Toyota grant provides computers for elementary students

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By J. Lynn West

Thanks to a $110,000 grant from the Toyota Wellspring Education Fund, Tammy Kirkland’s fourth-grade class at New Albany Elementary has almost limitless learning possibilities

The money has provided Thinkpad laptop computers for all the students in the class, which they are incorporating into their daily studies.

“We appreciate the generosity of Toyota and CREATE,” New Albany Superintendent of Education Jackie Ford said. Describing the one-to-one grant program, he said, “This is the first step to move to an on-line curriculum.” Computers are destined for grades three through five but Ford wants all students to have that resource eventually.

“This really is a new way of going to school,” said Doug Formby, vice president of operations for Toyota Manufacturing, who was on hand for the demonstration. “You are our future,” he said to students. “Technology is going to be a big part of that future.”
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Dr. Charles Garrett, former New Albany superintendent and now consultant for the Toyota education endowment program, asked the students if they liked the computers better than paper and pencil and got an enthusiastic response.

“Toyota put their money where their mouth was to help education,” he said. “It will help and be fun to grow and learn technology.”

Formby told students, “Toyota hopes many of you will complete your education, go to college and come to work for Toyota. That would be awesome.”

“It’s only going to get more fun and better,” he said. “You’re going to go through those steps in your life.”

Currently, the laptops remain in the classroom, but the district hopes to eventually assign one to each student. Next year the program is slated to expand to the middle school grades.

Ford said he said seen a similar program in Huntsville, Ala. schools, where they do allow students to take the computers home and hopes to achieve that here later. For now, the computers remain in the classroom after hours, housing in a special storage cabinet that also serves as a charging station.
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Teacher Kirkland told visitors to the demonstration the day’s assignment involved studying the life cycle of trees and plants. Students were asked to bring in samples from around their home. Then they used the X130E Thinkpads to research their finds and learn about them through websites and PowerPoint demonstrations, finding that some trees can live over 1,000 years.

The students also use iPads in class and receive classroom assignments by way of Gmail accounts and a school-wide wifi system. Kirkland said she also used Twitter and Facebook to communicate with parents and information about homework assignments after school hours.

The class will later have access to word-processing and other software, including specially-designed academic programs. Kirkland said many of the students have computers at home and are technologically savvy for their age, familiar with the Internet and programs such as Skype. That means a natural transition to use the computers more for research, testing, grading and interaction with teachers.

The computers cost about $550 each and are specially designed for school use with reinforced hinges for the top, for instance. As part of the program, not only Mrs. Kirkland’s fourth-grade class but all the teachers at the elementary school received laptops as well.