By the numbers: Shelby County’s $2 million laptop learning experiment

Although Shelby County Schools’ teachers and students are just a few days into the district’s ambitious learning experiment of arming thousands of students with computers, Rolf Williams, an eighth grade algebra teacher at Sherwood Middle School said he’s already seen results.

“There’s so much richness and students have access to more content, including videos,” he said about the program, known as blended learning.

Eighteen schools were selected to participate in the three-year pilot using Lenovo Yoga computers, which can function as tablets or laptops. Blended learning offers a mix of teacher-guided and self-paced instruction for students on a computer using various education curriculum software.

While also singing the program’s praises, Williams added a note of caution.

“…We have to be careful not to throw too much at (students),” he said. “There has to be a balance.  Teachers and students don’t need to be bombarded with too much.  We have to continue to find the best ways to present the work.”

Expansion of the three-year pilot to include additional schools will depend on this year’s success.

Sherwood Middle School students work on their science lesson during a blended learning demonstration on Sept. 30. (Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN )

In Williams’ class on Tuesday, his students worked on algebra problems using their calculators, workbooks and laptops.  They entered their answers on their personal computers using a software system called “Socrative.” Williams viewed his student responses on his tablet.

As he walked in between students’ desks, sometimes stopping to answer their questions, he announced the percentage of students who had answered a math problem correctly.

“We have 83 percent correct, and now we’re up to 86 percent,” Williams said to his students.

Getting live results like that gives him the ability to know if he should revisit a lesson or move forward to the next lesson.

One of Williams’ students, Quinterria Maxwell, was excited to receive the new technology last week.

“The laptops makes it easier in the classroom because we get our grades immediately,” said Maxwell, 13. “We know how to use the computers, and most of us are familiar with the internet. It’s easier for the teachers to grade our work because they don’t have to look through all of our papers. And if we do something wrong they can just pull it up on the screen and show us what we did wrong.”

Sherwood Middle School students use workbooks, calculators and new laptops to solve math problems. (Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN )

Here are Shelby County’s blended learning program by the numbers:

18 schools

About 18 of the district’s 40 schools were selected by administrators to participate.  Schools were required to submit an application to participate. Administrators said they gave special preference to schools that received students from schools they closed last year due to low enrollment or low test scores.

Schools involved include: Alcy Elementary, Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary, Cherokee Elementary, Douglass K-8, Fairley Elementary, Ford Road, Hamilton Middle, Highland Oaks Middle, Levi Elementary, Lowrance Elementary, Lucy Elementary, Maxine Smith STEAM, Middle College High, Melrose High, Raineshaven Elementary, Riverview K-8, Riverwood Elementary, Sherwood Elementary.

12,000 computers

Currently 9,000 computers are being used as part of the program. Once fully implemented, 12,000 computers will be in use by teachers and students.

800 teachers and administrators

About 800 teachers and administrators were trained to participate in the program.  Parents were also trained to help their children use the programs.

$2.2 million

The district is spending $189 on each student to participate each year.  That adds up to a total of $2.2 million by the end of the three-year experiment.  Shelby County Schools is using its general budget to fund the pilot program.

10 percent gain

District officials predict students will show 10 percent gains on their English language arts and math standardized tests by the end of this year. If the three-year program is successful, and the students involved outperform other students not involved in the pilot, administrators will consider expanding the program.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at and (901) 730-4013.

Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier@chalkbeattn.

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