Laptop or Textbook? Some Say Laptops Are Consuming the Classroom, Others Say They Are Becoming Another One of Many Tools for Students. (Portable Computing)

Article excerpt

In the Walled Lake School District in Michigan, 400 fifth and sixth graders have access to laptop computers and wireless labs this school year.

Not too far away at Stephen Hayt Elementary School in the Chicago community of Edgewater, students are using laptops in the cafeteria, auditorium and even an outdoor garden to learn about such topics as horticulture using the Internet and software programs.

And not far from Silicon Valley, Calif., in Tracy, in a school where most children have parents who work in technology, laptops are actually replacing textbooks.

These three districts are just some examples of how the role of laptops and wireless technology is growing in schools nationwide.

"The data we are working from is that currently any information and knowledge we have is doubling every 18 months," says Keith Larick, superintendent of Tracy Unified School District Learning Center in California, which just opened a Discovery Charter School where all students will have laptops, replacing textbooks. "So any textbook that is printed ... is outdated before it even gets to the classroom."

Larick says such facts led his district to start replacing textbooks in every subject in the district's newest charter school and instead, use laptops to study and learn information in such subjects as math, science and social studies.

Melovee Williamson, principal at Stephen Hayt Elementary in Chicago, adds, "We've been working at using technology and trying to integrate it into the curriculum for at least the past eight or nine years. The theme was to be on the cutting edge of education in a futuristic way. We were just trying to prepare our students ... for the global society."

Laptops replace textbooks

The Discovery Charter School in Tracy opened in August for 125 fifth and sixth graders and is among the first, if not the first, in the nation to commit to eEducation as its primary tool for education. The school will grow to a total enrollment of 2,400 pre-school through 12th grade students by 2004.

Larick says educators at Tracy saw the potential of computers 20 years ago, "but the technology was not there ... We can now do those things that we were thinking about."

For the past five years, Compaq Computer Corp. has provided technology to the Tracy district, including desktop computers, pocket PC's and professional services.

This year, Discovery students are using Compaq's Armada 110 notebook computers to, for example, learn about world events or vocabulary from The New York Times Web site, keep track of personal healthy diets and fitness regimens on charts on laptops, and connect to the University of California at San Diego's space program, which works with NASA, to learn about astronauts, orbiting satellites and space exploration, Larick says.

The charter school is also a place where students attend 205 days of school, as opposed to 180 days, and where they stay from 8 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. By the time they get to the 10th grade, Larick says, they will have completed a regular high school curriculum.

Despite the technology, Larick says, the school will still have a library of classic books that have historical significance and which are not outdated. "With the exception of reading and a literature collection in the library, everything is e-based," Larick says.

But he says every subject can be taught using laptops. For example, teachers can download a math application and print out the hard copy. Virtual classroom trips could also be accessed, he says.

And he says the cost of laptops are almost comparable to textbooks, considering textbooks each cost $50 to $100 and students need six to eight of them a year. "Realistically, it's about 20 percent more for laptops than textbooks," he says. But the cost should decrease as time goes by.

Reduced costs means more laptops

At the Walled Lake School District, 400 fifth and sixth grade students will have access to Compaq laptops and wireless labs under a five-year lease contract. …