In a Carroll Middle School seventh-grade classroom, Nathan Fox assists Katie Riesselman while Nathan Hermsen views Logan O’Brien’s work on Chromebook.
In a Carroll Middle School seventh-grade classroom, Nathan Fox assists Katie Riesselman while Nathan Hermsen views Logan O’Brien’s work on Chromebook.
September 4, 2013

More than 900 Carroll High School and Middle School students hit the technology jackpot at the start of the school year last month when they received new Samsung Chromebooks as the Carroll Community School District initiated a 1-to-1 computer initiative.

As students, teachers and administrators get acquainted with the machines, they're already seeing many benefits to the initiative.

The computers were distributed at the start of classes in mid-August to nearly 575 CHS and 360 CMS students.

Chomebooks may be another chapter in disappearing days when new pencils and notebooks were a special sign of a new school year. Now, readin' ritin' 'rithmetic are being taught to the tune of powering up the Chromebooks.

Use of technology has become second nature to youths, Carroll Community School District educators note, and the Chromebooks initiative gives every student the advantage of latest equipment and applications.

Some of the benefits are:

- Endless online research sources.

- Improved collaboration on projects among students.

- Improved ability for teachers to track students' understanding of lessons so that they can adjust if necessary.

- Students are active in researching information so they're more likely to retain what they find instead of memorizing from books and lectures.

- Chromebooks allow students to research and do assignments at any time, nearly anyplace.

- The opportunity to create sharp presentations demonstrating communication skills and thorough understanding of materials.

Carroll High School assistant principal Tammie McKenzie says the Chromebooks initiative is another step in what already has unfolding in the school.

"Even prior to Chromebooks, some of our instructors have utilized the online textbook format," she said in an email comment to The Times Herald. "Many teachers currently use a blend of textbook and online resources. In general, in education, with the endless amount of resources available via the Web, instructors find it beneficial to filter those, choose the best for our students that will allow students to construct their own learning in regard to the concept being taught. The role of the instructor becomes increasingly more critical in determining, according to the essential concepts and skills of the Iowa Core, the best task to achieve competence/mastery in that area."

Becky Boes, who teaches sophomore English and is beginning her 13th year at CHS, notes, "Every student comes in with different knowledge and skills, much like any other type of learning. The difference is that for the most part this is the preferred learning style for students. They are willing to learn the tools with technology and can pick up on them easily."

Boes says the program enables teachers to quickly adapt in order to meet individual students' needs.

"If some (students) need extra practice," she points out, "we can provide that. If they need extra instruction, there are online tutorials available. Some teachers in our building are even developing their own. It also allows students to showcase, share and collaborate on their work. These are essential 21st-century skills."

Boes says Google Chrome offers great learning apps - software that allows students to perform specific tasks.

"These apps range from organizing materials to student exploration to producing products," she says. "Teachers and students have daily access to utilize these apps."

From English to math to science, Chromebooks can be put to use in all subjects.

Scott Duhrkopf, who teaches physics, calculus and precalculus at CHS says, "The main advantage will be that every student now has the ability to access the Internet at all times during school. Sharing of documents, emails, assignments will be an expectation now instead of a luxury. This will make the high school much more like the real world."

Duhrkopf, marking his 15th year at CHS, says, "Students have been ready for the infusion of the Chromebooks to the classroom for several years. We now have the resources to challenge their unlimited computer skills."

CMS teachers say the Chromebooks program eliminates the previous limited availability of technology, arranging use of a computer cart or the computer lab.

Soliciting observations from teachers on what they believe the use of Chromebooks will mean to students, CMS principal Jerry Raymond received responses such as:

- "All students will have access to technology on a consistent basis. It will increase the engagement of the students. It allows them to build background knowledge. It will give students a sense of ownership and responsibility in the learning process."

- "The addition of the Chromebooks will make learning more efficient. According to research, students will learn the basics 30 percent faster."

- "They are able to have up-to-date information that we don't always have with textbooks. They will also familiarize students with resources that are available through the Web to enhance their education and enrich their lifelong learning."

- "Our hope is having this 1-to-1 program is to open the doors of creativity and guide students as they become more engaged and involved in their own learning through technology."

