Back-to-school supplies for middle school students used to mean pens, notebooks, maybe a new backpack. But for a growing number of families, the list now includes a laptop computer, USA Today reports. “We would never send our own kids to pediatricians that were practicing medicine from the ’70s or ’80s,” says Mark Hess, principal of Sarah Banks Middle School in Wixom, Mich. “Why would we send our kids to schools that are practicing instructional techniques that are decades old? If we did that, it’d be educational malpractice.” A districtwide laptop program in the Walled Lake, Mich., Consolidated School District starts in the sixth grade and incorporates technology in math, science, English, and history lessons. Parents of sixth-graders have the option to buy a $784 laptop and enroll their child in the program; those kids are placed in a classroom where all students have their own laptops. Those not in the program have access to 7,000 district-leased laptops that teachers share on rolling carts. The 500 sixth-graders in Walled Lake’s laptop classrooms use their computers for most of the school day. They revise papers, solve math problems, and even take tests and quizzes on the computer. Students also use interactive whiteboards and electronic clickers to key in answers, like on a game show. “It’s just another tool for learning,” Hess says. Though they were a novelty a decade ago, “in 2010, laptops should just be commonplace.”

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Maya Prabhu