Laptops for students changing how kids learn in Plainville

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PLAINVILLE, Conn. (WTNH)– As the kids go back to school this year, a lot of them will be dealing with more technology than ever before.

As teachers in Plainville got ready for the school year late this summer, their secret weapon is in blue bins. They are basic laptop computers. In Plainville, and a number of other districts in the state, every kid starting in third grade gets his or her own computer to use and take home for the school year.

Teachers call it one to one. One device for one student. And it is changing how kids learn.

“They are pushing themselves to learn more, to do more. I have kids that come in and they’re like Ms. Coyle, I’ve just done XYZ, and it’s something that completely blows me away. They always exceed my expectations in a wonderful, wonderful way because they have access to that technology, not just here in the classroom but wherever they are,” said Kim Coyle, Technology education teacher in Plainville.

“It allows teachers to do very creative things on a smart board because kids can hook up to it. And be connected that way. Teachers can see what kids are doing on their Chromebooks through a program called Empara. So if anyone suddenly goes to a different site, we can redirect them back,” said Maureen Brummett, Supt of Schools Plainville.

Chip Dumais is the superintendent of the Amity school system and a member of the state commission for educational technology. He says there has been an evolution of how computers are used in classrooms. The idea of a computer lab, with a bunch of PCs facing a wall doesn’t really make sense anymore. And a number of schools have been having kids bring their own devices from home. But he says that doesn’t really work either.

“Fifteen of them may have a tablet, five of them may have a laptop, two may have phones, and three may have nothing. Trying to develop a lesson plan where everyone doesn’t have the same technology is very difficult,” said Dumais.

Dumais says a computer for each student lets teachers customize learning for each kid.

“Before we might have done some generalization about where kids were. What’s the class average. Now we have a class average but we also know where specific weaknesses are and specific strengths are for kids,” said Dumais.

Here’s one way that technology can really customize learning in the classroom. These are news articles, recent, about fixing Big Ben. Both real articles, both about the same topic, but the two of them are written at different reading levels. So different students can both learn about the same topic at their own speed and their own rate.

In Plainville, one of the most technologically advanced districts in the state, a gift from a donor has allowed them to branch out beyond laptops to technology and the arts..

With everything from computerized music labs, to 3-D printers, a television studio and a space to work on things like robotics and hydraulics. But they say it’s not about the technology. It’s how the technology supports good instruction.

“It’s not just about the stuff. It’s about the process in which the kids are learning which is amazing,” said Dumais.

With Connecticut in a financial mess, the biggest hurdle for schools to give their kids that one-to-one technology is money. Each netbook computer costs a school district between $250 and $320 and another $25 a year for software licensing fees.

Some schools have been getting creative, using money from other spots in their budgets, to try to get their kids that valuable technology.

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