The Year of the Chromebook
One-to-one initiative deemed success
June 3, 2014
Marissa Tunning (left) and Summer Sinnard work to determine areas of various shapes. The interactive computer program — more readily available now that all students have access to their own device — makes the questions harder as they are answered correctly.
Lecturing is down, but learning is up, in the classrooms of Carroll High School.
The Carroll Community School District just wrapped up the first year of its one-to-one computer initiative, in which students in grades six through 12 were equipped with their own personal device - a Samsung Chromebook.
Selected primarily for economic reasons - at roughly $239 each, Chromebooks were cheaper than full laptops - the device's Google platform also provides a wide variety of free apps, increasing the media through which students can learn while reducing the need to purchase software.
As with any change, reactions have been mixed - some teachers love to explore applications that are rapidly evolving to provide more and more ways to communicate; some students still prefer to take notes by hand. But all agree that the access created by the simple availability of the devices has been a game-changer.
IN THE CLASSROOM
- Math -
In Karen Raymond's honors geometry class, students work problems out on personal-sized white boards before entering their answers into an interactive computer program called iExcel. Designed to help students master concepts, the program increases the difficulty of the problems as the students progress through a skill - they don't waste time completing 20 easy problems if they already understand the math, and questions ease to allow students extra practice when they can't master the most difficult applications.
"It takes away all the things that frustrate me as a teacher," said Raymond. "They receive immediate feedback. If they're wrong, it explains why. They can't cheat."
She can help students in real time when they're working on problems during class, and she can tell who is working on their problems, how much time they spent on the problems, and which problems were most missed, enabling her to better tailor her lessons.
The improvement in understanding of math concepts has shown in test scores, she added.
- Writing -
Sophomore English teacher Becky Boes sings the praises of online-resource utilization - she has created her own website incorporating class notes, presentations and short quizzes.
"They are in charge of their own learning," she said.
Boes also incorporates different interactive applications - for her "This I Believe" project, students learn about the narrative style while using National Public Radio resources available online.
Her latest project - known on Twitter as @CarrollReads - will teach students to review books, but rather than submitting a paper to her, their reviews will be published online and opened to other students, faculty and community members - a lesson that teaches an English skill, encourages reading, and gives greater weight to students' work.
"We went from Walmart selling out of poster boards the night before a speech assignment was due, to last semester, completely online portfolios," Boes said. "Binders almost don't exist anymore."
- Science -
Students in Angie Emerick's science classes completed more labs this year than previous classes - thanks in great part to Emerick's incorporation of the "flipped" classroom philosophy.
Rather than students reading a chapter, then sitting through a lecture on the chapter, Emerick records video tutorials, allowing students to preview the lecture before class and ask questions about homework during class, while the teacher is available to help or clarify concepts.
"The discussions in class are better," she said, adding that her classroom is about as far from traditional as she can get. "They have the background - I'm not just getting blank stares. They're asking follow-up questions, and I'm giving in-depth examples."
- Social Studies -
Bob Pauk has been teaching government class for 30 years - long enough to recall the first large desktop computers to arrive in classrooms during the 1990s.
This spring, his students completed a "Report to Tiberius" assignment - using audio-visual equipment to simulate the report of Roman scouts sent by the emperor to learn about a man known as Jesus.
The biggest change in his classroom with the implementation of the one-to-one initiative is simply the convenience, he said - the tools are available any time students need to complete research.
The devices also facilitate collaboration, making it easy for students to swap documents and links, and to contact their teachers, even outside normal school hours.
For his part, Pauk takes the opportunity to provide lists of "credible" sources - such as legislature homepages or Politifact - where students can begin research.
PAST AND FUTURE
These programs and projects would not have been impossible without the one-to-one initiative, but they would have been very difficult, the educators agreed.
Prior to the students receiving Chromebooks, teachers had to sign up for one of the relatively few computer labs available, often weeks in advance - leaving little room to adjust if students get caught on a particular skill and need to devote more time to it.
Emerick's flipped classroom in particular would have been nearly impossible to implement.
By providing each student with the required technology, district officials placed this flexibility back into teachers' hands.
But technology advocates are also the first to admit that technology isn't the answer to everything. When first learning to trace floor plans for a story problem in geometry class, nothing beats a white board and erasable marker, or a pen and pencil, said Raymond.
The goal is not to move all lessons to a computer platform, but to effectively integrate technology to enhance learning, explained Kelli Schultz, K-12 technology integrationist. The idea is to use the technological tools to do something students couldn't do otherwise - not just type papers instead of write them, but create an interactive presentation explaining the paper's theme.
Throughout the district, "class time has expanded beyond the classroom," Schultz said.
When educators have students publish work to blogs or websites to be read by others -as opposed to handing in a paper that will be seen only by the teacher - the work becomes more authentic, she added.
It also becomes increasingly easy to incorporate current events via a link to a news story - hitting the 21st century skills and relevant, real-world requirements of the Iowa Core.
In coming years, Schultz hopes to see coding classes, Google hangouts and Skype connections utilized in the classroom.
She is also pursuing efforts to increase digital citizenship lessons for students and to connect and engage teachers on social-media platforms.
Rob Cordes, district superintendent, called the first year a success. The technology - and its social-media component - made it easier for him to communicate with students, he added.
"We've made some good progress," he said of the district's technology goals.
As the district continues to move forward, stakeholders in the educational system can also anticipate a paperless environment.
According to business manager Gary Bengtson, the district spent $2,500 less on paper and printer ink this year. Due to the changing costs of supplies, the actual change in the amount of printing is difficult to determine, but at least 250,000 fewer sheets of paper were printed this year - and possibly as many as 500,000 fewer.
More efforts to reduce the use of paper, particularly through forms required by the central office, can be expected next year, said Cordes.
Carroll High sophomore Ben Pauli likes having only one textbook to haul through the hallways this year.
Peers Cheyenne Vasquez and Kylee ZanVeen admit that constant access to the Web can tempt some students not to pay attention.
But if they don't, it is their loss, agree Dylan Bettes and Hannah Rowedder.
"You choose what you want to learn," said Betts, commenting on the abundance of online resources now available for every class. "The main factor is still if you want to or not."
Sydney Halbur admits that she is more of a book person - but teachers don't require her to type notes instead of write, and she can still print out handouts or assignments at home if she prefers them to study.
Some students grapple with the murky world of cyberbullying, though freshman Riley Heeren is quick to direct responsibility to parents.
"Texting and Facebook bullying is bad. Parents should do more than the school," he said. "You can always make different accounts. There is always a way to get around the school."
While some students interact with Boes or Cordes on Twitter, others find it "weird" to mix their education and entertainment worlds in the online sphere.
Sometimes it can be hard to keep up, admitted Kalina Schoenfeld.
But when great-grandmothers start using cellphones, there is no way around it, said Sydney Renning - tech is the way of the increasingly global future.
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