Toano Middle Experiments with Personal Laptops for Students is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Toano MiddleSixth-grade students at Toano Middle School spent a lot of time on the computer last semester — and their teachers approved.

The middle school students were part of a pilot program launched in January by Williamsburg-James City County Schools to increase the use of technology in and outside of the classroom.

Students were each issued personal laptops for use on classroom assignments and homework.

Administrators in the school division see the program as a way to increase student engagement with material and learning.

Tina Manglicmot, WJCC’s supervisor for instructional technology, said the laptop program allowed students to personalize their style of learning and gain more out of the material presented to them.

“Right now, the classroom is very teacher-centered — teachers relate the information to the students,” Manglicmot said. “Students are consumers of education. This allows them to take ownership of their learning.”

The program works by distributing division-provided laptops to each sixth-grade student at Toano. Manglicmot said teachers regularly use technology in the classroom, but their efforts are limited by the students’ ability to access the technology.

The 1-to-1 program, as it is known, ensures students can access electronic materials both in class and at home. That allows teachers to craft more demanding and sophisticated lessons for students.

“Say a class is reading Hamlet,” Manglicmot said. “I can assign them different chapters that they can find online. I can then have them write their own scripts to modernize what’s going on in the play. It can be collaborative through something like a Google Doc, and then they can act it out in class.”

Manglicmot said the ability to collaborate between students was a key motivation for the program. The laptops also allow teachers to incorporate other online activities, like blogging and discussion boards, where students can respond to each other’s thoughts on the material.

Toano Middle was chosen to host the pilot program for its smaller student population than WJCC’s other two middle schools.

“That way, we would invest less if it turned out to not be effective,” Manglicmot said.

Manglicmot said the school division was hopeful the program would catch on as a way to transform learning in the classroom, but were unsure if it would be successful. She said teachers initially questioned whether the devices would be more of a distraction than an aide when they debuted in the final weeks of the first semester.

As both teachers and students have spent more time with the laptops, Manglicmot said they were becoming more accustomed to the new technology in the classroom.

“Teachers have embraced it more than I thought they would,” Manglicmot said.

Toano English teacher Jessica Agett said the computers had helped her students become more organized and turn in higher-quality work than they previously had.

“Every single project, every single worksheet, every single classwork assignment is now online for them to see so they either have it on their computer or they don’t,” Agett said. “There’s no excuse of, ‘but I left it somewhere.’”

A survey is being distributed to parents next week to assess their reaction to the program.

With the program less than a semester old and SOL testing underway, Manglicmot said it was too soon to determine if the laptops had an effect on standardized test scores.

The response from teachers and students has encouraged the school division to expand the 1-to-1 program to all sixth-grade classrooms at the division’s three middle schools and to Toano Middle’s incoming seventh-grade class at a cost of $500,000.

“We’re very pleased,” Manglicmot said. “The students are pleased, the teachers are pleased. We’re looking forward to the future.”

While the expanded program will not come into effect until the 2015-2016 school year, Manglicmot said WJCC was already looking into expanding 1-to-1 even further to all students in the division.

A division-wide program would likely allow students in grades six through 12 to take personal laptops home with them, while younger students would use an in-school check-out system.

“It all depends on the budget,” Manglicmot said.