for science in his own students. From co-sponsoring science clubs at previous posts to taking his 1978 team from Roosevelt Jr. High School to California's Science Olympiad, realizing his inner Mr. Wizard made him happy.
Fortunately McCune's move to administration didn't squelch his science bug. As superintendent of Fullerton School District in California, McCune has catapulted using math and science as ways to "engage students in learning via the vehicle they know best: digital media."
But with 46 percent of its students Hispanic, 28 percent white, 20 percent Asian and 2 percent African-American, many are first-generation Americans who have struggled to reach grade level. But that was before McCune tapped into his students' techie DNA and implemented programs to help teach them everything from how to read to how to think.
Digital nation: "I have a 12-year-old and I watch what she's doing. The world of technology is the world she's grown up in," says McCune. "It's almost trite at this point but this is a digital nation, and we need to provide the same type of technology for our children we provide to adults in the workforce."
Top 100: Today most Fullerton students have 24-hour access to their own laptops, and McCune's commitment to science has implemented a handful of other progressive district-wide programs, leading to two Fullerton schools being listed among Newsweek's "Top 100," and some 50 percent of the district's schools scoring at or above 800 on the Academic Performance Index. The laptops alone helped invigorate kids' learning so much that school attendance rates were up as high as their renewed interest in their education.
Hardware homerun: "A parent told me that by starting the laptop program, her child?-who was in special ed-for the first time his experience in going to school was exciting because he was able to compete with other kids," says McCune. "She was very pleased we had the vision to make the offering here."
Why 1-1?: Six years ago, technology in Fullerton's classrooms was below average. "It became pretty evident that when all you had in a room was one teacher and a computer that students were not getting a lot of benefit," says McCune. "[But] you put four computers in a classroom, and then the teacher becomes more interested in individualizing instruction. It becomes more do-able."
Science smash-hits: From Adventures in Science, which partners students with local scientists and optometrists for real-world internships, to the Beckman@Science initiative that teaches science to kids firsthand through an inquiry-centered science curriculum, Fullerton students have a lot of choice.
Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing editor.