School district launches laptop learning at James Elementary

Interactive learning. James Elementary is chosen as one of the first schools to receive laptops for each student. Each laptop is preloaded with the students’ textbooks, and teachers will use the laptops to create interactive lessons. KCPS is rolling out the digital initiative in phases and plans to have every school on board by September of 2014. Pictured above are James Elementary students and their families testing out the new laptops during the Oct. 1 parent rollout meeting at James Elementary. Leslie Collins

 

By LESLIE COLLINS
Northeast News
October 16, 2013

“Are you all excited about these computers?!” James Elementary Principal Dr. Jo Nemeth shouted.

Parents and their children packed the school’s auditorium Oct.1, clapping and cheering in response to Nemeth.

James Elementary was one of three schools chosen to test out the district’s new digital learning initiative aimed to help students compete and achieve in a global market. School district officials explained their plan during the parent rollout meeting Oct. 1.

“This is a big step for this school and our district as we move into the 21st Century,” Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green said.

As part of the digital initiative, each student at James Elementary has been assigned a laptop and laptop bag, which will remain at school during the first semester. All of the laptops are preloaded with the students’ textbooks, so they’ll no longer need to carry cumbersome backpacks filled with books, Green said. In addition, each laptop contains GPS tracking software and web filtering software.

“The fact that it’s now digital means it (textbook material) can be current and updated with just a phone call or less,” Green told Northeast News. “Every device can be updated with the curriculum and the latest information that’s available, and as you know, the heavy, hardback textbooks are outdated before they ever go out the door.”

Teachers will be able to create interactive assignments and lessons and further gauge each student’s progress and comprehension levels of subjects. One example is creating quizzes where teachers can receive the students’ answers in live time.

“It’s immediate feedback. You can see which students got it instantaneously,” Green said.

Using laptops and interactive technology appeals to students and caters to a variety of learning styles, he said.

“We’re actually tapping into and complementing a learning style that they would prefer,” he said.

KCPS chose its first phase of schools based on teacher surveys regarding preparedness and enthusiasm for the project.

“It’s an honor. It’s very exciting,” Nemeth told Northeast News of being one of the first schools chosen. “I think it will enhance learning tremendously and help our kids achieve and be successful.”

In addition to textbooks, students will also have access to additional digital learning resources to further cement comprehension, she said. Teachers have already received professional development training for the digital initiative project, she said.

“The digital initiative is definitely going to hold their attention and help them learn in ways they’re accustomed to,” she said of the students.

Green envisions teachers will also use the digital initiative to connect virtually to other classrooms across the U.S. and the globe. At James Elementary, students hail from diverse backgrounds and their native languages range from Vietnamese to Burmese to Korean to Spanish, to name a few. With students’ relatives living across the globe, Green said teachers could interview those relatives virtually, creating a history/heritage lesson for students.

If all goes as planned, James students in grades third through sixth will be allowed to take their laptops home next semester, Nemeth said.

In the next few weeks, additional schools will be rolled into the digital initiative and eventually, all KCPS students will be assigned a laptop by September of 2014. To fund the initiative, KCPS is forgoing updating its desktop computer labs and is instead using that funding to purchase laptops. KCPS also received a literacy grant and is receiving a bulk discount from the laptop’s maker, Lenovo.

“It is a very worthy investment in the future of our children,” Green said. “We have to get our students ready for jobs that don’t even exist yet. A lot of the jobs that are here now didn’t exist in 2006, so you can imagine what our children will face… An ultimate goal is to increase student engagement. We think with increased student engagement will be increased student achievement.”

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