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Laptop Pilot Program Tested at Rose Hill Junior High

Each of the school's 180 seventh-graders was issued a netbook computer to keep for the year.

Seventh-grader Branden Mendoza has done his fair share of old-fashioned note-taking. Typically, he needs two items to get the job done: pen and paper.

This school year, however, the menial task has become a bit more user-friendly. Branden, who attends in Redmond, now has a laptop to use both in the classroom and at home.

"Yeah, I don't like writing it out," he said of class notes and homework. "It's easier to type."

In October, the (LWSD) issued small laptop computers called netbooks to all 180 seventh-graders at Rose Hill Junior High School. Although Rose Hill teachers have integrated computers into their lessons before, this is the first time the school has given students netbooks to take home and keep with them at all times during the day.

Netbooks are portable computers that are smaller than traditional laptops and are designed primarily for word processing and accessing the Internet. They typically cost several hundred dollars less than full-fledged laptops.

If the program is deemed a success, the district plans to eventually issue netbooks to all junior high and high school students, said LWSD spokeswoman Kathryn Reith. Funding for the pilot program came from the 2010 technology levy, Reith said.

“Eventually we will want to have laptops in the hands of all our secondary students,” she said.

Laurynn Evans, principal of Rose Hill Junior High School, said the computers have been a huge advantage to students and teachers, despite some minor problems.

"It's been an unabashed success so far," Evans said.

Evans said teachers are integrating the computers into lessons on every subject, from math to art. In science class, students are using Excel to record and upload lab results. In language arts, students have taken the traditional book report to a new level by using their netbooks' basic editing software to produce movie trailers.

Later this spring, all Rose Hill seventh-graders will use their netbooks to take the state's standardized exams. By 2012, the state aims to have most students taking the tests online.

Alex McShane, an art and social studies teacher at Rose Hill, said the netbook computers have been a great teaching tool in his classroom. Earlier this week, a class of seventh-graders used the computers to begin researching a project about early U.S. history. A couple of months ago, McShane tasked the students with developing a PowerPoint presentation on the Revolutionary War.

“They put together these presentations that really kind of blew me away," McShane said. "They learn about the programs so quickly and often kind of teach me about it.”

McShane said his students use their netbooks to keep track of their grades and assignments. He also sometimes uses e-mail to send students an in-class assignment, which he said is a much quicker and less-disruptive process than handing out sheets of paper.

"We're constantly using them," McShane said. "For the most part, they really have been a great educational tool."

The program has had glitches, Evans said. Earlier in the school year, a student accidentally destroyed his computer by leaving it too close to a heater at home. Another student was successfully able to hack into the computers' web-blocking software and bypass the district's controls on some content.

When administrators found out about it, they gave all students who had installed the bypass a grace period to come clean without any repercussions.

"We have eradicated that issue," Evans said.

Parents and students who opt to receive netbooks are required to sign an agreement saying they will pay $550 if the computer is lost or ruined. At the beginning of the year, four families opted out of the contract, but two have since decided to sign it.

Evans believes one total loss out of 180 computers is a respectable record.

"Given the fact that we've got almost 200 kids running around with them, that's pretty spectacular," she said.

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