Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chromebooks in 7th grade

This is an updated version of an article I wrote for FreeTech4Teachers last fall about the use of Chromebooks in my 7th grade classroom. I hope you find it useful.

Here's a bit of info about our experience using a Chromebook class set. My school has 3 Chromebook class sets in an ‘in school’ 1:1 program (5th through 7th grades). We’re a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school. I teach 7th grade Social Studies, and the students use the Chromebooks daily. We're wrapping up year 2 with our 1:1 Chromebooks, and we're very happy overall with the results.

Some general observations. The Chromebooks seem pretty rugged. Two Chromebooks have been dropped in the past year, with (thankfully) no ill effects. One simple, but key, feature is the ‘instant on’ nature of the device. I can ask kids to shut the Chromebooks at any time, if I need their full attention and want to avoid ‘computer distraction syndrome’. For instance, in the midst of a graphic organizer assignment, and additional instruction is needed, I can ask them to shut the lid, give them whatever additional blah blah blah needed, then ask them to re-open their Chromebooks. As the computer only takes a few seconds to restart, they are right back on track immediately. Sounds silly, but this is huge, especially since more than a couple kids do have attention issues....

We also LOVE the long battery life. I teach at end of day, and the computers are still going strong. I asked students for a 'battery check' recently - and all students were between 70 and 80% remaining. The computers had been in use for at least 4 one hour periods that day.

We just completed our study of the fall of the Roman Empire, and I assigned the kids a large culminating project. One early activity I had for the kids was to create a timeline of Roman Empire events using Google Draw. Draw was easy to learn and suited our needs, so, this time, no timeline website was used. Students routinely take notes during class - from (short) lectures, while watching videos (guided and unguided), and for some formative assessments. Students collaborate with each other using various Google tools. For instance, student teams developed a brief Google Presentation that they used to teach others as the “expert” on a relevant Roman Empire topic they chose. The integration with Google Apps (the kids sign on to the device, then they are immediately online and connected to Google Apps) is great and saves more time. It's been easy to point students to various websites that either provide the information needed, or the 'application' capability they need to use.

One of our main tech goals is to use free web tools as much as possible. Since the Chromebook is an internet access device, its use is right in sync with our goals. The simplicity of most web tools we use - Google Apps are a good example - means students can concentrate on ‘higher order thinking’ skills (like evaluating and creating information), and not so much ‘how do I use this application?’ Students support each other very well - I’m very pleased to see them helping each other as questions arise. They love the Chromebooks. The computers are pretty speedy, and accomplish everything we want.

There have been some minor bumps along the way, all resolved by now. Early on, there were some network connectivity issues on a few Chromebooks. Those were solved by ‘refreshing’ the OS (about a 10 minute process); those problems have disappeared. Google also provides regular ChromeOS updates (which install fast and unobtrusively, a significant difference from 'other' OS's of which I'm familiar). The improvements have been continuous. Printing using Google CloudPrint is still a work in process; it’s not always totally reliable. We don’t print much, so not a big deal for us. Saving paper = good.

In the 2011-12 school year, uploading and sometimes editing small (30 to 90 second) video files to web-based editing sites was a definite problem. Now, not an issue. “Digital Storytelling” is a key desired student skill here, so that was troublesome. We’ve started to use Pixorial and I’m very pleased to say that Pixorial’s video editing has been excellent. It’s reliable, the uploads are relatively speedy, the tool is simple to use, and the end results have been excellent. Their customer support - as I got up to speed on how to use the tool- is first-rate. Creating videos was a major part of the student work done for the culminating Rome project, and it was a success! (UPDATE: Sadly, Pixorial ceased operations in 2014. WeVideo is an excellent choice for video editing and we recommend it!)

Here are some of the web resources students have used this year on the Chromebooks:

Gmail - ongoing two-way communication between students and me
Docs - video notes, lecture notes, formative assessments, assignment and project collaboration
Presentation - collaborative presentations with ‘student as teacher’
Calendar - piloting use of calendar for Fall of Rome project due dates
Forms - collecting “what do I want study?” student responses; “what did I learn today?” exit tickets
Draw (embedded in Doc) - Fall of Rome timeline with embedded images
Advanced Image Search - find copyright-friendly images for various assignments

Other tools:
Collaborize Classroom - For example “who is Rome’s MVP, and why?” conversation
WeVideo - students created video newscast for Rome project
Padlet - web based 'sticky note' tool, LOTS of possiblities
EasyBib - generate Sources Cited to include with Google Preso
instaGrok- for initial learning about a Roman Empire topic

Here's a link to my Symbaloo page with these apps, and more, that students use on the Chromebooks.

I cannot tell you how impressed all of us at my school are with the Chromebooks. For us, a home run - fast start up, long battery, ease of use, LOW maintenance and good reliability - makes it a great device if your school, like ours, is focusing on free/low cost web-based tools.

We'll be acquiring one or two more class sets of Chromebooks for next school year. At $249 a pop, it's kind of a no-brainer, for us anyway.

Next steps beyond acquiring more hardware is to get much more familiar with the contents of the Chrome Store, and doing a more thorough job of rolling out to students and teachers some of the cool apps there. Just need to make the time to get that done...

Are you using Chromebooks? Please feedback your thoughts!


James Briano said...

Are you able to use these devices without a constant internet connection? I'm asking specifically about the Google Drive productivity apps (documents, spreadsheets, presentations).

Gene Tognetti said...

Hi James-

Good question. yes, all the productivity apps you mentioned can be used offline now. You have to enable 'offline apps' and then you'd be good to go.

Here's a link to a good article I found in Google support that lays it out well.

Good luck - thanks for the question and for reading our blog!


Rolland Chidiac said...

Nice write up Gene. I have had a Chrimebook in my class for my students to use and I have witnessed its ease of use and easy and fast start up. Next year I will have one for every two students and I am really looking forward to having then engage in blended learning activities. I will most likely come back to your site to refresh myself on the great things you have done with your students.

Gene Tognetti said...

Thanks Rolland - that's great, your students will love them! Let me know if I can be of any help when you roll them out or anytime after.

Pocatello TechPD said...

Great write up! I am trying to convince my district in going with Chromebooks and Google apps. Was your school a Google edu site before going with the Chromebooks or did you implement them both at the same time?

Gene Tognetti said...

We were already a Google Apps School prior to implementing the Chromebooks. We're up to 5 classrooms, as of this fall - 'in-school' 1:1 program. Good luck w/ your district folks- they won't regret it!

Thanks for the comment,