How Google Chromebooks conquered schools

Chromebooks in the Classroom

How Google Chromebooks conquered schools

iPads? That’s so 2013. The newest revolution in classroom computing can be found in Chromebooks—small, basic laptops that connect to the Internet using Google’s Chrome operating system. In late 2014, sales of Chromebooks to schools surpassed sales of iPads for the first time, signifying a shift toward keyboard-based technologies, especially for older students.

Why? Educators cite Chromebooks’ convenience, ease of use, and relatively low cost (about $200, compared to about $500 for an iPad or $380 for an iPad mini).

With a Chromebook, students can tap in to the power of the Internet—and because the devices include keyboards, they build essential keyboarding skills, required by the Common Core and many state standards, as they research, collaborate, learn, and create. Here’s a look at how some educators are using Chromebooks in the classroom.

Make History Shine

Seventh-grade social studies teacher Shahr Rezaiekhaligh knows most middle schoolers don’t get excited about ancient history. So Rezaiekhaligh, a teacher at Summit Lakes Middle School in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, has students investigate the history of ancient civilizations using TimeMaps, a free Google Chrome app.

“Mesopotamia is the world’s earliest civilization, but kids don’t know anything about it. With TimeMaps, they can click through the map and see how the region has changed,” Rezaiekhaligh says. “They notice it didn’t go through a lot of changes early on, but then they hit a point where they see lots of changes.

We’ll discuss things , ‘Why would this civilization be really big one day and then nonexistent?’”

Bolster Science Skills

It’s essential to mix online and offline instruction, says Katie Budrow, a science teacher at Caruso Middle School in Deerfield, Illinois, who uses Chromebooks and virtual simulations to build students’ skills and confidence before embarking on labs.

One of her favorite simulations is BrainPop’s VirtualMicroscope lab. “Kids practice on the virtual microscope before they get to use the actual microscope,” Budrow says. “The simulation allows them to turn the knobs and lower the stage without the risk of breaking the slide.

When they feel they’re ready, they can use the real one. You end up with really confident kids.”

Conquer the Elements!

Rebecca Grgurina, a sixth-grade science teacher and STEM coordinator at Kennedy Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, frequently uses Google Forms, Flubaroo (an instant-grading program), and ExitTicket, a Chrome app, to assess students’ mastery of material. Kids who have already mastered a lesson’s basic objectives can go on to more challenging material, while others receive supportive instruction.

“Five of my students mastered the class objectives for atoms before I even taught the material,” Grgurina says, so those students delved into the elements of the periodic table and created Element Superheroes.

“They used their Chromebooks to learn about the physical properties and molecules that create an element, and then each student created a superhero to represent it. Some used; others did computer drawings or hand-drawn posters.

They got to be creative and expand their knowledge of protons, neutrons, and electrons and how they work together.”

Team Up to Track Explorers

Many teachers love Chromebooks because apps such as Google Docs and Google Slides make it easy for students to collaborate, whether they’re in the same room or across town.

(Budrow says she’s had students ask to work on group projects while home sick!) Vicky Hartwig, a fifth-grade teacher at Mayville Middle School in Wisconsin, says the ability to collaborate electronically has fed her students’ creativity.

She introduced her class to Google Docs and Slides, but they’ve since used the technology to collaborate in unexpected ways.

Given an open-ended social studies assignment—the kids had to research and present a Midwestern historical topic—one group used Chromebooks to make a movie about Harry Houdini. “They wrote a script, built props, acted it out, and gave the info to the class in a story, via their movie. It was amazing,” Hartwig says.

Some oversight is necessary, of course. Because Google Docs, Slides, and other apps allow all project members to make revisions, kids can “mess with each other’s work,” says Rezaiekhaligh.

You can decrease the opportunity for trouble by arranging your classroom so that students’ screens are visible during work time.

Try placing their desks in a circle, with yourself at the center and screens turned toward you.

Win the Keyboard Race

Digital literacy and keyboarding are essential 21st-century skills for all students. The Common Core ELA Literacy standard W.3.6 requires that third graders be able to “use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills), as well as to interact and collaborate with others.”

Chromebooks’ small keyboards are perfect for little hands, and free Chrome apps such as Typing Club make it easy to integrate keyboarding into the school day.

A Roomful of “Geniuses”

Inspired by Google—which encourages employees to devote 20 percent of their work time to passion projects—Grgurina introduced “Genius Hour,” a period when kids are allowed to explore their own interests.

“One student was interested in Minecraft and video games. He found a website that allows people to create games, and he created his own and shared it with the class,” says Grgurina.

Another student researched homemade products and created her own face cream.

