Teaching tools go high-tech

Thursday, November 15, 2012
The sixth grade class at Spencer Middle School has been using the Chromebooks in class since September, and both teachers and students already notice a difference. Students like sharing work with each other and the teacher, and teachers like the increased efficiency in the classroom. (Photo by Chris Baker, F8 Focus)

When Elle Johnson finishes typing an assignment for her language arts class, only the click of a button sends it to her teacher for grading. If Brandon Nolin needs to finish an assignment at home, he logs online to continue where he left off at school.

The sixth grade class at Spencer Middle School has been using Google Chromebooks for three months, and everyone is noticing a difference in the classroom.

"It's a lot easier to share assignments with your teacher or with other students," Johnson said, "and there's less paperwork to carry from class to class."

This year, the middle school received 36 Chromebooks - one set - from a partnership between the Spencer Community School Foundation and Northwest Bank. The computers are primarily used in language arts, but teachers are already seeing additional ways to teach through the new tool.

"We've talked about interdisciplinary use," Tammy Delaney, middle school language arts teacher, said. "We could share a piece of writing to other students or teachers. This would help the students understand good writing."

This interdisciplinary use would also allow for more collaboration among students.

"I feel like I craft better responses with the Chromebooks," Nolin said.

Last year, the sixth grade team experimented with Netbooks. Chromebooks differ from standard computers in that they do not have a hard-drive. All work is done online, through Google programs. For example, the students complete their writing assignments in GoogleDocs before "sharing" them with their teacher or other student collaborators. The students can then watch the teacher type feedback on the same document.

Because the Chromebook does not have a hard-drive, it does not have to process information locally, which eliminates the need to wait for the computer to load.

"It's so much faster," Sarah Larsen, middle school reading and language arts teacher, said. "Once we pass them out, it takes about 30 seconds for the students to login before we start working."

Teachers have also noticed a higher level of engagement from their students.

"It really levels the playing field when it comes to abilities," Beth Snow-Ketchum, middle school special education teacher, said. "Students that need a little extra time to think about their writing are able to do so without feeling like the class is waiting for them to finish working."

"I see the students put more effort into their responses," Larsen said. "It helps for them to know that their friends could be reading what they write."

While transitioning to the Chromebooks was "a little scary" at first, the students and teachers were using them regularly and with ease soon after receiving the computers. In addition, three teachers attended the Iowa Technology and Education Connection conference to prepare for the added technology.

In the coming year, the Spencer Community School Foundation hopes to provide all Spencer students with Chromebooks to use in the classroom. In addition, teachers and students look forward to incorporating them into everyday classroom use.

"Technology is wonderful, but kids need it as a routine, not as an event," Delaney said.

"Using the Chromebooks is not only more efficient, but it also gives the students a more realistic look into what they'll be doing in the real-world," Larsen said.

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