One for every fifth-grader Laptops lead to a new world of learning

One for every fifth-grader
Laptops lead to a new world of learning

GUILDERLAND — The eight students in Cynthia Villeneuve’s fifth-grade class, their desks arranged in a semi-circle, sat in matching navy-blue V-neck sweaters before eight matching laptop computers Monday morning intently working on an assignment about habitat.

“My place can get to negative 93 degrees,” Robert John Hayes announced with excitement in his voice as he looked up from his keyboard.

This is the first year each fifth-grader at Christ the King School in Westmere has had a laptop. The program has been so successful, it will be expanded to the middle school next year, so that all the students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades will have laptops, too.

“They keep them, take care of them, personalize them” — for example, putting their own designs on the computer as a screen-saver, said Villeneuve.

It’s her first year teaching at Christ the King. “I love it,” she said. “You really get to know the kids.”

She’s enjoyed finding ways to incorporate the laptops into assignments for all subjects.

For math assignments, she might direct them to manipulative sites where there are interactive math games or where they can have “more real-life experiences,” she said. Last week, for example, they visited store sites, adding food prices and then dividing to find average cost.

For English, the fifth-graders will do web quests, where they use writing skills to answer online questions.

They have also visited a scholastic site where they can ask an author questions directly.

And they can learn by seeing others’ writing and posting their own. “When I taught about descriptive writing, they saw examples and then did their own and put it right online,” said Villeneuve.

In science, studying ecosystems, they took “virtual tours” to see, for example, what the Arctic looks like, what the animals there look like and the foods they eat.

In any subject, Villeneuve said, “With online assessment, they get immediate feedback. They can see if something’s wrong and why.”

 She also said, “We set up a classroom blog they can connect with at home.”

Computer literacy

Villeneuve, who is 26, grew up with computers and is at home with them, but was not as immersed as some of her students are. “Some of this stuff, these kids are teaching me,” she said.

The Internet came in when Villeneuve was at Albany High School. She went on to earn an associate’s degree at Hudson Valley Community College and then a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education at The College of Saint Rose, and finally a master’s degree in elementary education, at the University at Albany, specializing in literacy.

“Computer literacy is a whole new thing,” said Villeneuve. Her students learn how to write e-mails, how to do research online, distinguishing among websites for the most reliable. For instance, she pointed out that website addresses ending in “.com” are run by companies, while those that end in “.edu” or “.gov” are “more secure.”

“We cross-reference to see two or three sites on the same thing,” said Villeneuve. “We see who they’re funded by and if they’ve been updated recently.”

Her students will learn how to make their own PowerPoint presentations, a skill she didn’t acquire until college.

The computers are also useful for “differentiated instruction,” said Villeneuve, explaining that students at different levels with different needs can be taught at the same time.

Students of varying levels in math, for example, can all work on division problems that challenge and develop their skills for problem-solving, said Villeneuve.

One of her students, a Korean boy, came in November with limited knowledge of English but great proficiency on the computer. Villeneuve doesn’t speak Korean. “I get stuff and translate into Korean,” using computer programs for translation, she said. In this way, she can provide him with worksheets in his native language. There are also websites in Korean that he can use.

“It’s time-consuming, finding the most appropriate things,” Villeneuve conceded. “There’s so much out there.”

She’s attended workshops and is helped by the technology teacher, Tammy Crasto.

She’s eager to share what she knows with other teachers.

Her students are always enthused, she said, when it’s time to use their laptops.

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