Mobile Computing

7 Lessons Learned From a Successful 1-to-1 Laptop Program

Laptops Teaser

Last year, Savannah-Chatham County Schools (GA) launched a 1-to-1 laptop learning program that has spurred higher test scores among participating students. Along the path to this positive outcome, we learned many valuable lessons about what is critical to the success of such an initiative.

The Laptops for Learning Program (L4LP) was piloted at two high schools and one middle school. Each school had 30 participants who took their core classes (English/Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Math) together, taught by four teachers trained in interactive teaching.

While some teachers wanted to purchase online versions of textbooks, administrators wanted to explore other options. Ultimately, price and quality tipped the scale. We researched e-textbooks, but most turned out to be basically a PDF version of a textbook — and not at all interactive. Also, while money for the laptops was provided through a local special-option sales tax, funding was not provided to purchase any online resources.

The district selected SAS Curriculum Pathways as the basis of our digital resources. Available to educators at no cost, this product provided interactive, standards-based content in all the core disciplines for grades 6 -12 students. Plus, the materials were linked to state and Common Core standards.

Districts who are considering launching or who are currently involved in a 1-to-1 program will find great value in this free, high-quality content. One of the L4LP’s high school English teachers found the Writing Navigator suite within SAS Curriculum Pathways to be especially beneficial for his students. He saw improved planning, drafting, writing and revising skills spill over into other disciplines, helping students communicate more effectively.

Because this was a new program that explored a new way of teaching, program administrators had no way to predict what the results would be when the students completed their end-of-grade testing. Without textbooks, the program set out to implement a completely new method of learning.

But the results were solid. 93 percent of L4LP students passed their ninth-grade composition and literature test. Among the traditionally taught students, the pass rate was 80 percent. In coordinate algebra, the L4LP pass rate was five percent higher than that of students in conventional classes. The L4LP students also had higher average grades and passing rates than students in traditional classes.

Based on our experiences in Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, here are some tips for effectively implementing a 1-to-1 laptop program.

1) Understand the tech-support needs of 1-to-1. A single instructional technology coach assigned to seven schools also provided support for the 1-to-1 initiative. It was quickly determined that this was not sufficient to meet the daily onsite support needs of implementing a new program of this magnitude. Other issues included making sure the Internet filter extended beyond the campus when students took their laptops home, arranging repairs, teaching students how to maintain a laptop or connect to Wi-Fi hotspots and answering questions from parents who may never have had a computer in their homes previously.

2) Consider teacher recommendations when selecting students.  Teachers have invaluable insight into which students have the greatest potential to be successful in this type of a program, where it’s important to be able to work independently, be responsible for equipment, complete work on time and stay focused on the learning.

3) Engage parents on their schedules. It is critical to have parental support when launching a new style of teaching and learning. Knowing that the new level of study is different from what parents are familiar with, schools must engage them in a way that clearly explains the teaching methods, expectations and results. The program implementers took this into consideration and set up four events during the year where parents were invited to school to see what their children had accomplished. Parents at the high school level responded well and there was a good turnout; however, the response was not as strong at the middle grades. This may be attributable to the timing of the engagement events at the middle school location, which were just after school dismissal.

4) Make sure Internet access is readily available outside of school. It’s important to have reasonably-priced home Internet plans available. Working in collaboration with Comcast, we were able to offer their Internet Essentials program to all eligible families, which provides internet service for only $9.95 per month. Prior to being accepted into the L4LP, parents had to agree to provide Internet access at home. One of the challenges was making sure that parents maintained the access throughout the duration of the entire program.

5) Address ongoing training needs. Most teachers have one planning period during the school day. For our 1-to-1 teachers, the goal was to schedule them all to have the same planning period. This way, they could participate in training with the other 1-to-1 teachers during that time. Not all the schools were able to accommodate that request. However, the trade-off in the schools that did was that those teachers then missed the opportunity to plan with their fellow core-content teachers. Since time is such a huge factor in planning and training, the move now is towards offering 24/7 online access to training.

6) Reach out to local universities that prepare teachers.  Education majors need to learn how to integrate technology into the classroom while they’re still in college. To help them gain this experience, pre-service teacher candidates can become valuable resources to support programs of this nature if assigned to pilot classrooms during their field placements. Veteran teachers can also benefit by having an additional support person available during the implementation phase of the program.

7) Take advantage of high-quality, free online programs. In addition to relying heavily on SAS Curriculum Pathways, teachers also used Google Apps for collaboration and for sharing documents with students. 

Creating a 1-to-1 program can be challenging, but by launching it in a manageable and deliberate fashion, schools can experience the student achievement gains that will surely lead to a broad expansion of their program.

About the Author

Wendy Marshall is manager of instructional technology/media for the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (GA).