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Redesigning Classrooms One Click at a Time

Written by Kelly Linn, a Tierney PD team member since 2017. Kelly spent years as an after school program teacher/coordinator and a middle school social studies teacher before joining Tierney.

A Student’s morning routine:

6:30 am - Use Google/Alexa alarm to wake up

6:32 am - Check social media

7:00 am - Late for the bus, get ready

7:05 am - Board bus - view social media stories with friends on the bus

7:30 am - School starts - attendance is done on the Interactive Flat Panel (IFP)

7:45 am- First lesson done with a hyperdoc on a Chromebook

8:30 am- Students participate in stations using Chromebook

9:00 am - Start paper writing on the Chromebook

10:00 am - Do standardized testing on Chromebook

Before lunch, students have possibly touched multiple forms of technology for a variety of uses. Classrooms look very different from the rooms many of the teachers, parents, and grandparents experienced as learners. Let’s be honest, students are faced with a whole new set of challenges because of the new technology at their fingertips. Many schools are investing in Chromebooks due to the cost and simplicity of the machine for their students, along with how durable they can be. But what actually is a Chromebook and why is it such a right choice for schools?

What is a Chromebook?

From the outside, a Chromebook looks like your typical laptop computer. There is no one brand of Chromebook that dominates the other, you can find Chromebooks from Samsung, Dell, Toshiba, etc. Some Chromebooks are touch screens, some flip into a tablet mode but the thing that makes the device a Chromebook is the functionality. All Chromebooks are Google-driven and simply put, run the Chrome browser. Because Chromebooks run the Chrome browser, users need to sign in to the device with their Google account. Once logged in, users can access the internet through the browser and save items to their Google Drive account. Chromebooks also have shortcuts on the main page, these are either created by the user or pushed from the administrator, which usually include Google Drive, Docs, and Classroom. More powerful Chromebooks have the ability to download third-party applications onto the device, making it more like a tablet. You can cast the Chromebook (if allowed in the settings) to a variety of types of screens as well as use Google assistant to speak commands/requests.

Why Chromebooks?

There are a few very strong reasons to purchase Chromebooks for schools. The number one and strongest reason is the price point. Chromebooks can be fairly cheap for schools and fairly inexpensive to replace them when needed. Chromebooks are easy to use, as there isn’t a lot of bells and whistles to the machine, which then, in turn, means teachers can help troubleshoot a bit easier or students can help repair the devices. Students save all of their items in Google Drive so they can access their files on any device with an internet connection. Chromebooks are logged into a preexisting Google account and can be tracked by these accounts from the administration side. Students simply log onto their Chromebook and their Chrome browser with extensions and bookmarks will populate. Lastly, the devices can be controlled in the Google Admin portal, so administrators can control what access students have on the devices and applications can be pushed to the devices remotely. The beauty of it all is since it’s all Google accounts Chromebooks can be used by a variety of students, so they are perfect for a classroom cart or 1-1 program. Lastly, as a classroom teacher myself, I’ve seen some pretty beat up the technology in my time, especially in the middle school classroom. Chromebooks are one of the few student devices that can withstand the general wear and tear from students, even more so with a case. Just like with any technology, there are limitations, but Chromebooks hold up against much more damage compared to tablets and laptops.

How is a Chromebook used in the Classroom?

The greatest part about this classroom technology is there is no right or wrong way to use a Chromebook, as long as you are making an effort to utilize them. Teachers who have used Chromebook in the most basic, but very effective way, is a device for them to write papers and check emails. On the other end of the usage spectrum, there are also teachers who design an entire blended or flip classroom model every day with the devices. Something to remember, this device has the internet, so any resource that is located online is accessible on the Chromebook. Many professionals get frustrated at first to hear that many Chromebooks do not have applications or the ability to download software. But after the initial conversation and the first week or so in the classroom, many see how unnecessary, expensive software and ad-happy apps can be. Also, many learning platforms have both app access as well as web platforms.

My favorite way of using Chromebooks is as a blended learning model. I personally used them through the use of Hyperdocs. A hyperdoc is like a playlist or a checklist, it is simply put an electronic document/slide show/spreadsheet with a list of links on it. I would assign my three ability groups in my class three different hyperdocs where they would choose what tasks they wanted to complete to better understand the lesson at hand. This helped me differentiate and freed me up to meet with groups or conferences with individual students. The feedback from students was incredibly positive. They loved the fact that they could actually choose what they wanted to do to learn the material (audio vs. visual vs. interactive) and often said it was more fun than the traditional method (WWII Dodgeball and Industrial Revolution Assembly Line Day were usually at the top of the list in my classroom).

A Chromebook in the classroom can be a game-changer. Students are able to be more independent and administrators don’t feel the burden of managing such complicated devices. Students and teachers could feel more confident with this piece of technology due to its simplicity and capabilities. Administrators choose Chromebooks due to the price and management system (Google Admin Console) and teachers enjoy them due to connectivity and durability. Chromebooks serve as an opportunity for students to tap into the universe around them all from the safety net of their own school.