Technology is a key aspect of 21st-century education at Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton, a fact recently underscored by the distribution of Chromebooks to the entire freshman Class of 2017.
As Blue Hills Academic Director Jill Rossetti indicated, they are expected to be an exciting and versatile tool for facilitating learning, as well as teaching.
As Social Studies instructor Wapaemi Wariboko put it, “With the introduction of Chromebooks to the ninth grade classes, as a class, we are taking an adventure into the digital world.”
“A Chromebook is computer with everything built in that weighs about two to three pounds,” said Rossetti. “There is no software to install. Applications and files are stored in the cloud. Chromebooks use the Chrome OS, updates automatically, apps are built in and you can find thousands of apps in the Chrome Web store. Chromebooks have built-in virus protection. Chromebooks use Google Drive to store files and photos which are automatically backed up. They have a 6.5-hour battery life which lasts the entire school day.”
Rossetti continued, “Chromebooks are less expensive than laptops and computers and they are easy to manage and deploy. Students can’t change critical settings and nothing they do is stored on the device. Chromebooks also play nicely with other devices so students can acccess their accounts from any Chromebook, computer, tablet, or iPad at school or at home.”
Many teachers at Blue Hills are already making it a requirement for their freshmen to bring their Chromebooks fully-charged to class, Rossetti explained.
“Basically, a student opens the lid,” she said, “connects to the Wi-Fi network and begins working within eight seconds. Students use the Google Apps Suite (which is free for schools) to do word-processing assignments, create spreadsheets, create web pages, create presentations, and forms. They can also use 21st-century tools to e-mail, blog and conduct research. Students can discover an infinite number of resources on the web, use the Chromebook anywhere, anytime and work together in real-time. They can use Google Drive, Gmail, store videos, music, pictures, and they are PARCC-testing compatible.”
[PARCC is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a group of 18 states plus the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands which are collaborating on developing a set of K-12 assessments for English and math geared to measure preparation for college and careers.]
“In academic classes,” according to Rossetti, “students are writing papers, creating presentations, taking notes, homework, getting homework help through Khan Academy [a non-profit educational website featuring free resources galore that are available to anyone in the world to facilitate learning in dozens of subjects], and conducting research.
“For example, in
English class,” Rossetti said, “teachers can offer real-time feedback by
logging in to a student’s shared paper. In Biology, students accomplished their
first WebQuest over the winter break and cover items in Biology that they
cannot cover during normal class time. They can use Google Maps and Google
Earth in Social Studies projects and Spanish projects. Using Google Forms,
teachers can create, give and then grade quizzes on the spot. All of these
things will help improve student achievement.”
Biology instructor Stacy Hedges is using Chromebooks in her classroom for organization, sending out import links, note-taking, and virtual labs. The device has helped to streamline her workload, too, she said: “I have been able to create a weekly calendar of all activities-class work-test quizzes-and upload all assignments-then send it to everyone at the same time. The beauty of this versus doing it on the board is I can edit it as the week changes. I would always do a daily one and now it’s a whole week at a time. Also, I have been creating worksheets or downloading worksheets that go with video clips of hard topics. Students watch video and answer questions using their headphones. Students are able to go at their own pace. I have had my honors students conduct their research using Google. I have been able to send visual aids to students that contain actual color and headings.”
Teacher Wapaemi Wariboko said, “One of my goals is to use the Chromebook to increase students’ engagement in the class. We started by sharing documents and folders; for instance, I shared with my students a primary source Document Analysis assignment. Since it is a shared document, I am able give instant feedback, identify students struggling with the assignment and redirect such students. Some students have also started sharing homework with me on their Google drive which enables me to identify ideas and concepts that needs to be developed or re-taught in class.”
Academic Director Rossetti is enthused about the myriad ways that Chromebooks can enhance the learning process for Blue Hills students. “The Chromebooks help support instruction by increasing student engagement. We are teaching students to collaborate on the Internet and we are preparing them for life after Blue Hills. It’s all about lifelong learning. When school ends for the day, learning can still continue. Students can access the Web, apps, and files anywhere, anytime. Students can collaborate on homework and continue learning at night and on weekends. Students are doing higher levels of thinking, becoming critical thinkers, problem-solving, creating, writing and learning to communicate effectively in classes.”
Daniel Obichie, a freshman from Randolph studying Engineering, said, “I have been using the Chromebook to type notes for particular classes in which the teacher uses PowerPoint presentations to teach the class from a projector. I have used it for this purpose in my Honors Biology I and U. S. History classes. For Honors English I, I have been using the Chromebook to do literature homework and class work by creating Google documents and to refer to them for discussion in class. For Honors Algebra II, we sometimes use the Chromebook to utilize a graphing calculator app called “Desmos” to help us with complex algebraic equations, quadratics, and other types of math problems that require a lot of calculations.”
Obichie continued, “I think I will do better in my classes because I am using a Chromebook, because it will help me to pay attention in class more by taking as many notes as I feel are important from the teacher, and it will make accessing my assignments and getting them done easier to do, so it is simple to do and pass in assignments from different teachers all in one device.
Blue Hills Superintendent-Director James P. Quaglia wrote an article on the significant advances in instructional technology at Blue Hills for the newsletter geared to parents and guardians (see entire text on front page of “The Parents’ Pages” for Nov. 2013 on bluehills.org under the Students and Parents tab).
“So what is next on the horizon?” Quaglia wrote. “Well, every class from now on will be issued
a device such as a Chromebook upon beginning at Blue Hills Regional. So in three more years, every student will
have one as an indispensable aid to his or her education here at Blue
Hills. The thing that is obvious to any
older adult like me is that the students are eager for this move, and they will
need little guidance from us in order to make effective use of the devices. The
happiest surprise is the way in which the staff is initially embracing the
shift in technology-based education. I
sense that this process may bring out the best in our educational
professionals…and especially our students!”