Oct 31 2006

Reader Spotlight

In this Florida school, kids type 60 words per minute, thanks to a one-to-one notebook PC program that has 400 kids owning computers—and using them everywhere but in Phys Ed.

When it comes to typing, it’s anything but “hunt and peck” for students at St. Thomas Episcopal Parish School in Coral Gables, Fla. Indeed, by the close of fourth grade, kids are maneuvering a keyboard at speeds that rival those of many college grads—60 words per minute with 90 percent accuracy. This achievement is made possible by a one-to-one notebook PC program at the private school, in which each of the 400-plus students purchases a notebook computer at the end of third grade.

From music to math and from science to Spanish, students integrate the devices into virtually every curricular niche.

“They really use the notebooks across the board,” confirms Elizabeth Cohen, director of instructional technology at St. Thomas. “The only place they aren’t using them is at P.E.”

The notebook program took on an even more valuable role last year, as the school’s faculty embraced a differentiated learning approach, which recognizes that students are not homogeneous when it comes to learning. As a result, the school is committed to understanding the abilities, interest level and motivational level of individual students.

“We’re determining how to best reach each child so we can help them progress to their full potential,” explains Cohen, “and we immediately asked, ‘How can we use technology to help us with this?’”

The answer is evident throughout St. Thomas. A fifth-grade social studies class, for example, relies on the notebooks to verify and validate information when students studying ancient civilizations are assigned specific research tasks based on their individual learning styles. The computers are also instrumental in a fourth-grade language arts class, where students learning about Florida use Microsoft Word and Excel to plan, document and finance their own “trip.”

“We’ve come up with some fabulous projects to use with the notebooks,” Cohen enthuses. “If we had only a couple of computers available, it would be very different.”

Now entering the seventh year of the program, St. Thomas is outfitting students with a 2.61-pound IBM X40 notebook PC, which is preconfigured by CDW•G with a tri-band a/b/g wireless card and the school’s desired memory capabilities.

“Our children have become more capable learners because of the notebook program,” Cohen concludes. “They really take charge of themselves and their learning.”

—Melissa B. Tamberg