GHS sixth graders get to work on their laptops, which have replaced three ring binders and notebooks, at school.
There’s no doubt that the face of education has changed dramatically over the last two decades.
Whiteboards have replaced chalk boards, research is conducted via the internet rather than at the library, and, at Gifft Hill School, personal laptops have replaced three-ring binders stuffed with papers.
Aside from the obvious benefit of reducing the amount of papers students must shuffle through, lug around and keep track of, GHS teachers are noticing an unexpected bonus of the laptops that were purchased this year for fourth through ninth graders using a combination of school and V.I. government funds: lessons on organization and responsibility.
“That’s the unsung hero of this program,” said Liz Kinsella, GHS middle school dean and English teacher. “Organization and personal responsibility are harder to quantify and we don’t put a grade on these skills, but sometimes they’re even more important to long-term success than whether you got an A in history.”
The laptop program got its roots from a government-funded trial a few years ago, when GHS fourth graders were each given their own laptop thanks to Title V, which aims to improve student academic achievement.
“Last year, those fourth graders were sixth graders, and they were still using the laptops they’d received in fourth grade,” said Kinsella. “I was so impressed with the vastly improved quality and quantity of the writing they were producing, and also at the degree to which the individual ownership of the laptops had positively impacted their organization skills and responsibility. So I started advocating that we do this school-wide.”
The government program that initially purchased the laptops was no longer in existence, so Kinsella convinced GHS Headmaster Judy Chamberlain to invest school funds, and with some help from the V.I. government, laptops were purchased for fourth through ninth grade students for the 2011-2012 school year. Kinsella hopes to have the laptops rolled out for fourth through 12th graders by the start of the 2012-2013 school year.
Between English students submitting papers via email to electronic grade books that can be checked by students at any time, GHS is transitioning to a much more paperless type of instruction.
“It’s opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for us instructionally,” said Kinsella.
The laptops are kept at school until sixth grade, when parents pay a security deposit and students are allowed to bring their computers home. At the end of the school year, parents will be given the option to relinquish their security deposit and purchase their student’s laptop at the bulk rate that was given to GHS.
So far, students seem to be taking ownership of the laptops quite seriously.
“These kids who can’t manage to keep a paper in their backpack never lose their laptops,” said Kinsella. “They’re very careful and they take it seriously, because they know it’s a valuable piece of hardware and a critical tool for them.”
While staff feared that the building-wide wireless internet access at the upper campus might cause issues with students surfing the net in class, Kinsella notes that students have always been distracted throughout the history of education, whether thanks to doodling or passing notes.
“The challenges that people were worried about have not been as big of an issue as we feared,” said Kinsella. “In fact, now that we’re using more multimedia and a more interactive kind of instruction, the kids have been more engaged.”