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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Chromebooks in the 7th Grade Classroom

Gene Tognetti is a 7th grade Social Studies teacher and vice-principal at St. Leo the Great in San Jose, California. This is Gene's account of using Chromebooks with students.


My school (St. Leo the Great in San Jose, Ca.) has three Chromebook class sets for an ‘in school’ 1:1 program (5th through 7th grades).  We’re a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school. I teach 7th grade Social Studies, and the students use the Chromebooks daily.
 

Key Features and Activities
Our use of the Chromebooks has given me some insight regarding how to take best advantage of them. First, some general observations. The Chromebooks seem pretty rugged. Two Chromebooks have been dropped in the past year, with (thankfully) no ill effects. One simple, but key, feature is the ‘instant on’ nature of the device. I can ask kids to shut the Chromebooks at any time, if I need their full attention and want to avoid ‘computer distraction syndrome’. For instance, we’ll be working on a new Google Doc graphic organizer, and, if I need to give them an instruction, I ask them to shut the lid, instruct, then they can re-open and get right back on track. Sounds silly, but this is a big help, especially since more than a couple kids do have attention issues.... We also LOVE the long battery life. I teach at end of day, and the computers are still going strong at that time of the day.

We just completed our study of the fall of the Roman Empire, and I assigned the kids a large culminating project.

One early activity I had for the kids was to create a timeline of Roman Empire events using Google Draw. Draw was easy to learn and suited our needs, so in this case no timeline website was used. Students routinely take notes during class - from (short) lectures, while watching videos (guided and unguided), and for some formative assessments. Students collaborate with each other using various Google tools. For instance, student teams developed a brief Google Presentation that they used to teach others as the “expert” on a relevant Roman Empire topic they chose. The integration with Google Apps (the kids sign on to the device, then they are immediately online and connected to Google Apps) is great and saves more time.

One of our main tech goals is to use free web tools as much as possible. Since the Chromebook is an internet access device, its use is right in sync with our goals. The simplicity of most web tools we use - Google Apps are a good example - means students can concentrate on ‘higher order thinking’ skills (like evaluating and creating information), and not so much ‘how do I use this application?’  Students support each other very well - I’m very pleased to see them helping each other as questions arise. They generally love the Chromebooks. The computers are pretty speedy, and accomplish everything we want. 

 

The Bumps and Their Solutions
There have been some minor  bumps along the way. Early on, there were some network connectivity issues on a few Chromebooks.  Those were solved by ‘refreshing’ the OS (about a 10 minute process); those problems have (almost completely)  disappeared. Google also provides regular ChromeOS updates (which install fast and unobtrusively). The improvements have been continuous.  Printing using Google CloudPrint is still a work in process; it’s not always totally reliable. We don’t print much, so not a big deal so far.

Until recently, there were problems uploading small (30 to 60 second) video files to web-based editing sites. The problems included unsuccessful uploads, or an inability to edit clips. “Digital Storytelling”  is a key student skill here, so that was troublesome. We’ve started to use Pixorial and I’m very pleased to say that Pixorial’s video editing has been excellent. It’s reliable, the uploads are relatively speedy, the tool is simple to use, and the end results have been excellent. Their customer support - as I got up to speed on how to use the tool- is first-rate. Creating videos was a major part of the student work done for the culminating Rome project, and it was a success!

Here are some of the web resources students have used this year on the Chromebooks:


Google:
Gmail - ongoing two-way communication between students and me
Docs - video notes, lecture notes, formative assessments, assignment and project collaboration
Presentation - collaborative presentations with ‘student as teacher’
Calendar - piloting use of calendar for Fall of Rome project due dates
Forms - collecting “what do I want study?” student responses; “what did I learn today?” exit tickets
Draw (embedded in Doc) - Fall of Rome timeline with embedded images
Advanced Image Search - find copyright-friendly images for various assignments

Other tools:
Collaborize Classroom - For example “who is Rome’s MVP, and why?” conversation
Pixorial - students created video newscast for Rome project
Corkboard - project brainstorming list, shared with class
EasyBib - generate Sources Cited to include with Google Preso
instaGrok- for initial learning about a Roman Empire topic

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