Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Uncensored 1:1 4th Grade Chromebook Reflection

Guest post by my 4th Grade Teacher Lindsay Wells. We get  a lot of questions, locally, about the deployment of our Chromebooks in 4th Grade. Who better to share the ups and downs than one of my teachers........

Not too long ago my fourth grade classroom had 12 desktops.  That is two students per computer.  These were bulky pains in the butt.  The lack of space in my classroom was frustrating.  Crawling under tables to sort through a jumble of cords in order to determine why the monitor went black was just plain annoying.  Students fighting over control of the mouse or keyboard is exhausting.  It may sound like I was a bit ungrateful, but I wasn’t.  These bulky-frustrating-annoying- exhausting machines made learning happen.  I couldn’t have been more grateful, but that didn’t make them any less bulky, frustrating, annoying or exhausting.  I was thrilled to be a part of such an amazing education for these youngsters.  Just when I accepted my fate as the keeper of the bulky-frustrating-annoying-exhausting machines, my principal threw out a new word… CHROMEBOOKS!!!! ***Insert Hallelujah Chorus***  My mind began to race at the thought of these new gems.   Immediately, my ocean of cords hidden between tables disappeared.  My classroom opened up, and I saw a reading center.  The fighting ceased and the peace began.  

Then reality hit…
My principal brought us in over the summer to teach us about our new technology.  I was an eager learner and was excited about the endless possibilities.  Our first training proved to be a bit of a disappointment, to no one’s fault but my own.  Instead of learning the endless ways we were going to use them, we instead focused on much more basic issues.  We discussed potential storage of our Chromebooks, we discussed classroom set up, we discussed student seating, and so on… Why hadn’t I thought of all this nitty gritty?  It hadn’t occurred to me that leaving behind our bulky-frustrating-annoying-exhausting ways would open up a whole new world… but it did.  Yes! If you are considering ditching desktops, take time to well plan out the redistribution of your space.  
We made a plan of action for storage of Chromebooks using desk organizers.  We began to make a list of ways we could use the Chromebooks for education.  One hiccup we came to is that not all websites work on the Chromebooks.  They don’t necessarily support Flash, Shock, or Java.  So be mindful of that!  They are also completely web based with very little storage of their own.  Students need a whole course on using Google Docs and Chrome effectively.  Luckily, that wasn’t a battle we had to fight alone.  Our computer teacher has done a great job preparing them and will help with any skill we ask her to.
Summer ended, the school year began, and my focus was no longer Chromebooks.  We had new curriculum, new grading, new grading software, new everything!  This is where I am going to pause this writing for a brief PSA. “Please don’t … I repeat, please don’t change technology in the midst of this much change.”  I don’t feel I have been able to be quite as effective as I could have been with new ideas for Chromebooks, since my mind has been pulled in what feels like 50 directions.   I don’t think anyone, including myself, realized the amount of work that Chromebooks would take to adjust to.   It was quite a load when added to the rest of our pile of “newness.”  

Words cannot express how excited our students were for their very own Chromebook.  We couldn’t get them into their hands fast enough.  I am just going to list some issues we had with students and Chromebooks so this doesn’t become the writing that never ends:
1. Chromebooks are portable, when students come to you for help they want to carry them like they are a notebook.
2. Chromebooks are private, students are not closely monitored by their peers (like they are in two-to-one scenarios).  They are absorbed in their own screen and don’t tattle on their off task neighbor… darn it!!!!
3. It is necessary to see each and every student’s screen.  It doesn’t matter how engaging your lesson is, nothing competes with Poptropica.  Find a seating chart where you can see them all. Frustrating things happened when I didn’t heed this warning.  My students are now in a “U” form with their backs facing me.  I see everything!!!! Mwa ha ha ha

Even though we have encountered issues with receiving Chromebooks this year, I cannot express how wonderful it is to have each student holding a technological device.  It has transformed our Daily 5 time.  I don’t have to thoughtfully plan how to give each partner plenty of computer time.  Students go online for Work on Writing, Word Work, and Listen to Reading.   Chromebooks keep the kids motivated.  They are so excited to be on them any chance they can get.  Beware, these little munchkins are smart.  They can learn new technology way faster than us tall people.  

1. Chromebooks are reliable.  Desktops would get finicky, not these little guys.
2. Chromebooks have amazing battery life.  They last an entire school day and then some.
3. Chromebooks are portable.  They slide in a desk easily.  
4. Chromebooks are user friendly.  The kids have have them figured out!
5. Chromebooks are durable.  Not one drop this year has put a Chromebook completely out of commission.  A few have went off for repairs, but they still worked.
6. Chromebooks allow for peace.  We no longer have bickering over whose turn it is to use the mouse.
7. Chromebooks really do work with most websites.  
8. Chromebooks are easily stored and transported.  

We love the Chromebooks in our classroom. I plan to use my summer for some awesome Chromebook brainstorming. I will happily share ideas with anyone who wants them, and I would love new ideas from you!