Smart Classroom | Feature

Making the Most of a 1:1 Laptop Initiative

Grand Prairie Independent School District in Texas is using a digital learning platform and integrating professional development to get the most out of its 1:1 laptop investment.

Grand Prairie Independent School District wasn't taking any chances with its 1:1 laptop initiative. Having read the statistics and heard the feedback from districts whose own 1:1 investments had yet to live up to expectations, this Grand Prairie, TX-based district incorporated an additional element into its project by also implementing a digital learning platform designed to help teachers maximize laptop use in the classroom.

"We decided to do it all at once," said Alisha Crumley, principal at Whitt Elementary School, one of the district's first institutions to implement 1:1. She said the initiative came after the school realized that to best engage students would require a high-tech approach facilitated by individual laptops for every child. "Our students spend a lot of their days using computers, iPods, and other devices," said Crumley. "They are the digital generation."

Making the 1:1 decisions for the Grand Prairie ISD were its superintendent, curriculum professionals, IT department, and two elementary principals. "Everyone at the district level that is involved in curriculum, instruction, or technology had a pulse on what was happening," said Crumley. Funded from the district's budget, the initiative started with a year of "planning, training, talking and gathering materials," said Crumley. "It took about 12 months to get our 1:1 project off the ground."

Crumley said other preparatory steps included mock training with teachers and students, both of which populated sample classrooms to test out the "one laptop per child" education model. "That allowed us to work out a lot of technological and instructional kinks before the initiative was rolled out in the classroom," said Crumley. "We also did a lot of staff development and worked to align our scope and sequence with the digital learning platform that we were implementing with our 1:1 initiative."

In fall 2009, Whitt Elementary and another school, Austin Elementary, became the first in Grand Prairie ISD to launch a 1:1 computing initiative. Crumley credited the district's pre-launch efforts with helping it beat the odds that so many other American schools have faced when rolling out similar classroom models.

Inadequate professional development is one reason some 1:1 initiatives have, over time, failed to live up to high expectations. A 2007 International Society for Technology in Education study, for example, found that teachers face significant challenges as they prepare for teaching in 1:1 classrooms. According to the study, teachers' concerns fell into two categories:

  1. How the introduction of laptop computers would impact them personally; and
  2. How they could best use the laptops to meet the needs of students.

Crumley and the rest of Grand Prairie ISD's 1:1 development team didn't want to leave that to chance, Crumley said. The district became the first in the nation to use the interactive curriculum and digital teaching platform, called Time To Know, developed specifically to help schools maximize their 1:1 investments.

The Grand Prairie ISD's 1:1 laptop implementation was "pretty seamless, and without challenges," according to Crumley, who said teachers, students, and parents all received adequate training and/or information on what to expect and how to handle the transition. "We ran into the occasional glitch, but no major challenges," said Crumley.

Results have been positive, with teachers using the combination of laptops-plus-professional development to streamline classroom management and create a smooth flow between group and individual instruction. "Teachers love the management tools and being able to get every child's attention, in a moment, using the computer screen," said Crumley about the digital learning platform. "It's effective for moving back and forth from classroom conversations to independent work on the computer."

The 1:1 computing initiative has also yielded positive results for the Grand Prairie ISD, according to Crumley. "There are some obvious attributes of 1:1 that motivates students and engages them in a high-tech, digital way," she explained. "For starters, they are more excited about learning, and they tend to pay attention for longer periods."

Crumley said the individual laptops also motivate students to tackle content that previously may have presented challenges for them. "Some of our students who struggled the most have been able to pursue more difficult tasks, thanks to the added element of technology," said Crumley. "In the long run, we see students more committed to their work, and much more engaged. When that happens, children just perform better overall."

Take the student who was reticent to read challenging books in paper format but who is eager to take part in computer-based reading lessons that incorporate text, pictures, videos and the Internet. Add in the fact that this student can access the lessons and work on them on his or her own--without having to share a classroom desktop with a dozen other children--and the learning environment becomes even more enhanced and efficient.

"In the past, it was difficult for teachers to juggle a classroom where some kids over-performed and others regularly experienced difficulties," said Crumley. "With this technology implementation and the professional development tools we've integrated, students of all levels can work effectively and get the support they need to succeed in school."

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