Going Chrome: Classroom technology spans the globe

Seeing what a 100-year-old document looks like firsthand, talking to people anywhere in the world, and building websites — these are some ways middle school students are using their Chromebooks.

Every student received a laptop this year, to take back and forth between home and school.

“Technology is used to create, to challenge, to convince, to understand,” said Dr. Robert Miller, the district’s director of technology, at a contemporary education presentation at Founders Hall Jan. 30. “It’s also used for all students to learn at their own pace and fill their specific needs.”

He said educators are teaching students all the different ways they can obtain information, with tools like the Chromebooks.

Middle schools

The middle schools are the only ones with the take-home laptops.

“From an elementary school perspective, we didn’t think it was age-appropriate — it’s part of the learning but not an everyday tool,” said Miller.

Chromebook-driven classes are not ready to be implemented at the high school level. Students are allowed to bring their own devices, but teachers still have to receive training to run this type of technology in the classroom.

“We didn’t have anyone in place in the high school, but now we have a new position this current year — a technology integrator,” said Miller.

Incoming freshmen will have the option to keep their chromebooks next year.

Learning curve

Classroom technology poses a learning curve for teachers.

“Teaching has changed and it is so much better, but it is also harder for me,” said middle school teacher Chris Petersen at the Founders Hall talk.

“I can’t share what I know, I want to give them the answer all the time, but that doesn’t help them.”

Along with changing methods comes incorporating technology like the Chromebooks into everyday lessons and long-form projects.

Three students presented a project they did to showcase their learning about the 13 Colonies.

They created a Colonial company along with a website, logo, job descriptions, and blueprints.

Petersen said students have been learning how to code since fourth grade.

“We learn how to work with technology,” one student told the crowd. “Sometimes we’ll do an hour of code when we go to the library.”

Monitoring

Miller said teachers at the middle schools requested a tool to help them retain students’ attention and control the lesson while using the Chromebooks.

The schools are testing a monitoring application, Netop, in certain classrooms.

“It allows them to focus on what students are seeing and allows them to share what they want students to see,” said Miller.

The application works only when students and teachers are connected on the same network, and it enables the teachers to control what students see and make sure they’re staying on track.

“The feedback from the teachers has been positive,” said Miller. “They love it, it’s really helping them.”

Miller said Netop doesn’t help to prevent cyberbullying.

“That’s more active monitoring — staying in tune with culture and community, have students if they see something say something,” said Miller.

“We’re not at a position where we can actively monitor everything a student puts out there.”

Instead, Miller said, the district has included digital citizenship in the curriculum.

“That’s really the heart of the matter, teaching them ethics and legal uses,” he said.

Spilled milk

Chromebooks cost the district $250 per device. Parents pay an annual insurance premium of $27 for repairs and replacements, although the school is increasingly asking parents to take a more active role in preventing accidents.

“We’ve had a range of accidental breakages,” said Miller.

Miller said the idea is that parents will make sure the students are being responsible with their devices.

“The school will be contacting the parents if the child has broken the Chromebook,” he said.

“I think it’s fair of the school to ask that the children respect and take care of their Chromebooks, and for the parents to make this clear to their children,” said an East Ridge parent.

“They are old enough to know what the expectations are regarding school property, especially something as expensive as a laptop computer…

“I also think that too much emphasis is being put on the Chromebooks to be used during class. Learning how to take written notes is an important life skill and I'm not sure eighth grade children need to have more technology in their lives, and more time staring at a screen, than they already do.”