Create Computer Buddies

Most elementary schools still use tablets, in part because younger kids’ fine motor skills are not as developed. Yet introducing Chromebooks to your youngest students can be a step in the right direction. Besides keyboarding, they learn basic computer skills.

Mentoring by older students is also a great strategy. “I have fifth graders come in and showcase their projects with graphic organizers and interactive multimedia,” says Jessica Butterfield, a second-grade teacher at New Roads Elementary School in Santa Monica, California. “That helps raise the bar for my learners. With a little scaffolding, anything is possible.” 

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Photo: Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images


Private school’s Chromebook program explains why Google’s laptops have captured nearly 20% of the educational market

How Google Chromebooks conquered schools

Kentucky Country Day, an independent private school, recently began requiring Chromebooks for their middle schoolers. What started as an R&D experiment has yielded some striking results.

Middle school students are required to purchase a Google Chromebook for use in the classroom.

According to an estimate by Futuresource Consulting, Chromebooks accounted for almost 20 percent of the mobile computing market for K-12 schools in 2013.

Kentucky Country Day (KCD), an independent private school, has had a 1:1 laptop program for their high school students since 2005, but they recently began requiring the purchase of Chromebooks for their middle school students to use in the classroom.

Simultaneous to the Chromebook experiment was the school's roll Google Apps, which the students use to create and share content and access their assignments. The initial goal was simply to increase communication between the students and their teachers but Greg Korchnak, a science teacher at KCD who helped start the program, said it quickly became much more than that.

“All of a sudden we saw an explosion of student creativity,” Korchnak said.

“All of a sudden we saw an explosion of student creativity.” – Greg Korchnak, science teacher

Students were using their devices to create non-assigned projects short stories and share them with their peers and instructors for feedback. The faculty quickly realized that the star of the show wasn't the Chromebooks themselves, but the Google Apps suite they were all now using.

The use of Chromebooks in the classroom is subject to the discretion of the individual teacher, but the teachers that allowed the use of the Chromebooks saw a fundamental shift in the way they taught.

Now that the students had access to content via the Internet, the teachers began to focus on teaching learning skills and how to apply facts and figures to real-world applications. 

SEE: Photos: KCD's tech in the classroom: Chromebooks, Google Apps, Makerbots

The high school students were not using Google Apps, but as the pilot class moved into high school they urged the faculty to let them continue on with the cloud-based service.

The students d the way they were learning with Google Apps and didn't want to change, so the administration let them keep using Google Docs as they moved in high school.

Getting to this point wasn't easy, and it won't work at every school, but KCD said that it started with an R&D attitude.

The R&D attitude

According to Middle School Director Dan Ceaser, the program started out with three distinct ideas: “Collaboration, communication, and organization.

” They knew they wanted students to be able to collaborate and share documents, but the school made some mistakes when they started the 1:1 program in the high school and they didn't want to repeat them.

Middle school at KCD comprises 5th grade through 8th grade students which covers many stages of learning development. They wanted a device they could put training wheels on early that also had the horsepower for when they needed it.

Tim Rice, the school's Director of Technology (who admits he gets compared to Walter White from Breaking Bad), said they began the conversation with the idea of putting the right tool in the hands of kids to enhance how they learned and how the teachers taught.

“What ever direction we took,” said Tim Rice, “the device was going to be our last consideration.”

Tim Rice is the Technology Director at Kentucky Country Day. He helped with the deployment of Chromebooks in the middle school.

So, the school began throwing things out there to see what would stick. They got some iPads, Android tablets, Lenovo tablets, and Chromebooks.

The wow factor was high with the iPads, and the school was convinced they were going to be an iPad school, until the kids started trying to produce content on them.

At this point the focus shifted to entirely to the Chromebook and Google Apps, where content was easy to produce and collaboration came naturally.

The choice of a web-based product Google Apps means that KCD is not held hostage to hardware product cycles or specific brands. Being a private independent school , KCD has more resources and autonomy than a public institution. This allowed them to stay agile and invest a little more time in figuring out what worked best for the students without changing their entire approach to education.

Relying on the browser as the tool has also presented some challenges for KCD. Bandwidth and infrastructure issues were major considerations when KCD planned their move to the cloud.

They had to increase bandwidth school-wide, making sure access points could handle the increase in student traffic, and they made the move from a 50 mbps pipe to a 100 mbps pipe.

One time KCD had an access point go down, leaving an entire class in the dark, but Dan Ceaser said they have scaled to fix that problem. The cloud, itself, can also be a point of contention with parents that don't quite understand it.

KCD has to educate parents on the cloud, safety issues, and the differences between web access at home and web access at school. They also have to educate students on the concept of digital citizenship and how to properly source and cite their work.

