South Summit School District students work on laptops. The school district is reporting success after putting laptops in classrooms last year. (Courtesy of
South Summit School District students work on laptops. The school district is reporting success after putting laptops in classrooms last year. (Courtesy of the South Summit School District)
When South Summit School District put laptops in every second- to 12th-grade classroom last year, district technology director Gary Crandall expected there to be a yearlong learning curve for teachers, who would be experimenting with how best to use the technology.

"We knew originally that teachers wouldn't know exactly what they had or how to use it," Crandall said. "We planned on the first year being kind of an introduction of what they were going to do with all of these machines in the classroom."

But midway through the year, an encouraging thing happened, Crandall said. Teachers began asking him to put various applications and programs on the laptops for their students to use. It was a clear sign that teachers had discovered the learning capabilities associated with each student having access to a computer in class.

"Now that they know what they have, we've had comments where teachers said, 'Now I don't know what I'd do without them,'" he said. "They really did utilize them in classrooms a lot."

Jake Woolstenhulme, a science teacher at South Summit High School, said having laptops in class is a clear benefit to teachers. Though it's unclear if the laptops made an impact on end-of-year testing, the results of which have not yet been released, Woolstenhulme said the students were excited about learning with the computers.

"I used them right from the beginning," Woolstenhulme said.


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"I think it was beneficial because the kids learn with technology pretty well. They go on the Internet and do research. Because when a kid doesn't know something, what's the first thing they're going to do? They're going to Google it."

Woolstenhulme has noticed his students are more engaged when using the laptops because it's a form of interactive learning, as opposed to his lecturing to the class or assigning worksheets.

"You can give them a little bit of research, then they go find more to answer a question better," Woolstenhulme said. "I think they actually like it. There are a lot of interactives, especially in science. They can go online and physically see it, instead of me just telling them."

And, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the students have grown up around technology, they have needed little instruction on operating the laptops. Woolstenhulme said that understanding of technology will be crucial for students, who will enter a workforce that expects them to be tech-savvy.

"They're a lot smarter than I am with the computers," he said. "It's crazy how their brains have been adapted to technology. It's huge, I think, because look what they do in the job force -- everyone does everything with computers. If you don't know how to run them, you're kind of lost anymore."

Crandall said the results teachers have seen while having students use laptops in their classrooms is an affirmation the district took the right path when ramping up its focus on technology-based learning last year. The district faced a decision on whether to assign laptops to classrooms or let students take them home, as surrounding districts -- like the Park City School District -- do. It chose the former.

Along with saving money by having to license fewer programs for the computers, the largest benefit of that decision has been allowing teachers to tailor the laptops to the specific needs of their classes.

"That particular cart of laptops can be customized for that specific curriculum," Crandall said. "So if an English teacher has a cart of laptops, the emphasis on those laptops is English. Same with math or whatever.

"As a district, we took the attitude that if a student has Internet access at home, they already have a computer at home. We decided to go off into the curriculum-specific area for our laptops, rather than generalization for everybody."

While laptops are assigned to specific classrooms, that doesn't mean students can't view or complete their work at home. The district has emphasized students using USB storage drives or Google Docs -- which allows files to be saved and accessed over the cloud -- for their work.

"We want the students to be able to access their work anywhere," Crandall said. 

Crandall said that now the laptops have been demonstrated to be a success, the next step is teachers continuing to evolve their teaching methods to utilize them.

"I think that's where we'll really see some gains," Crandall said. "Now that teachers understand what they have, and that they're becoming more tech-savvy, that will filter down into better learning for the students."