In September, when students in grades three through six returned to Orange Schools, Chromebook computers were waiting for each student. “It was a large investment, but it’s also tying in with our goal and strategic plan about promoting lifelong learning through technology,” said Superintendent of Schools Vince Scarpetti at the Board of Education’s December meeting. Part of the implementation plan was to take a look after three months of use to see, through a poll, what teachers thought about the Chromebooks, what teachers are using them for and whether or not students like them.
“One of the most important questions we asked was ‘how often do you use Chromebooks in daily instruction?’” said Jennifer Kozniewski, the district’s Technology Integration and Database Specialist. The poll showed that 81.8% of teachers are using Chromebooks for instruction at least three days a week, with 72.7% saying they use them every single day for instruction. No respondents said they never use them.
“This is phenomenal, this is what we hoped for and what we wanted to see,” Kozniewski said. “One of the things the teachers have said is that they love that the Chromebooks just load up. They love that they don’t have to deal with a lot of issues. It’s become so native to the kids – streaming integration into the curriculum. It’s not an event anymore. It’s not ‘going to the computer lab,’ it’s not ‘computer time’. It’s just happening throughout the day, throughout instruction.”
The committee also looked at what the Chromebooks are being used for. The study found that 23% of the time students are using Google Classroom, Google Docs and the related programs. Students are also frequently visiting the site Code.org, which teaches children about computer science.
“They’re going to sites like Disney, Tinker and Scratch from MIT and trying out their coding skills. They’re going to these sites when they’re done with their assignments, when they have indoor recess,” Kozniewski said. Children are also going visiting math sites and using the Chromebooks for research. “Teachers love that they don’t have to pull out the dictionary or go to the library to get the encyclopedia. They can visit Worldbook online or Pebble Go to research,” Kozniewski said.
The students are also learning typing. Now that the Smarter Balance Assessment test is a computer-based assessment, knowing how to type correctly is vital for young children. “We want this to be something that they’re so comfortable using, so comfortable with typing that it’s not something that they do once a week, it’s something that they do every day in their classroom. 75 hours were spent on typing.com during the week of December 12, an average of 46 minutes per child per week,” Kozniewski said.
After Kozniewski outlined usage for the board, Peck Place Principal Eric Carbone addressed the impact of the technology. Prior to having the Chromebooks, each grade shared a cart of computers referred to as a COW (computers on wheels) or used the computer lab. “In the past, laptop usage was a novelty. We had concerns about students taking on the smaller COWs with the small screens. They were so used to the large monitors that we all have in our homes that many teachers were hesitant to have them take a high-stakes test like the STAR test or the Smarter Balance Assessment,” he said.
“One of the bangs that we’ve seen that’s been positive is the amount of research that children are now doing. We’ve heard feedback from our parents and stakeholders that as we prepare students for the middle school, that they do a lot of writing and a lot of research. You’ll see that peppered throughout here,” Carbone said. Not only are classroom teachers using the Chromebooks in their lessons, the specials teachers and students with special needs are also.
“Using the Read&Write For Google program, it builds independence and allows special needs students to participate in classroom activities,” said Rosemary Slowick, Director of Special Services for the district. “It allows students to use speak-to-text, so if they have good ideas, but can’t seem to get the writing out, they can speak into the microphone. It helps with study guides and research. From what I’m hearing, a lot of kids are finding this a great success. The kids are loving it and are becoming so much more productive.”
Overall, the technology committee is pleased with how the Chromebooks are being used. “One thing that a teacher said to me that I found so overwhelming, is that they do 90% of their lessons involving the Chromebooks in some way. They’ve really found them to be an efficient asset in the classroom,” Kozneiwski said.
The increased exposure to content is the biggest benefit with the new access to technology, said Carbone. “With the addition of the devices, students have opportunities to use resources that they never have in the past.”
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent