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TMCNet:  Chromebooks brighten district's teaching reach

[December 18, 2012]

Chromebooks brighten district's teaching reach

Dec 17, 2012 (The Herald Independent - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- FAIRFIELD COUNTY -- Educators have a new tool for facilitating learning thanks to a pilot program undertaken by the Fairfield County School District.


At least one classroom at the elementary, middle and high school level utilizes netbooks or Chromebooks that are powered by the Google Chrome web browser and come preloaded from the Internet cloud with Google applications.

Teachers can create templates using apps so they can share documents with students and the students can then manipulate those documents. As such, a teacher can log onto his or her computer and provide real time feedback on student's papers as they engage in the writing process.

That instant feedback advances learning opportunities said Claudia Edwards, Fairfield County assistant superintendent for instruction, who said seven of the nine schools in the district are participating in the pilot program.

It is a one-to-one pilot, so for every one student participating, they have access to one Chromebook. The teacher can provide virtual comments within Google Documents and Google Drive. That cloud technology has an added advantage -- accessibility.

Students can log onto their Google Drive account from any computer with an Internet connection. School programming is mindful of the disparity between children who have and those who do not have a computer in the home. All Internet-based activities are done in school so that no student is at a disadvantage.

Edwards said that Title I and some State Department of Education funding were combined to pay for the pilot project. The Chromebooks cost $249 each. Edwards said the Chromebooks were more affordable and more durable than iPads which range from $400 to $500 each. Chromebooks can be used again next year or can be shared from class to class as students log in via the cloud.

"This technology will help with the transitioning to online testing in 2014-15 in compliance with common core standards," Edwards said. "For instance, fourth-grade students will have to compose writing in one sitting at a computer for that writing standard, so the students need to be familiar with not only grammar, spelling and sentence structure but also with keyboarding. There is no down time, so that cuts down on distractions." Unlike traditional personal computers, the Chromebooks boot up in just eight seconds and have an eight hour battery life off one charge. Students must have a WiFi connection to use them but there are applications that allow students to do word processing off line, for instance.

Edwards said that the apps are supplied by Google and constantly updated so that students have more up-to-date technological tools than the previous software-based computer systems. Students cannot take the Chromebooks home but they can access their accounts at any time through the Google cloud.

Google apps and Google access are free. Updates to apps occur in the background and there is no need for the expense of antivirus protection because the apps are more self contained than traditional software which has other vulnerabilities. Since Google owns YouTube, the programs are integrated, meaning students can insert a video into a presentation directly from YouTube and the cloud. Less storage devices and bandwidth are needed for schools as well, because so much is stored in the cloud server instead.

Carlene Unangst, English and language arts teacher, loves the opportunities Chromebooks give her to connect with her students. Students can read the hard copy of a book and also can use a computer copy that can read text to them and highlight the text as it is read to help with multi-modality instruction.

Student Malik Holmes said he enjoyed the interaction where slides pop up and students interact with content on a screen rather than reading static words on the pages of a book.

Kavona Rice said she enjoys writing more because of the Chromebooks and that using them helped her get faster at typing.

"As adults we have to change our paradigm to catch up with the children at times," she said. "Here, fifth-grade students at the Fairfield County Magnet School for Math and Science share the Chromebooks with first-grade teachers who use the Chromebooks in small groups." Each teacher was issued a Chromebook so he or she could learn to use it before teaching a group of 30 students with it. About 25 people were trained to teach using Chromebooks including classroom teachers, media specialists and district staff. Those employees received over 20 hours training with a Google certified trainer.

Teachers and administrators started as learners and then transitioned into facilitators that support students' producing and creating. Teachers are more facilitators providing immediate feedback. The goal is students being able to access technology in such as way that they can become independent learners.

In upper level courses, students do research projects using the Chromebooks and then type the research up and do presentations. They use Discus Library search engine and use Google Docs for research tools, both of which can be done within the same window which increases efficiency.

Shannon Taylor pointed out that the Chromebooks are an important tool but that they facilitate instruction, not replace it.

"The Chromebooks are a tool that adds to teaching. They are focused in with the curriculum, with creating and analyzing and critical thinking," Taylor said. "Society is so information-oriented now and we are doing projects so students learn to digest informational texts, effectively summarize them and create a finished product." Other features include keyboarding instruction, flash card apps, e-books, online bibliography software, GRE preparation, an SAT 1200 vocabulary app, logarithm tables, and periodic table flashcard apps.

Students in Taylor's classes in the freshman academy at FCHS have embraced the program. Freshman Esdras Gutierrez said, "we still do a lot of pencil and paper writing but we do projects on Chromebooks. My favorite was doing a Powerpoint book report on the book Blind Side." Though there are a limited number of pilot programs underway in the district, Fairfield Elementary School located additional money and bought more Chromebooks. Principal David Corley found funds to buy an extra set for FCHS students to use with AP courses, as well.

"By commenting on work as they are doing it and then grading them afterwards, there are instant teaching moments that result in a more polished product," Taylor said. "Children born after 1984 have a digital citizenship and are wired in. Social tasks occur at such a rapid pace offline. Now we have a tool to provide a similarly paced access." ___ (c)2012 The Herald Independent (Winnsboro, S.C.) Visit The Herald Independent (Winnsboro, S.C.) at www.heraldindependent.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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