From tablets to Chromebooks
A typical day at Great Bend Middle School starts in the gym, where students gather before the first class. When the bell rings, they go to their assigned classrooms and pick up their Chromebooks from the cart where they were charged overnight.
Most likely they will use these electronic devices several times before returning them at the end of the day.
Great Bend launched its 1 to 1 Chromebook Initiative this year, making sure every student at the school had access to a Chromebook — a laptop computer that runs Google’s Chrome Operating System and is primarily used while connected to the Internet.
Unlike traditional laptops, these devices don’t download external data – so they won’t pick up a virus. They are lightweight and durable – built for education. Teachers are finding many ways to use them, said Darcy Leech, the GBMS technology coach.
The students don’t take the devices home with them, but they do have their own assigned devices. They can also check out laptops during Homework Help time before and after school.
Instructor Stacey Magnett starts her history class with a bellringer activity. Students answer questions on their Chromebooks while the teacher takes attendance. As soon as the bell rings, a class discussion about the questions can commence.
The students write definitions of terms and descriptions of places, saving their work on the Chromebooks. Eventually, they will turn their research into presentations, which their teacher will grade digitally.
Magnett is on her computer at the same time students are using theirs. At any time, she can see what they are writing and send instant feedback with comments and suggested changes.
Tina Steinert, the school’s gifted facilitator, collaborated with Magnett to create digital workbooks that can be sent to students’ Chromebooks. As students read the document on their computers, it can also be projected onto the smartboard at the front of the classroom.
Sadie Pile is one of USD 428’s first-year teachers, and among the first to embrace the new technology. She often uses GoogleClassroom and Google Docs in her history class. Paperless, electronic documents can be shared with students.
Computers can reduce the need for supplies such as paper, markers and sticky notes, Leech said. In fact, Pile didn’t use the school copier at all for the first few weeks of school.
Her students have been doing research for the National History Day project.
“The theme is taking a stand in history,” Pile said. Students began their research after choosing historic people such as Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Gandhi. They’ve been challenged to look deeper into the turning points surrounding these individuals to gain a better perspective of history.
The students’ reports will be written and edited online, using Google Docs, another web-based application. In addition to exposing students to word processing technology, this is a handy way for them to keep their notes organized. “They have it all in one place,” Pile said.
One recent afternoon in Kimberly Rolfs’ classroom, 20 students were using their Chromebooks to work on projects. Teachers don’t have to worry that some of the students may stray from the lesson on their computer and instead open a solitaire game or unapproved website. There is software that filters what the students can see. Meanwhile, with the program GoGuardian, Rolfs could see what was on all 20 screens.
The following day, Rolfs introduced students in her Life Skills class to a web-based resume program called Career Cruising.
“Based on your experience, type in some of your real-life experience,” she instructed the students. The program asked for details about their career objectives and references.
Students began to ask questions, including, “What is a reference?”
Rolfs had everyone pull their computer covers partially closed, returning their focus to the teacher.
“Half-mast your computers,” she said. “References are people you feel could speak highly of you.” References on a resume might include teachers, coaches or people in charge of projects the students volunteered for in the community, she said.
After the class, Rolfs and Leech commented further on the Career Cruising program.
“This is a good reinforcement for getting kids involved, because they’re going to see the final product,” Rolfs said.
The resume they create in middle school can be used in high school and beyond, Leech said. “The students will have this log-in for six years.”
In Jackie Cook’s seventh grade English class, students have been studying mythology. Once again, Chromebooks came into play when students were challenged to work in teams, creating a document and digital presentation with their partner.
“They’re making original myths based on Greek mythology,” Cook explained. Students came up with ideas to explain such questions as: Why do boys and girls fight? and Why do boys play football?
“They never cease to amaze me, what they come up with,” Cook said.
Students Evan Wedel and Jade Poe chose to create a myth explaining why people have different accents.
Wedel explained the premise: Long ago the proud people of Boastfulia thought they were higher than the gods and boasted about it. Eventually, their boast was heard by Hades, who was furious.
“He cursed their tongues,” Wedel said. On the computer, he opened an image of a Greek statue.
For good measure, Hades spread the curse to boastful people throughout the world.
“And the curse went to their descendants,” Poe said.
Working on the story together, Wedel and Poe opened the same document on their Chromebooks. As one typed, changes appeared on both screens.
In addition to writing their story together, Wedel and Poe had to search for artwork, sound effects and video that could be added to their computer presentation of the myth. The final version was sent to their instructor, who could share it with the entire class on the smartboard.
The Chromebooks aren’t used all of the time or in every class. In an enrichment class taught by Joseph Bliven, students were given the choice of whether to do their research projects on paper or to use Google Slides, an online application used to create and edit visual presentations.
“It’s not forced on them to do digital things,” Bliven said.
Student Angel Razo chose to draw his presentation, allowing him to use his skills as an artist. His assignment was to research a planet in the solar system and create a character that lives on that planet. Questions to answer include “What does your character need to survive?”
The school district is also getting more digital textbooks with each curriculum update. In math class, students may answer questions from a workbook using a calculator and a digital interactive textbook. The textbook can give them feedback on whether they’re right or wrong, giving students a chance to work again on any problem they get wrong the first time.