Middle School "Bring Your Own Laptop" Program Aids Student Productivity

The Bring Your Own Laptop (BYOL) program at Elisabeth Morrow got its start at the simple suggestion of fifth grade teacher Sanda Cohen.  Two years ago she asked parents to have their students bring their computers into school if they chose and almost all did.  

From that small beginning, a successful program of integrating technology into middle school life was born, and now this year, the BYOL program encompasses fifth and sixth grade.  In the 2014-2015 school year, the program will be in effect throughout Morrow House.

After Ms. Cohen’s initial request, faculty formed a committee that structured the program. Launching with fifth grade seemed best since they had their own homerooms and desks, and, as the youngest middle schoolers, the program could grow with them.  The members of the faculty committee also received extensive professional training in how to best create an effective program that would enhance and support the work students were doing in the classroom, as well as show them how to use technology to boost planning and time management skill. 
“This program requires no special software, just a computer equipped for wireless Internet access,” says Paul Baly, Middle School Head. "Everyone uses google apps. We outlined three goals for the program: for teachers and students to have immediate access to tools that will further enrich and enhance learning; to further differentiate teaching; and to help students continue to develop the skills necessary to thrive in a digital environment in a very personal way," Mr. Baly says. He adds, "We know that when students go to secondary schools that have laptop programs--and many of them do--they will be expected to use these skills from day one."

One example of those skills is two-column note taking, formally called Cornell Notes. “Our students learn how to organize their note taking in a very systematic way on the laptop,” says Baly. “This is a skill that they can carry with them through life.”  

Carolyn Bliesener, fifth grade teacher, says the laptop enables students to become self-sufficient at an early age.  “They are able to organize their schedules in google calendar, share homework using google docs, and complete tests in google forms. I can communicate via email and help students on assignments during off school hours.”  

Although the BYOL program is not yet active in seventh and eighth grades, Elisabeth Morrow has been laptop friendly for many years.  “Our goal is to someday have classrooms as close as possible to paperless,” Mr. Baly says.