Sunday, July 14, 2013

Our History With A 1:1 Netbook Program Using BYOD

How Our Program Developed

3-step timeline
History of 1:1 At Our School
Our 1:1 program began with netbooks. We chose them because they're inexpensive. We went with BYOD—bring your own device—because we wanted parents to share in the expense and responsibility of their child's learning experience. A computer is one of their main learning tools at our school. If we had to provide computers for each child—even inexpensive netbooks—we'd probably still be talking about being a 1:1 school instead of celebrating our third year with a 1:1 learning program!

Instead, we installed the wireless infrastructure, courtesy of a generous donor, and suggested to our parents that they give their fifth grader a netbook for Christmas during our pilot year. We started a 1:1 program in January! We knew that most parents in our student body would easily spend $300 on iPods, video games, and similar gadgets. If we had a different clientele, we couldn't have done this, of course. We're blessed in that regard.

It was pretty much that easy. We did get a small amount of pushback from our families, but it was much less than expected. For the most part, our families support the decisions we make, and most families see the benefit of putting laptops into the hands of our students. After our 5-month pilot program we simply put the netbooks on our school supply list for the following August. We also opened it up to grades 5-8 and have been doing that ever since. It's been several years now and we publish an updated list of suggested netbooks or small laptops each year before school starts. Parents may purchase anything that meets our minimum standard. Starting in 2013-2014 we will be asking parents of fourth grade students to bring a netbook to school after Christmas break. They learn to touch type in the first half of the year and will then have a full semester using a netbook, armed with their new keyboarding skills.

Preparations and Pilot Program

We did several things before implementing our full 1:1 program. First, I purchased a netbook of my own and started to test its capabilities several months before we began. I found I was able to do most of my usual work just fine, even with the smaller (92% of full size) keyboard. The 250 Gb hard drive was never a problem, and the 2 Gb of RAM and low-end Intel processor, though slow, was very functional. I threw everything at it that I thought we might want to use and found I could do pretty much all of it. It wasn't as snappy as my MacBook Pro, but it got the job done with no real problems. The software requirements, as I'll describe them later, were pretty basic and help support a fairly traditional elementary and middle school curriculum.

After I spent a few months with my own netbook, we started our Spring pilot program. During that pilot my principal purchased netbooks for all the teachers in grades 5-8 so they could experience first-hand what the kids were experiencing. I discovered pretty quickly most of the pitfalls of starting a netbook program. The beginning of each school year, it turns out, is the most difficult and labor-intensive for parents, students and teachers as the netbooks are set up and put through their paces. Most of the students haven't used a netbook before and have to be taught how to do basic maintenance of their hardware and software.

Finally, we spent some time as a staff reflecting on and evaluating the pilot program. We used what we learned to tweak and improve before implementing a full 1:1 program the following August in grades 5-8. That's what we've been doing for several years now, tweaking each summer prior to the coming school year.


After a couple years we realized that we were spending most of semester one during fifth grade just getting up to speed. We decided fairly soon into the program to move our touch typing program down from semester one of fifth grade to semester two of fourth grade. We had used Alphasmart Neos in fifth grade for several years prior to our netbook program. So, we moved the Neos down to fourth grade and taught touch typing with the Neo's built-in typing tutor. It is a no-frills, 15-lesson course that has the kids touch typing like a secretary by the time they get to lesson 15. This past year we moved that course into second quarter so the children are functional typists by around January or February. That gives us a few months to provide the children with practice projects involving lots of typing—stories and projects involving research and plenty of writing.

In addition, this school year we've introduced several of our main software tools to the fourth graders in a lab setting. That way, when they have their own netbooks in the summer or in August just before fifth grade starts, they will have had a chance to at least try out the applications we use most often during the school day. These applications include Open Office and Google Apps for offline-individual and online-collaborative work, respectively. I'll say more about these and other tools later on in this series of articles.

Future Plans

At this moment I don't know what the future will look like. One of the reasons I'm writing this series of articles during the Summer of 2013 is because I want to reflect on the past 3 years. The other reason is because I'm hoping, upon reflection, to have some idea of the next logical step in our netbook program. Stay tuned for more!

credits: image courtesy Free Powerpoint Templates

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