Timberlane Middle School 8th graders have been participating in a pilot personal laptop program, as of last October, using 320 Chromebooks distributed by Hopewell Valley Regional School District.
The pilot laptop program has been so successful that 8th grade students will return the laptops over the summer but then get them back when they start high school in September. They will use them until they graduate in 2019, at which point they will return them to the district. And, next fall, the new class of 8th graders will get Chromebooks, to keep every school year until they graduate.
The laptops utilize Google Chrome operating system and Google Apps for Education, as well as other education programs, allowing each student to have immediate access to technology in any class where teachers seek to use it.
One laptop for each child is known as a 1:1 learning environment designed to foster 21st century learning skills and support inquiry-based learning through finding solutions in research and innovative thinking.
Before undertaking the pilot programs, Hopewell administrators and staff visited several schools with 1:1 learning environments, including nearby Hillsborough, and Upper Township in Cape May County. They also collaborated with Pascack Valley School District in Bergen County, which has had a 1:1 learning environment since 2004. That district attracted national attention a few years ago when it was able to conduct an entire virtual school day with teachers and students at home when schools were closed for snow.
“Our students are what we call ‘digital natives,” said Anthony Suozzo, the district’s Director of Human Resources and Special Projects and former principal of Timberlane, who oversaw the earlier pilots. “The students have never lived in a world without digital devices. All students using the same laptops in a meaningful way in class enhances their learning of the curriculum, providing them the 21th century skills they will need for their futures.”
In 2013, the district first started a “Bring Your Own Device” program in which students in middle and high school were allowed to bring personal cell phones and laptops to class to do online research and technology based exercises. However, teachers found it difficult to coordinate lessons on different devices with different hardware and software packages. In spring of 2014, the middle school piloted two different types of laptops, the current Chromebooks, and another Dell computer using other software. The students and teachers preferred the Chromebooks.
The program also eliminates the need for teachers to reserve and bring students to computer labs or to reserve batches of laptops to bring into their classrooms.
“I don’t have to plan weeks in advance to reserve computers,” said Jamie Adler, Honors Language Arts teacher. “And the kids appreciate having research tools at their fingertips.”
In Ms. Adler’s Honors Language Arts class, students recently used their Chromebooks to write persuasive essays on topics they had chosen from a New York Times educational blog. As they wrote, Ms. Adler was able to monitor, on her own computer, what each child was doing on his or hers. She also used a program to review the students’ work as they wrote and was able to make suggestions while running a virtual, real-time workshop.
Ms. Adler noted the students use their Chromebooks several times a week, but not every day. “And if a student prefers to handwrite an essay, he or she can.”
According to Timberlane principal Dr. Rosetta Treece, Timberlane students have made a seamless transition incorporating the personal laptops.
“The transition has gone very well,” said Dr. Treece. “The kids have really surpassed our expectations.”
The students are required to have the laptops every day and to charge them overnight. There are extra laptops and charging stations in classrooms throughout the school. The laptops do not enter the lunchroom or gym. Dr. Treece said so far there have been no discipline problems involving the laptops, and the monitoring systems that teachers have allows them to make sure students stay on task.