Cart troubles

One of our schools has two carts of MacBooks. They're new this year and the principal has done a wonderful job of scheduling the heck out of them.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

One of our schools has two carts of MacBooks. They're new this year and the principal has done a wonderful job of scheduling the heck out of them. They have brief downtime around lunch but are otherwise pushing 100% utilization. However, all is not well in MacBook Cart World.

First and most importantly, by the end of the day, most of the laptops are running out of juice. 100% utilization is a good thing , but it leaves very little time for the machines to recharge (even energy-efficient MacBooks are pushing it for 5 hours). This is further exacerbated by the way the cart charges computers. To avoid overloading a circuit, the carts are on a timer that charge each of two rows of laptops for an hour at a time. This means that even a quick lunchtime boost is only getting half the computers.

We solved the latter problem by finding a couple of 30 amp plugs and bypassing the timer so that both the top and bottom rows charge simultaneously. Of course, that means that they actually need to be plugged in when they're not in use. If they're left out on students' desks, open, on, and running, then no matter how I reconfigure the chargers, it's just not going to happen.

Perhaps an even larger problem is simply the setup time. This isn't a big deal for older kids, but for Kindergarteners and first graders, pulling the laptops out of the cart, taking them to a desk, opening them, turning on, and getting signed in (and then reversing the process at the end of computer time) can use up a significant chunk of said computer time.

Teachers of the younger students are asking for their stationary computer lab back. However, because of space constraints, the lab was not terribly functional to begin with. Maybe this is is simply a learning issue. When all of the computers are out, running, and the kids are actively using the software we have installed, it's a beautiful thing. Scores on the RTI software they are using show that it's actually being effective and kids are progressing well. It's just hard to balance the time needed to get to that point.

So what do we do for the younger kids? We have some desktop computers that can be deployed into classes, allowing the younger kids to have small group computer time, but I hate to have them excluded from using the new computers. At this point, the new computers are actually a motivational factor for them.

I also don't want to write off the math and literacy software in the younger grades since there is a fair amount of research (and anecdotal evidence in our district) on the effectiveness of the programs in improving reading and foundation math skills.

I'm planning to simply ride out the learning curve for a while and keep talking to teachers, but we just may need to change our usage models, especially with the younger kids.

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