One response did cite a quote in 1999 from Cheryl Lemke, executive director of the Milken Exchange on Education Technology: "The question is not if technology will impact the nation's public schools, but rather if that impact will accelerate the educational progress of children and youth, positively or negatively."

CMS seventh-grade social-studies teacher Tom Borchers says students were excited to receive the Chromebooks, were mastering use of the machines in short time, and have taken ownership and responsibility for the devices.

Carroll Community School District bought 1,000 Chromebooks at nearly $239 apiece. With protective cases for the equipment and other costs, the project totaled $305,740. The Chromebooks were purchased using revenue from the 1-cent local-option sales tax that the state established for public school districts statewide. The tax generates $1.2 million to $1.4 million yearly for Carroll Community Schools. The LOST is also funding construction projects in the school district. LOST funds can be used only for buildings and grounds and equipment and cannot be used for textbooks, teachers' salaries and benefits or other items.

Carroll Community School District business manager Gary Bengtson says Google has many apps available that are free.

"That's one of the big advantages of the Chromebooks. You don't have to buy a lot of software to go with them," he said.

This is not the first time Carroll Community School District has introduced a technology initiative for students. Several years ago all seventh-graders were supplied with laptop computers.

"This (Chromebooks) is a much more economical way to go," Bengtson says "At over $200 apiece, compared with maybe $1,000 for a laptop. So you don't have such big initial investment, and there also are not a lot of moving parts in them, they don't have a hard drive, that type of thing. They just access the Internet. ... You don't have to purchase all that software and load all that software on them."

Bengtson reminisced a little about changes in acceptance of technology in schools.

He recalled with a laugh, "They wouldn't even let us use calculators in classrooms."

CMS principal Raymond said the district did a lot of homework when deciding on the Chromebooks program. A committee of administrators, teachers and students met often, discussing pros and cons of one-to-one devices. Superintendent Rob Cordes, sent administrators, school board members, students and the technology coordinator to visit schools who have one-to-one initiatives using Chromebooks. According to Raymond, the committee found that Chromebooks would be an effective and affordable device.

Carroll students are thankful for the initiative.

Eighth-grader Tanner Finken says, "Our education will change from being mostly paper and some online to mostly online and some paper. With Chromebooks, education will also change from us looking up facts about certain things using only a textbook to going online and searching it. The teaching will change too. Before, the teachers had to explain the information and we just had to memorize it, now we teach ourselves using the Chromebooks and actually understand it to remember it longer. We will also benefit by the apps the administrators installed. We can use them anytime to help us learn."

Finken says that technology will now be an everyday tool for all students.

He relates, "Last year we had to sign up to use the Chromebooks, iPads and Netbooks, and it was a big event that we were able to use it to help us learn or to do a presentation,"

He adds, "I think Chromebooks will be used appropriately because we have an incentive to use them appropriately. The incentive is that if you use it wrong it will be taken away and you will have to write everything down instead of getting to type it. If you use it right, in study hall you are able to listen to music and play educational games."

Eighth-grader Taryn Lawler says, "Most school work is now located on the Chromebooks, so students won't forget any assignments or textbooks at school. If, however, students forget their Chromebook, they can access their Google account from a different computer. If teachers request an app to have on the devices, the IT department can send it out to a large number of machines within a very short period of time. Assignments can be sent out by teachers via email, a shared document or Symbaloo.

"I believe that the Chromebooks have been used appropriately by teachers transitioning away from paper. In some classes, students have been asked to create a presentation on topic that previously would have been written down, or put onto a poster. Instead of handwriting papers, students type them on a Google document. Teachers have also had students research a topic quickly in class instead of having the instructor stand there and give lengthy, drawn-out lectures."

CMS principal Raymond says the Chromebook initiative meets the way youths learn today.

"The big thing is we know how they learn and they're in that digital age where they learn using technology and they're going to continue learn that way,"

Raymond's daughter Miranda graduated this spring from the University of Iowa and is completing her student teaching this fall in language arts/reading education and son Jalen is majoring in mathematics at the University of Northern Iowa and studying to be a math teacher.

"That's the way they're learning in college, so we might as well prepare them for the next level," he says.

Eighth-grader Lawler also sees benefits for the future.

"The more technology students are exposed to," she comments, "the better they will be able to compete on a global level in the workforce."