Principal Brian Knuchel said the results from last year’s introduction of laptops were surprising and encouraging.
“We saw such a distinct difference in student engagement. We had 40 percent less discipline referrals than the previous year. When kids are engaged and busy, not as many problems arise. Also, because we do not have textbooks, we didn’t need to install lockers in the new school. Many of the discipline problems occurred during times students were at their lockers.”
The other measure where AMS saw gains was in social studies. Knuchel attributes this to the endless options available on the Internet to study the subject.
Breanna Lee, the media specialist who organized the smoothly executed distribution of 680 laptops, said the students exhibited responsibility and care when using the technology.
“Sometimes there are parents who are hesitant about their kids using laptops because they are afraid they will damage them,” Lee said. “However, as far as the amount of students we have compared to the percentage of computers that were actually damaged last year, it was very low. That is the main thing, some parents don’t think their kids will be responsible with them, but the kids are so engaged with them and they don’t want to be the one kid in class who doesn’t have a laptop.”
Only 5 percent of the 719 computers given to AMS students last year were damaged. To take the MacBook home, a student must pay a $50 usage fee. If a computer is damaged, the student will not have access to a laptop until the $100 insurance deductible is paid. If the $50 usage fee was already paid, then it is an additional $50.
Across Bartow County, approximately 7,000 MacBooks are in use with an order for 2,000 more. When the most recent order is processed and delivered to county schools, all students in fourth through seventh grade, as well as some eighth-graders and all ninth- and 10th-graders, will have access to a laptop. The goal is to have MacBooks for all fourth- through 12th-graders next year.
Mark Bagnell, director of technology for Bartow County Schools, said one lesser-known benefit to students and their families comes with the school system’s agreement with Microsoft. The contract enables access to cloud storage via OneDrive and the Microsoft Office suite. Students will have access to one terabyte of personal storage via OneDrive. OneDrive is accessible from anywhere for each user. Office Online allows users to create and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote files via a Web browser. Mobile application access to Word, Excel and PowerPoint will be allowed for each user. A subscription to desktop versions of Office is available for up to five PCs/Windows tablets/Macs per user. This is the full version of the software. One license will be used for those students with a district-issued laptop and the remaining four licenses can be used on other devices they may have for personal use. These licenses will be good for their time as a Bartow County employee or student.
Lee said the school had seen minimal problems with students visiting inappropriate websites during the school day due to the Internet filters in place on campus. However, once students leave campus the filters are no longer in effect. Parents can ensure the laptop is being used appropriately by setting up internet filters at home.
JoAnna Bartlett, gifted math teacher for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, said the students are not the only ones learning from this new experience. In some cases, the students have even become the teachers.
She said, “They were definitely more savvy on the laptops than most of us [teachers] were. One of the most vivid experiences I had last year was a student came in to ask me a question about the laptop and I had a group of sixth-graders in my class at the time. I didn’t know how to fix it, but one of them overheard what the student was asking and said, ‘Hit control F5.’ I did and that fixed it.
“They have taken it upon themselves to really learn these tools. We are not really scared to ask them how to do something.”
Knuchel encouraged AMS teachers to be bold with the new technology.
“Our faculty is very excited about the possibilities and how much we can accomplish this year. Each time a teacher learns something new and shares it with the rest of the staff, they all grow. Last year we had to convince some of the teachers that this was possible, but this year the doubt is diminished. Now we are encouraging them to continue taking chances and risks. I am never going to be upset with a teacher who takes risks and fails. I would rather them take the risk, even if it fails, because they will learn something in the process. That is better than being stagnant as a teacher and not growing.”
The teachers prepared for the new online curriculum last year but the logistical problems were solved by trial and error.
“One thing that our teachers have done a really good job of is creating a plan of where the laptops can and cannot go so they don’t get lost, stolen or damaged. Logistically that was the biggest challenge last year, making sure everyone could get online and everything worked.
“This year we can really concentrate on the curriculum and not so much on the logistics. We can concentrate on student achievement and we really think we are in a great place right now. Speaking in terms of achievement, we believe this could be one of our best years ever.
“The problem is with the new test coming out, we won’t be able to compare ourselves to anything. Last year’s CRCT won’t be comparable to the Georgia Milestones Test. However, we are still looking forward to this year and believe it could be one of the best years ever.”