Students Deepen their Learning With New Chromebooks
By Alex Domine
Imagine a classroom where each student has a personal device that supports their intellectual growth by centralizing every necessary piece of information they need to learn effectively and joyfully. That is what the Middle School faculty piloted this year in 7th grade with Chromebooks for each student.
“These students are creating art, coding robots, animating videos, reading up on history, and researching English projects, so the ultimate goal is for students to have a flexible tool that they can use to demonstrate what they’ve learned,” said Director of Educational Technology Holly Gerla.
After a successful pilot phase, the Chromebooks will be available next year to both 7th and 8th-grade students. The school’s approach has been to pilot new ideas on a small basis, then scale them up if they’re proven successful. Over time, these Chromebooks will be less expensive than the school’s current laptop carts. More importantly, they’ll open up additional possibilities for creative lessons. Technology Integration Specialist Joe Sparano explains that Chromebooks are more capable than either a laptop or a tablet on their own.
“Students can use a Chromebook for any lesson I ever come up with,” he said. “As a creative tool, it has so much potential. It’s a tablet you can draw on, but it’s also a computer you can code on.”
The possibilities with Chromebooks don’t stop with science and math. In Jenise Petrich’s history class, students use Chromebooks to study the Gettysburg Address.
“It creates joyful learning because kids can ask a question in class and I can toss it right back and them and ask them to go find out, so they’ll come back later with more information,” said Ms. Petrich. “I can make my teaching much more responsive and spontaneous. It immediately deepens their learning.”
Moments like this enhance the student experience because it provides them with more resources to ask questions and discover the answer in a way that is exciting to them. Beyond the bells and whistles of the device, however, is the sense that students are developing more independence with the addition of student Chromebooks.
“In many ways, Chromebooks help students develop responsibility. For example, if a battery dies or if they forget to shut down to get the latest software, this experience is teaching them the natural consequences of not taking care of their own equipment,” said 7th Grade Team Leader Judy Williams.
Middle School English Teacher Teri Dederer described students becoming more comfortable with technology in ways they haven’t before and observed a learning moment with one of her advisees who wanted to increase his productivity by turning in assignments early.
“For him, it was about using his Chromebook to be his support system. He has it all day, every day. He now has access to Veracross all day to keep him more on track. He feels more independent because he now has a system where he doesn’t need me or his parents to remind him,” Ms. Dederer said. “He feels like he can more independently handle his school work. He has that ability to self-regulate.”
Mr Sparano, who works with both Lower School and Middle School students in digital projects, sees this as an opportunity to explore the boundaries of what is possible in the classroom.
“Students can now experience more creative projects more often,” he said. “We don’t have to work around or worry about access to the appropriate technology to teach meaningful lessons. The Chromebooks give students more opportunities to demonstrate what they’ve learned in a way that they’re excited about.”
“Students now have another resource to get more comfortable with technology in ways that they haven’t before for something as simple as vocabulary work.” Ms. Dederer adds.
Chromebooks are tools that students use to develop self-management skills, they come with exciting features that are adaptable for any form of academic study, and they open up the possibilities for what learning can look like for students. Ms. Williams acknowledges that we live in a digital world and that this is a step in the right direction in keeping pace with technology.
“We live in the world of Microsoft and Google. Some of our kids may even end up working for them,” said Ms. Williams. “The Chromebooks are just another way students are learning skills that they can use when they move on to the Upper School and into college.”