The faculty at KCD eventually settled on two models of Chromebooks that students can purchase, the Samsung XE303 and Lenovo Thinkpad X131e. When they launched the program, Chromebooks were solely a B2B offering and they had to go through Agosto to get batches of Chromebooks. It made it difficult for students who were entering in the middle of the school year.

Devices are enrolled under the KCD domain, then they use the Google apps management to break students into groups their grade level, control how much email access they have, blacklist websites and put filters on the computers. Then they use Hapara to help organize the students Google Drive. All the safety features go home with the student which was a selling point of safety when KCD first pitched it to the parents.

Once they settled on Chromebooks, the students adopted the technology organically. The school never mandated the use of Chromebooks in the classroom, or even explicitly encouraged their students to use them. Nowadays, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and they have to rein in the use of the Chromebooks at times.

The high school students, who also use Google Apps, follow a BYOD policy as long as their computers meet certain specs and the primary school students have access to school-owned iPads and laptops. Rice said KCD is slowly moving other aspects of the school to Google Apps and they hope to be operating solely on Google products soon.

Students participate in every aspect of building robots, including soldering the boards and programming the robots.

The takeaway

The use of technology in the classroom has the potential to help and the potential to hurt. According to Kate O'Hara, a professor at the New York Institute of Technology, it all depends on how you implement it.

“Authentic technology integration doesn't happen on its own—and it isn't without a solid grounding in pedagogy,” O'Hara said. “When the technology is effectively used and implemented in classroom practice, there is potential for a significant shift in the student/teacher dynamic. And I'm using that word again, 'potential.

' Classrooms with technology can still be teacher-centered or reflective of what Paulo Freire describes as the 'banking method.

' We can use laptops for 'drill and kill' activities, or rote memorization, or for online test prep—or we can use laptops and associated apps as a medium for creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.”

In KCD's case the introduction of Chromebooks and Google Apps resulted in a fundamental shift in how the teachers taught and how the students learned. It allows kids to learn at their own pace and it tailors the learning experience to the individual child.

Kentucky Country Day's experience is unique, and it's simply not possible to incorporate a 1:1 Chromebook program at every school in the country. Kentucky Country Day's goal is to become a beacon for what it looks to integrate technology in the classroom.

Every summer they host a two-day conference called Tech, Teach, Learn where they gather with schools from around the region to discuss what works and what doesn't.

They offer programming classes as early as fifth grade, a fabrication lab complete with a couple Makerbot Replicator 2s, and a class where students build a robot from scratch, even soldering the boards.

But the introduction of the Chromebooks and Google Apps, as miniscule as it seems in comparison, was more impactful in that it allowed the students to take ownership of the material.

Phil Maddocks, a Market Analyst for Futuresource Consulting, explains why Chromebooks are so appealing to educators.

“Chromebooks present a number of benefits to the education market which goes further than just offering cheaper hardware,” he said. “While cost savings can be made on the cost of the hardware alone, the majority of the cost savings originate from savings made from infrastructure and device management.

“As Chromebooks are cloud-based devices, the security, device management, and even core content creation apps such as Google Docs are run in the cloud which produces cost reduction on both managing and setting up the devices, as well as some software licensing costs. Although there are limitations when the devices are offline, core apps such as Google Apps can function offline and can offer some functionality. More and more apps are now including offline functionality which reduces the requirement to always be online.

“Looking further ahead, educational content is now moving digital and is becoming available on the web, and by providing Chromebooks, this will be accessible on these devices. In addition to this, Google has announced their direct competitor to Apple's Education store iTunes-U, Google Play for Education in the U.S. which will feature content specifically for the education market.”

The faculty at KCD aren't sure how far the Chromebooks experiment will go, but they adamant about continuing with Google Apps. The use of Google Apps has increased transparency and led to fewer misunderstandings between parents and teachers over assignments and due dates.

An added bonus for parents is that it's harder for the students to lose their homework. Regardless of what devices they require or how they are used in the classroom, Rice wants to get to the point where the students understand the power of what's in front of them.

“It's just a tool. It's not even a consideration,” Rice said. “It just is, and our students are hopefully coming up with the facilities to adapt to whatever is thrown at them.”

Considering a move to Google Apps? Here are some things to consider:

1. Infrastructure. Is your school or organization prepared to handle increased bandwidth from using a cloud-based service? Do you have enough access points and a back-up plan if something goes down? Is your IT department properly staffed?

2. Education. Are your students, parents, and faculty aware of the capabilities and limitations of Google Apps? Do they understand the safety issues of using a web-based product and how to effectively monitor use?

3. Scalability. Are you prepared for the changes in workflow and group dynamics this will bring to your school or organization? Do you have a rollout plan that accounts for differences in development stages and education level?

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