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Laptops revolutionize Vina English class

Jessica Hamilton is the only English teacher for 7th through 12th grades at Vina High School. She has 114 students. “I couldn’t get their papers back fast enough, especially when we wrote essays,” Hamilton said. “We have an assignment every single day.” An assignment per day, per student, adds up. “I needed help because I was drowning in paperwork.”

Hamilton needed a classroom set of laptops, but there was no way she could afford to buy a set or raise the money. But in November 2015, her saving grace came in the form of a set of 30 older laptops, fixed up by technology coordinator Tim Burks.

If the laptops have a downfall, it’s poor battery life, but in the grand scheme of things, Hamilton said having the laptops has “changed the whole atmosphere of the classroom.”

With her classroom revolutionized, Hamilton now has a completely different method for teaching. All assignments are posted online at schoology.com, where every student has a username and password. Hamilton posts a week’s worth of assignments at a time. She said she now has more time to help the students who need extra guidance, and the students who are ready can move on to the next lesson and the next, working at their own pace.

“I’m just ecstatic about it. It has helped me so much,” Hamilton said.

The “flipped classroom” model means Hamilton can spend class time helping students, rather than just delivering a lecture, and students have more flexibility to do assignments in their own time, by working ahead – some students, Hamilton said, will even do a whole set of assignments over a weekend.

Hamilton said she has even seen the laptops increase success for students by ensuring they don’t lose anything – all assignments are given, completed and “turned in” online, through schoology.com as well as Google programs like Docs and Drive.

“The organization, it all being in one place and them never having to keep up with anything – my students who struggled? Now they’re doing awesome,” Hamilton said.

Those who don’t prefer using the laptops – about four out of 114 students – are still able to receive and hand in assignments on paper instead. Hamilton also uses the laptops as a privilege that can be withheld at parent request or if a student abuses the laptop use.

Principal James Pharr said he thinks the paperless – or, mostly paperless – classroom is a great idea. Hamilton’s class provides laptop access for many students who don’t have laptops or Wi-fi at home.

“Technology used in the right way can drive a whole school,” Pharr said. “You have got to have these kinds of things for kids to compete in the job market.”

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