Wednesday, October 1, 2014

To Chrome or Not to Chrome, that is the Question (Hint the Answer is YES!)

I must admit, after spending years in education and believing I really had my "head to the ground" on the latest trends, I was dead wrong. My first computer was an Apple 2E. My whole family shared it. I grew up playing math games on it and writing my first essays. When I went to Chapin, they had a "high end" computer lab back in the 80's filled with IBM PCs where we learned computer programming with in BASIC and DOCS, and utilized Mavis Beacon to learn typing. The first laptop I ever bought was a Toshiba. It lasted me from 1997 to 2002. In laptop years, that is ancient. I loved that laptop. It got me through all of college and the ever so important senior year of high school. After spending some time in a variety of different NJ school districts and having some bad PC experiences where computer broke in 2 years flat, I became skeptical about the use of PCs. Hence, I began researching an alternative that had 1) good battery life, 2) fast start up time, 3) durability, 4) inexpensive 5) able to be used easily by multiple students. I must say I resisted the Chromebook originally thinking it was just a fad. I had trouble understanding the possibility of a using a computer that really didn't have a native hard drive. I had trouble wrapping my mind around using a device that didn't have a Windows or Lion operating system. I'm now fully sold. In fact, I've instructed my school to make their future purchases exclusively in Chromebooks and here's why.

 As a school of roughly 1200 kids and over 200 adults, we need computers that multiple users can use for almost an entire day of school and really maximize the limited time each teacher has in each class. Given that the same computer might be used by up to 7 people a day, battery life is and will always be my number one. Chromebooks average 7-8 hours (the Acer specifies 8.5 hours). That basically means the entire school day is covered. Because the computer has no software on it, it doesn't have a long start up time. This is crucial for a teacher who has somewhere between 40 and 50 minutes a period to teach. It means kids can grab a Chromebook from the cart and literally log in and get started in under a minute. No more waiting for the computers to start and eating 10 minutes into teaching time.

 Durability and cost are also huge factors for me as a principal to consider in any purchase. You can't beat that price point. Now just so we are all on the same page, the average NJ classroom as about 22 kids in it. So any laptop cart you have will need at least 23 computers. That means we are talking about a laptop cart for under $4,600 dollars. For a school really trying to increase the number of digital devices in the classroom with a set budget, Chromebooks are the way to go.

 Ok you ask me, what about the PARCC, MAP Testing, and other online exams? Does it work with them? The answer is yes! Unlike iPads, these little guys can be used easily for online state exams or any online exams without a problem. In fact, you can still use Dreambox, Lexia, Accelerated reader, and most blended learning software or assessment tools with ease.

 I have also noticed some features of Chrome that I have found particularly useful that I didn't even have as "must haves" on my shopping list, but have now become "how did I ever live withouts?" The latest Google apps addition to your google account, you can have them native to your sign-in on Google and utilize them as home games once you log on. The games in education vary and are all rated very accurately. I love some of the typing software, math games, and sight word recognition games. They are really great for kids to practice and learn skills they will use in their appropriate grade level while providing enrichment and remediation to students who need it.

 In addition, Google has now worked hard on an LMS for schools and RYNJ is actually using it this year. So, a student who uses Google's LMS has it natively as well. As long as you have or create a Gmail account, you have Google Drive (word processing, basic Excel, basic PPT, and forms, and more), video usage that can be saved and organized, all your music can be uploaded to Google as well (now on the cloud without hogging space on your machine), and all your photos can be uploaded and stored on the cloud as well. The best part for me is that all my favorited websites pop up and my homescreen looks the way I set it no matter what Chromebook I sign on to. A student no longer has to remember to take a specific numbered computer to begin working. In addition, you don't have to worry about students downloading software, videos, pictures, or apps onto the device. This doesn't mean they can't personalize their Google account with apps, it just means they aren't saved onto a specific Chromebook creating slower start up times. It is the ideal device for education.

 For more information about the Chromebooks, I've found this website especially helpful