(Re)Inventing in Chrome: Year 2 of the DFHS Chromebook Initiative

The one-to-one Chromebook initiative in Dobbs Ferry continues to expand as all students in grades 6-10 have now been provided with a device. When we began the initiative last year at DFHS with our 9th grade teachers/students, I wrote several posts that were designed to both tell our story and to inform others who are investigating a similar path. Throughout this initiative I have met with our teachers at various points either individually or in groups to evaluate the program in terms of the skills that our students are (or aren’t) developing and to determine whether or not we want to continue with the one-to-one in future years. Check back to the posts from 11/23/13, 1/24/14, and 5/12/14 for more on this.

Last week, I met with our 9th grade teachers once again to “check in” as they now enter year two of this initiative. Our teachers have grown a great deal over the past year and have truly transformed as a result of our one-to-one. The “big ideas” along with the questions that I posed at our most recent meeting are listed below. Our discussion focused on both the benefits of the one-to-one (what is working) and the existing problems that teachers are still encountering (along with potential solutions).

Q1: What benefits have you noted this year as a result of our one-to-one Chromebook initiative?

Here’s the top ten…

1) The next day’s lesson can be provided ahead of time to all students via Google Docs. This approach allows students to go back or move ahead as necessary and, in turn, allows for a type of “flipped” approach to learning for all students.

2) Students respond to both the lesson’s essential question and the exit ticket via Google Forms. This provides the teacher with an opportunity to provide immediate feedback and to informally assess student understanding.

3) Online textbooks, resources, and teacher/student created class folders are readily available to students at all times. This not only helps to reduce the use of paper, but is also more cost effective while helping students to further develop their organizational skills.

4) Easy access and compatibility to Google Classroom. Classroom works hand-in-hand with Drive and allows teachers to save time, keep classes organized, and communicate easily with students. Many teachers at DFHS have already transitioned to Google Classroom.

5) Improved notetaking skills for all students. In addition, students with special needs can easily receive notes ahead of time as needed.

6) The Google Research tool allows students to conduct research for both in-class assignments and in-depth research papers. Easy access to Google Research and the internet also makes it easy for teachers to emphasize the validity and reliability of different sources.

7) Students can easily and safely collaborate both in-class and at home using Google Drive. This feature allows students to maintain the momentum that was started in class while allowing for rich and meaningful learning experiences.

8) Teachers can provide “live feedback” to students who are working on specific assignments. This approach not only allows allows for ongoing assessment, but also provides teachers with opportunities to identify and capitalize on “teachable moments.”

9) The one-to-one allows teachers to naturally emphasize (and teach) digital citizenship and internet etiquette with respect to searching for information and interacting with all people in a virtual setting.

10) No more trips to the copy machine!

Q2: What are some of the issues that still need to be resolved?

Instructional: Moving students beyond a sense of “learned helplessness” that can develop as a result of difficulty with technology. Solution: It’s important to first develop the root cause behind the “helplessness” before solving the issue. Is it a result of “convenient laziness” or true anxiety towards technology? If it’s the latter, most issues can be resolved through either individual or small group tutorials that are led by the teacher(s) or students.

Instructional: Accommodating students who either forget their device at home or have a broken device. Solution: There is no perfect solution to this inevitable issue. The first and easiest solution is to have “extra” devices on hand for such situations (particularly students with broken devices). If this is not possible, teachers can find opportunities to either pair students or, if possible, allow students to access Google Drive via their phones.

Instructional: Monitoring student use to ensure that all students are on task during class. Solution: In addition to the internal features in Google Drive that allow teachers to monitor student progress, our teachers noted that viewing student screens from afar is much easier with the HP Chromebook than it is with the Samsung device. We made the switch from Samsung to HP this year. There’s also a great deal to be said about the importance of teaching digital citizenship and responsible use. See “Why BYOD” (12/12/13).

Infrastructure: As more students use their devices as a result of our one-to-one (grades 9 & 10) and/or BYOD (grades 11 & 12) initiatives, our WiFi has started to become overrun causing the internet (and downloading) to move much slower. Solution: Increase bandwidth and access points. In many ways this is still a work in progress for us as we determine the appropriate amount of bandwidth to support such a high level of activity. On our campus (MS/HS), we can have as many as 1300 devices connecting to the network at one time. Given that, we have moved from 40 MHz to 100 MHz and have installed 115 access points throughout the district. Despite these changes we still have instances when the internet moves slowly so it something that we continue to evaluate.

Infrastructure: The battery often drains before the of the end of the day even if the devices are fully charged overnight. Solution: We are finding that some of the biggest battery “drains” occur during student “free” periods (lunch, etc.) when they access gaming and movie sites. Speaking to students about this issue is key and, if necessary, blocking sites as needed. In addition, charging stations need to be provided throughout the building and all student chargers should be labeled (name/grade level) so that students can use their chargers while at school.

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