From left, Sebastian Rodriguez, Melanie Learmonth and Voleank Veakrakmann try out laptops during a summer school program at Emerald Park Elementary School. HEIDI SANDERS, Kent Reporter

Students test laptops for school district’s one-to-one program

As the Kent School District moves toward all elementary students having access to laptops, the students themselves have had a say in what that will look like.

About 70 students in the district’s summer school program recently tested four laptops the district is considering buying to expand its one-to-one laptop program.

Pat Regnart, the district’s director of technology integration, brought eight computers – two of each model – to the elementary summer school sites and chose a random sampling of upper-elementary-school-aged students to test drive the devices for a few minutes. Each student took a brief survey to indicate the laptop they liked the most.

“That is absolutely going to influence the decision (of what laptops to buy),” Regnart said. “All of these devices have been technically tested by our IT department to make sure they fit into the system – they work, they’re maintainable and supportable over time.”

Two of the computers are traditional clamshell-style laptops, which open and close on a hinge, while the other two are 360-degree devices, meaning the screen can fold back to convert the laptop into a tablet. All the laptops have touchscreens and two have styluses, or special pen-like devices that can be used to write on the screens.

The district plans to purchase about 1,000 new laptops in late fall, as a part of the enhanced access phase of the district’s one-to-one laptop program.

“Every year, every (elementary) school is getting additional devices depending what their enrollment is,” Regnart said.

The district started its one-to-one laptop program at the Kent Technology Academy at Mill Creek Middle School in 2005. The program expanded to all district seventh-graders in 2008. Currently, the district’s six middle schools, four traditional high schools, two high school academies, five elementary schools and two technology academies each participate in the initiative, which is funded directly from technology levy dollars approved by voters in 2010.

The goal is to have every student in kindergarten through sixth grade have access to a personally assigned device by 2019.

Eventually all elementary school teachers will have a set of laptops in their classroom, Regnart said.

“That concept of getting to devices is a whole other layer for teachers to have to manage to get to the lab or to get to the cart to get them all set up versus just having them at the ready in the classroom, which doesn’t mean it is on all the time for every activity, but it just changes the way we think about it when we can access it all the time,” he said.

The district is looking at ways to incorporate different technologies, such as the touchscreens and styluses, into the one-to-one program.

“As a district we are really interested in seeing what happens when you have students not just draw (on laptops), but actually write,” Regnart said. “When you are doing writing with a keyboard, it is never really natural writing. But when you can turn over (a laptop) and use it like a piece of paper that’s a whole different piece. We are still learning as a district what would that look like in a classroom to have students use it that way.”

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