Chromebooks in Our Schools — One Year Later — Part Two

Chromebooks in Our Schools — One Year Later — Part Two

CCMS student and teacher, Casey Callan, during rollout week

CCMS student and teacher, Casey Callan, during rollout week

This is part two of a series. Part one is here. Part three is there. The coda is here.

(I’m a big fan of unboxing posts and videos. But, I always want to know how things are a year or two later…. Did the device hold up? Is it still in use after the shininess and newness faded? Still meaningful? What were the people and machine surprises? This three part series is my effort to answer my own questions.)

Part Two — The Chromebooks

In part one of this series, I stressed the importance of professional development for any technology program in education. Crook County Middle School did that part really well. The teachers invested in and continued improving the original plan long after changes in my job took me away from my weekly visits to their classrooms. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good.

Another thing that wasn’t perfect on the first try was our laptop selection. (We purchased a laptop for each incoming sixth-grader, three years in a row.)

With the original 1:1 grant for Powell Butte Elementary, we purchased Gateway tablets. These were really nice machines, but much too large for sixth-grade students. They were also expensive.

When we expanded the program to sixth-graders across the district in the second year, we selected Lenovo ThinkPads. They were nice machines too, but still a little too large for sixth-grade shoulders and backpacks. We also began to realize that our students needed only about 10% of the capacity of these full-bodied laptops. The ThinkPads were approximately $1000 each.

The recession hit. We learned really quickly that this was also too expensive — our education budgets were devastated.

In addition to cost, we struggled with configuration issues. The original Gateways and Lenovos were Microsoft XP machines that connected to the CCSD network. Each student had a directory account. Startup times were a killer in the classroom. After a frustrating autumn, teachers realized they had to think ahead and have students start up their machines at the beginning of class if they hoped to use them by the middle.

Rocky Miner, CCMS Principal, with student
CCMS Principal Rocky Miner helps a student login during rollout week

So, we iterated. Our third year of purchases was netbooks. The smaller form factor was great…until it wasn’t. The keyboards were too small, as were the screens. We were like Goldilocks in the cabin of the three bears.

The thing that did work well that year was a switch to Ubuntu for the operating system. Startup was faster and the netbooks were able to be used more flexibly than the other laptops.

And then we met the Chromebooks….

Let me recap the issues we struggled with for years: cost, size, speed. And I’ll add an additional one: hands-on time by the tech staff (between imaging and updating, it was a lot).

CCMS student receiving her Cr-48 box (Chromebook)
CCMS student receiving her Cr-48 box (Chromebook)

Those four issues were addressed within days of the Chromebook rollout:

Cost — We are still in the midst of real budget strain in our districts. $1000 machines for each student are out of the question. As I write this, the Chromebooks are priced at under $500 off the shelf. We have not figured out how to purchase one for each student in this recession, even at that price, but this moves us much closer to a sustainable model. (We are purchasing hundreds of them across the region for classroom sets.)

SizeThis is one of my favorite parts. The 12″ screen, full-size keyboard, and lightweight shell are the perfect size for students (and adults!) of all sizes. The Chromebooks fit easily into a backpack or messenger bag. They also fit school desks well.

Speed — Google says it’s eight seconds for startup. It’s rare that it takes that long.

Technology Prep Time — The photo above is a pretty good representation of how we rolled out 750 machines in February 2011. We gave them directly to the students…in the unopened boxes. They unboxed the machines. They installed the battery and set up their accounts. Within thirty minutes, they were logged in and online. The longest part of the process was taking the account picture.

CCMS student at the important account picture stage
CCMS student at the important account picture stage

In case I need to state this explicitly, the tech staff didn’t touch the machines ahead of time. We were in love. And we’ve stayed in love. I’ll recap the rollout year in Part Three of this series. Stay tuned.

(full set of Chromebook pilot photos here)

Repeat: the longest part of the process was taking the account picture.

account photo

Last time: the longest part of the process was taking the account picture. (All the “kids” had fun with the photos.)

CCMS student at the important account picture stage
CCMS teacher Ryan Cochran photobombs this student’s profile pic

Next: part three. It’s here.

Chromebooks in Our Schools – One Year Later (Part One)

Chromebooks in Our Schools – One Year Later (Part One)

CCMS teachers learning about Chromebooks

CCMS teachers coming up to speed quickly on the Cr-48 pilot machines in early 2011

This is part one of a series. Part two is here. Part three is there. The coda is here.

One year ago today, we had a special delivery and announcement at Crook County Middle School. The school had been selected to pilot Google Chromebooks. The students and staff were thrilled, as you can see in the video highlights of the day. I’ve talked about that day, the pilot, and the machines several times since then, but have waited to post my thoughts until now.

(I’m a big fan of unboxing posts and videos. But, I always want to know how things are a year or two later…. Did the device hold up? Is it still in use after the shininess and newness faded? Still meaningful? What were the people and machine surprises? This three part series is my effort to answer my own questions.)

Part One — Professional Development

I’m going to start my story in 2006, long before Google was thinking about Chromebooks. I was hired that December as a project manager for a 1:1 learning program at Crook County School District. The district was the recipient of an Intel 1:1 grant. The grant provided laptops and professional development for the sixth-grade classroom at Powell Butte Elementary School. The district decided soon after to scale the program out to all sixth-grade classrooms.

After some debate, we decided we would start this the right way, with a full year of professional development before the machines arrived. We hosted a kickoff camp for sixth-grade teachers that summer and began a weekly series of Tech Thursdays that fall. Rocky Miner, CCMS principal at the time, had crafted the school’s schedule to allow team time each day, in addition to individual prep time. It was a great environment for making real change.

We chose a three-year professional development path. In year one, I would be almost solely responsible for the content and facilitation of our weekly sessions. In year two, the teachers would volunteer to lead half of our sessions. In year three, I would step back as observer and the team would hopefully be self-sustaining. The original eight core teachers included:

  • two who had never used a laptop (and used computers very rarely as a part of their day)
  • two tech rockstars (they learned applications and sites quickly)
  • four who were somewhere in between the two extremes

All eight knew their stuff. They were strong in curriculum and classroom management. All we needed to do was figure out how to integrate laptops with those strengths in a meaningful way. We started with the power button and track pad…. Seriously.

We spent a year figuring it out. Together. We moved slowly at first and then more quickly as we got our feet under us. A year later, the rollout was a success. The teachers were ready; they were still standing at the end of a stressful first week. They are still standing today, years later. And they are still using technology only in ways that make sense in their classrooms.

CCMS teachers at the end of 1:1 rollout week

So, what about the Chromebooks?? I know some of you are feeling ripped off after reading this far with still no mention of them.

But….

That’s just it.

Put the professional development first.

If you can’t pay for it or plan for it, stop reading now. Do not go to part two. Reengineer your program design. On an enterprise (or school) level, we do a disservice to our teachers, students, and budgets when we drop machines in classrooms and expect the machines to make a difference on their own. The people make the difference. (This ASCD Educational Leadership article provides a balanced recap of 1:1 learning programs and highlights what we discovered in our own microcosm.)

Because of the good, sustained work of the teachers and administrators at CCMS (we added a grade level each year to our PD rotation), it was easy to recommend the school as a perfect one for Google’s Chromebook pilot. Our people were ready and could focus on the suitability of the machines themselves.

More about that in part two.