XO Laptop Pilot Project in New York City
In February 2008, a pilot project began in New York City, NY, to integrate laptops into an urban sixth-grade classroom. A non-profit organization called Teaching Matters ran this project. Teaching Matters partners with schools to help add or improve the use of technology in the classrooms. This particular project used XO laptops, which were developed by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), an organization created with the original purpose of giving low cost computers to children in third world countries. The XO laptops were chosen for this project because of their low cost, high quality, and easy maintenance that even a child can handle.
The school in this pilot project was Kappa IV, a middle school in Harlem. Kappa IV has approximately 300 students in grades 6-8, 80% of whom receive free lunch, which indicates the socioeconomic level of the student body.  This school has three sixth-grade classes; only one class had the laptops initially, but at the end of the semester all three classes had them. These classrooms used a literacy curriculum developed by Teaching Matters prior to receiving the laptops. The laptops were integrated into the last three units of the curriculum.
Kappa IV was chosen not because it was lacking in technology, but because the environment in the school was favorable to implementing a successful pilot project, in terms of leadership, organization, and morale among teachers. The school also had a previous relationship with Teaching Matters because of the literacy curriculum they were already using.
State of Technology
Before the XO implementation, classrooms shared laptop carts, and often students had to share computers because some laptops were broken. This increased the student-to-computer ratio, which in turn affected the educational value of the technology - a one-to-one ratio is preferred to maximize the educational potential of a computer. Teachers also had to schedule to use these carts, so the computers were not always readily available. Once students received the XO laptops, each student got their own, so there were no issues with availability or sharing computers. Students also never had to worry about losing their work, since they would always use the same computer and could save their work on it. The XOs allowed both students and teachers to save class time because the laptops were always available for each student, and ready to use when needed. 
Value and Importance
The XO laptop implementation pilot project at Kappa IV put computers into the hands of students in an urban school that may not have had the opportunity to have computers of their own. It allowed them to develop skills that will benefit them in the real world – Internet use, online research, and word processing, among others. It reduced the student-to-computer ratio from what was in place previously, which helps to make the technology more effective in education. Some of the special sharing functions on the XO laptops allowed for increased collaboration in the classroom and even from home. Aside from the educational benefits, it gave the students a sense of responsibility and ownership. They realized how fortunate they were to have the opportunity to use an XO laptop on their own, and took the ownership seriously.
Successes and Problems of the Project
The XO pilot project was evaluated through focus groups and surveys administered to students and parents, and interviews with teachers and Teaching Matters staff. Overall, this project was viewed as being very successful by everyone involved – teachers, students, parents, and staff members of Teaching Matters. Because there was one XO for each student, as opposed to sharing the laptops on the carts, the students used the computers more. They had more time and opportunity to read, write, revise, and research. Students liked it for composition because it was quicker to type in their work than to handwrite. They also liked being able to take it home and use it to access the Internet.
A common theme that teachers and Teaching Matters staff noticed was that the kids shared more with each other – both physically by turning their screens to each other or virtually with the chat function. The students were also enthusiastic to share their laptops with their families when they were able to take them home. Parents got a better glimpse of what their children were doing in school, and noticed that their children were doing their homework more. Eighteen out of nineteen parents surveyed said they would advise the New York City Department of Education to supply all students in the city with XO laptops.
The main complaints with this project were technology related. The XO laptops often froze and had slow load times. Some students thought they would prefer a computer with the more familiar Windows operating system, and said they didn’t need a “childproof” computer, but other students liked the XO because it was made for kids. The sharing function of the XO laptops did not always work so teachers couldn’t rely on using it for lessons. Also, teachers preferred to use a projector during class, but the XO was not compatible with projectors, so teachers were not able to use the laptops themselves during lessons. Some students had trouble accessing the Internet at home, and both students and parents needed to learn more about how wireless networks function.
Where Are They Now?
The XO laptop pilot project in Kappa IV’s 6th grade classrooms concluded at the end of the school year in 2008. Kappa IV received 15 additional XO laptops in March 2009 and there are currently a total of 32 working computers at the school. While the 6th graders in the initial study have moved onto the next grade level, the computers are still being used in the school as part of a “technology club” and are available for any teacher that is interested in using them. The school and staff members at Teaching Matters are interested in using the laptops for electronic textbooks in the future. Also, a technology lab is planned for next year to house the laptops. Everyone involved with the initial project was excited with its outcome and are optimistic for the future of the XO laptops at Kappa IV.
The XO laptop pilot project at Kappa IV in New York City was a successful implementation of computers in the classroom. Students were excited to have their own laptops, to chat and share schoolwork with each other, and to have increased access to the Internet. An observer in one of the classrooms noted that, “…learning had become playing and the kids couldn’t wait to get started.”  Parents were happy that their children were more enthusiastic about their schoolwork, so they were quick to accept the project. Teachers had a way to more effectively teach their curriculum, and benefited from the students’ enthusiasm. A project like this can only succeed if everyone involved is committed to and excited about it, which is likely why this project was such a success.
- Lowther, D., Ross, S., & Morrison, G. (2003). When each one has one: The influences on teaching strategies and student achievement of using laptops in the classroom. Educational Technology Research and Development, 51(3), 23-44.
- S. Brujan, J. Clemente, L. Guastaferro (personal communication, June 2009)