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Alaska commits to a laptop for every middle schooler

Heartened by a Maine study that found laptop-equipped students were more organized and worked faster, Alaska moves towards a laptop for all middle school students.
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Students at Wendler Middle School in Alaska are busily typing away on their new laptops - and teachers and administrators are hoping that access to the technology will help them learn more and have fun while they are cruising the Internet, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

The verdict is still out on whether the laptops - acquired by a grant from the state legislature - are going to turn kids into better students. In Maine, which is running a similar program, a two-year study showed that four of five teachers said students were more tuned in, did better work and were more prepared for state tests; seven of 10 kids said the computers helped them get organized and work faster.

"I have no doubt," said Wendler principal Joel Roylance. "These students are comfortable with technology. At home, the television is on, the phone's on their ear and they have the laptop open. Then they'll take the PDA and use that at the same time. It's just seamless for these kids. They've grown up around it. They're used to it. They're not afraid of it."

Andrew Halcro, a former Alaska state representative and candidate in the 2006 gubernatorial election, said his education plan included assigning a laptop to each of Alaska's 20,000 middle school students. He noted that Maine officials reported improved test scores from their students. Students interaction with teachers was also increased.

"It does help kids get engaged and maybe reduce the dropout rate," Halcro said. "You could spread out from there. It's all about hooking kids on learning. ... Giving a student a textbook isn't even reality any more. Give them some tools."

Forty-eight Alaskan schools have their laptops. Most are in rural districts. Roylance said he'd support expanding the program if he saw proof that access to the laptops helped kids do better on tests.

"If I can't do that, I've wasted my time," Roylance said. "But I do think it's already working. They're going to go into the workplace with some base-level computer skills, and that's valuable."

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