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Mini Laptops introduced into the classroom

What value can a laptop bring to a students learning?  Can a laptop for every student improve student achievement?  The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board intends to find the answer to these questions.

Recently, KPDSB, with the leadership of Scott Urquhart, Student Success Leader, has implemented a pilot project in three of their division’s schools.  Included are New Prospect School in Dryden, Golden Learning Centre in Balmertown and Keewatin School in Kenora.  The grade 7/8 classes were the lucky recipients of new Dell Laptop Minis.

“The teacher no longer can be, or has to be, the single source of knowledge for the students”, says Del Schmucker, Information Systems Manager of Keewatin-Patricia District School Board.

All students in each of the three classes were issued a “mini”, and given the responsibility of its care.  The students are to think of the mini as their own, in an attempt to increase their sense of ownership and responsibility.  The students are not permitted to take the minis home at this time, but there is talk of it in the future.

The primary program used in the minis is Google Apps.  This program offers a free capability to create, edit, share and save Microsoft Office type documents, without having to purchase licenses for each computer.  They are all linked to the schools wireless internet, and give the students the freedom to explore for information.  With Google Apps, the students can create a project, save it, and can share it electronically with other students in the class, or around the world.  Several students can work on one project together, each able to make changes on a document.

Another piece of software the students can access is ReadPlease, which is a text-to-speech software. This allows the students to create a document, and have the computer read it back to them.  The student can then learn to listen for mistakes, and edit their own documents before handing them in to the teacher.

The students are able to access other sites as well, including Facebook, MSN Messenger, and email sites.  There was some concern from parents who attended a meeting at New Prospect School on April 8 regarding the social use of the minis.  Mary Trist, the Grade 7/8 teacher explained that the social aspect of the internet is a big part of life with this generation, and with proper instruction, can be a useful tool.

“If we give the students a laptop, and a complete ban on sites like Facebook and Messenger, they are going to spend half their day trying to access these sites secretly and not paying attention to what is being taught”, says Trist.

Students are permitted to access these types of sites during breaks and lunch, but not during instruction time.  Trist explained it as being similar to talking to another student in class about what they did on the weekend.

“There are certain times throughout the day that this would be acceptable, and times when it’s not.  The social sites on the internet are to be treated the same.”

The minis have proven to be useful already in life lessons.  The students are being taught about identity theft, leaving yourself logged in and others having access to your chatting sites, as well as the legalities of sites like Limewire and file sharing.  Safety measures are being taught to the students, such as password protection and not using auto sign-ins.

As the future is to see the children bringing the minis home, and accessing their homework online, this posed another concern with the parents.  Not all families live in an area where wireless internet is available, and not all families can afford wireless.  What will those children do?  One attendee suggested the use of wireless hot-spots around the community.

“We want to treat everyone fairly, and do our best to accommodate those children who do not have wireless access.  We will cross that bridge when we come to it”, said Schmucker.

The technology and idea of the pilot can be very beneficial to all the students.  All work saved within the Google Apps software is saved on a “skydrive” and can be accessed from any computer, anywhere by the student.  Another benefit is that if a child is home sick, away for a hockey tournament, or on vacation, they can still log in to their school and do their work online.  The agendas are now online, and the teacher’s lesson plans are online.  Parents can access the student’s work list from home, and can see what their child should be bringing home for homework.

The grade 7/8 class in New Prospect does a Reading Buddies program with the grade 3 class.  With the minis in the classroom, the students were able to choose their book online, and have a different look at reading.

“The grade 3 class was riveted!” says Trist.  “I have never seen the younger kids so still and attentive.”

“The future plan is to have wireless internet in every school across the board.” says Schmucker. This will give the students the opportunity to bring their own laptops from home, or other wireless devices, and have the same advantages.

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