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CMS equipping each middle schooler with a laptop

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is equipping each of its 30,000 middle school students with a laptop this year in the district’s latest move to make its classrooms more tech-savvy.

The district began distributing Google Chromebooks in November, and the rollout should be complete by next month, said Valerie Truesdale, the CMS chief of technology, personalization and engagement. Teachers say it helps their students be more focused on their work, and allows them to learn the same way most professionals work today.

In language arts classes, students can write papers or create presentations on their laptops, uploading the file to the Web to work on at home and at school. A child that’s behind in a science class can go back and watch a video of a lesson. A new arts class at Jay M. Robinson Middle is even using them to create animated movies.

“The world that they live in is technology based,” said Cindy Pusanik, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Robinson Middle. “We need to give them the skills and knowledge.”

The initiative caps two years of efforts to connect classrooms to the Internet. Every classroom inside a school building was connected to wireless Internet before last school year. In August, CMS finished bringing Wi-Fi to every mobile classroom. The district has also bought digital textbooks in science and social studies classes.

This is also the second year where schools have been able to implement “bring your own device” policies. Starting in January 2014, principals have been able to allow students to bring tablets and smartphones from home.

How it works

The district gets its Chromebooks at a special price of $220, Truesdale said.

The first 12 “early adopter digital learning” schools received the laptops in the fall funded by about $1.6 million in Race to the Top federal grant dollars. Another dozen schools, including the rest of the low-income middle schools, are receiving their computers this month. The remaining schools will get them in March. The rest are paid for with county money in the CMS budget.

Students do not take the Chromebooks home. In most cases, the children pick up the computers at the beginning of school, carry them throughout the day, and turn them in for recharging before heading home.

In some schools, each room has a cart full of them that the middle school students pick from as they get to their core classes.

In the classrooms

Teachers from several of the schools have received training from CMS on how to incorporate the Chromebooks into their lessons.

At Berryhill School, a kindergarten through eighth-grade school in west Charlotte, Sarah Gibson’s sixth-grade math class was playing a “Space Race” game, quizzing them on medians and means. Science teacher Laura Bartos narrates her PowerPoint presentations to create videos to put online for her students to review.

The computers also allow students to work on projects and assignments at their own pace, rather than following along with a lesson given to the whole class.

“It eliminates any kind of idle time for a child that might be ahead of everyone else,” said Berryhill School Principal Cara Heath.

Principals said that they haven’t had issues with laptops breaking or students not taking care of them. Schools have spent time teaching students how to use them responsibly. At Jay M. Robinson Middle, the school held more than a dozen lessons on digital citizenship.

“It builds ownership and responsibility,” said Principal Mike Miliote.

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