Students can leave their composition notebooks at home: A growing number of schools are abandoning the traditional writing pad in favor of one of the more high-tech variety.
The all-girls Hewitt School on the Upper East Side is one of the city's "laptop schools," where every student is required to purchase a laptop computer and bring it to school every day. They use it for everything from Robotics labs to writing collaborative poetry to recording themselves speaking French.
Earlier this week, about a dozen girls in a 10th-grade English class at Hewitt typed notes on Walt Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." When they didn't know the definition of a word, they headed for Dictionary.com to look it up. Instead of handing in homework the old-fashioned way, they e-mail it to the teacher.
In art class, the girls sketch self-portraits and then scan them into the computers, where they can then digitally paint and distort them to make them look more like something that would hang on the walls of the Whitney Museum, which is situated just around the corner.
Hewitt was among the first in the city when it became a laptop school in 1998, just a year after many schools across the country started to test the waters as part of an effort kicked off by Microsoft and Toshiba.
Other local laptop schools include Trevor Day in Manhattan, Packer Collegiate in Brooklyn, and Rye Country Day School in Westchester. Some public schools in the city have also tried to go to a one-to-one computing system, including M.S. 368 in the Bronx.
The overwhelming majority of the students at M.S. 368 come from low-income families and few would likely have access to computers at home. Until two years ago, the school, which opened in 2000, provided a laptop to every student, but found it was unable to afford the program as it added a new grade each year. The school now has about 800 laptops set up on carts in its classrooms.
The city's Department of Education is getting ready to roll out a pilot program that would make a laptop available to every sixth-grade student in 22 schools. The city is waiting to announce the program officially until it finalizes the details. A spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Kelly Devers, said the cost, funding source, and list of schools were still being finalized.
"The city is looking to expand the technology opportunities that students have in their daily lives," Ms. Devers said.
Council Member Alan Jennings, who was voted out of his of seat in Queens last year, boasted of obtaining laptop computers for all third through sixth grade students in 12 of the district's 16 elementary schools. The Department of Education could not immediately comment on the status of those computers.
Some public school systems in other states are moving toward a similar system. Maine provides all its middle school students and teachers with laptops, and other states, including Massachusetts, Michigan, and Texas, are working toward establishing similar programs, according to Education Week magazine.
"If students are given opportunities to create and collaborate, the effect on school culture and climate can be enormously beneficial. We've seen schools that 'come to life' when kids are given laptops - there's new energy, new ideas, and lots of potential for creative expression," the vice president of the Center for Children and Technology, Margaret Honey, said.
At Packer Collegiate, a private school in Brooklyn Heights founded in 1845, all students are required to buy a laptop when entering the fifth and ninth grades. The school started its one-to-one computing program in 1999.
The assistant head of the school, Matthew Nespole, said the institution has integrated technology into most aspects of school life, but still tries to incorporate some of the more old-fashioned traditions as well.
"Technology has a place and it's important to understand it ... but there are places within the life of the school day where it's not appropriate," Mr. Nespole said.
In math classes, students still plug away at algebra problems with paper and pencil - although they do use a program called Geometer's Sketchpad that helps with the creation of math proofs.
"We have good kids here - I don't think they've morphed into something different because they have a piece of technology in front of them," he said.
Still, laptop schools are not without their problems.
Students are often reprimanded for checking e-mail during class instead of paying attention and taking notes. Some schools, such as Hewitt, have blocked access to popular social networking Web sites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com. The school also tries to block all pornography sites, but that isn't always possible.
For example, if students go to whitehouse.com instead of whitehouse.gov, they arrive at a page featuring a digitally altered photograph of Secretary of State Rice wearing a leather S&M bondage outfit.
"Even when that happens, it gives us an opportunity to discuss these issues with the students, because these are things they are likely going to have to deal with," the director of educational technology at Hewitt, Arvind Grover, said.
Some teachers said they configure their classrooms so they can constantly monitor what the students have on their screens.