Some Dartmouth students set to receive school-issue laptops in October

Aug 27, 2018

Come October, every Dartmouth High School student -- and some middle school students -- will be issued their own laptops in a move school officials hope will usher in new ways of teaching in the 21st century.

The initiative, which has been in the planning and exploratory stages since the summer, will officially move forward. Teachers will receive their Chromebooks in time for a September 12 professional day, with rollout for all grades at Dartmouth High School and Dartmouth Middle School eighth graders set for mid-October, Dartmouth High Principal Ross Thibault told the School Committee at its August 27 meeting.

District Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Gallishaw spent the summer exploring potential laptop models to provide to students, and decided on Chromebooks -- affordable laptop computers which run Google’s online-based operating system -- owing to their simplicity, cost, long battery life, and durability.

Over the summer, district technology staff prepared the high school to support the increased network load. District bandwidth was doubled to 1 Gbps, and new wireless routers were installed. A new caching system was installed to cut down on network load when accessing frequently visited websites. Some finer details are also still being worked out, like how the laptops would be insured and repaired.

Before laptops are distributed to students, a parent meeting to talk to families about the initiative and lay out expectations for use of the new laptops and student assemblies will be held.

The final phase of the project is implementing and supporting maintenance after launch. School officials are considering establishing an in-school help desk staffed by students as an internship opportunity, and using the in-house tech department to handle damaged machines. A focus group to monitor implementation is also planned.

The new laptops will help the school revamp in-classroom instruction with new educational models which integrate technology into the curriculum, as opposed to simply adding new technology for the sake of having new technology.

“We want to focus on the 21st century skills: Communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, and citizenship,” Thibault said.

Throughout the school year, teachers and staff will work with the Highlander Institute, an educational consulting firm, to develop new ways to use the laptops in class, with a focus on using the laptops to innovate rather than as a new gadget.

Equipping every student with a laptop computer is just one of several major changes this school year -- called a “transition year” by officials.

The school’s old 86-minute block scheduling system has been replaced with a period-based system. Among the benefits are more opportunities for teachers to spend time learning and preparing new lessons for students.

“We know that 2018 to 2019 is a transition year,” Thibault said. “We’re transitioning to a new schedule, and we have common planning time so we have the opportunity to support teachers and provide professional development. That makes it absolutely one of the reasons why now.”

The new laptops and schedule change also plays into the school’s improvement plan. Thibault also highlighted it at the August 27 School Committee meeting.

Each school produces the plan to outline how it is implementing Superintendent Bonny Gifford’s target areas of teaching and learning, access and equity, and community engagement.