Lessons from the Trenches of a 1-to-1 Laptop Initiative

Marshall_WendyWebmain2Editor's Note: The Savannah-Chatham County (Savannah, GA) school system is in the second year of a 1-to-1 laptop initiative that has shown some terrific results . Along the way, Instructional Technology/Media Manager Wendy Marshall learned a few things that would be applicable to any school system considering this type of program.


Savannah-Chatham chose to pilot the program 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. The administration expected the courses to be truly immersive: Only one subject had access to an online textbook. Marshall shares some tips for making 1-to-1 successful.

Evaluate the schools and teachers carefully
Marshall recruited four motivated teachers at a middle school, but the program still failed to take root. A lack of tech savvy on the part of the teachers was a factor, but so were administrative hurdles. “The teachers were motivated, but I think it was just too dramatic of a shift,” says Marshall.

Understand the tech-support costs
Marshall has eight technology coaches for 53 schools. The tech coach working with the 1-to-1 initiative schools had little time to work with anyone except the teachers in the program. Other issues also took time: making sure the Internet filter extended beyond the campus as students took their laptops home; arranging repairs; explaining to students how to maintain a laptop; and answering questions from parents who might never have had a computer in their homes.

Consider teacher recommendations when selecting students
This was a key recommendation from teachers in the program. Caring for a laptop, uploading assignments, and understanding how to gain Internet access to complete homework–these all call for a level of maturity not all students possess. “We need to know if teachers think the students will be successful in this type of environment,” Marshall says.

Engage parents
The program was piloted at schools that serve predominately working-class neighborhoods. Not all the parents are tech savvy, so the schools set up four events during the year to encourage parents to come to school and see what their students were working on. This worked well at the high schools; it didn’t at the middle school. Marshall says this was because the middle school scheduled the events right after school, instead of early evening when more working parents would be available to participate. Another key factor is having a reasonably priced home Internet plan available. Marshall worked with the local cable provider to get a $9.95 a month plan.

Address ongoing training
Teachers usually have one planning period during the day. Savannah-Chatham schools traditionally group all teachers within a subject area in the same learning period to facilitate professional learning communities. Marshall had wanted the 1-to-1 teachers grouped separately to expedite ongoing training. Not all the schools could accommodate that request, and even if they could, “It does take them away from planning with teachers in their core content area.” Marshall is working to create online training programs for teachers on an as-needed basis to free them up to participate in professional learning communities and free up the technology coaches.

Reach out to the universities that educate teachers
Marshall says education majors need to learn how to integrate technology into the classroom when they’re in college. That’s what she did when she taught education majors prior to taking this job. Ideally, aspiring teachers need to take the technology class before  starting their education methods courses so they can apply what they’ve learned to creating coursework. Marshall says if they all learn how to build web pages, use interactive boards, flip the classroom, and use a document camera before they take their first job, they will be better prepared  for any interactive/computer-assisted learning environment.

Take advantage of high-quality, free programs
Marshall’s teachers relied heavily on SAS® Curriculum Pathways®. Available to educators at no cost, the product provides interactive, standards-based resources in all the core disciplines. SAS focuses on topics where doing, seeing, and listening provide information and encourage insights in ways conventional methods cannot. Content can be differentiated to meet varied student needs. The product also provides learner-centered activities with measurable outcomes and targets higher-order thinking skills. All materials are linked to state and Common Core state standards. Schools can adapt the content to match their technological capabilities. Marshall’s teachers are also starting to use Google Doctopus for sharing and grading student projects and Flubaroo for grading. Expensive online textbooks that didn’t include an interactive component were not purchased.


About Author

Ralph Moore

Ralph Moore coordinates and conducts professional development for Curriculum Pathways. He works with schools and organizations around the country and has presented at conferences for organizations such as the National Council for the Social Studies and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. A former army officer and social studies teacher, he spent 10 years on the Curriculum Pathways humanities team creating new digital curriculum products.

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