The Chromebooks revolution
Chester Academy's new paperless universe embraced by teachers, students and parents
Chester Academy graduates now in college said they wished they’d had more experience with computer-based and wireless learning.
By Ginny Privitar
CHESTER — Chester Academy achieved a long-held dream this year: computers not just in every classroom, but in the hands of every student.
At the same time, another long-held dream of parents and teachers came true, for no longer will they hear: “I don’t know what the homework is.”
No more fishing around in backpacks. It’s all right there onscreen.
Teachers and students at Chester Academy now communicate directly all through the day. Students work on projects together, even if not physically in the same location. A student using an old computer at grandpa’s house in Florida, or any other computer anywhere in the world, can still log onto their Google account and get everything they need to do an assignment.
Teachers can post grades and parents can view them the same day through the district’s Parent Portal. If a student is absent, parents don’t have to come to school to get notes.
The teachers love it, said Principal Leslie Hyatt.
“It’s just changed the way we teach," she said. "It’s really made teachers think about how they deliver instruction and what’s more effective."
Every student in the Academy starting in sixth grade has a Chromebook they can take home. Students in grades 2 through 5 have laptops for in-school use.
Computer skills essential
Convenience aside, Hyatt said the district switched to computer-based learning to get students ready for college and careers. Hyatt and her information technology team — Network Administrator Ed Spence, Network Manager Nick Patel and Assistant Principal Chris Trieste — decided on Chromebooks after looking at what other schools, including colleges, were doing.
Over the past two years, Spence said, every district in Orange County had switched over from Microsoft applications, like Word and Excel, to Google applications. Colleges were using Google apps too, and students will be taking entrance exams online. Chester school officials wanted to make sure their students were technologically prepared for these developments.
At a forum Hyatt held last year, Chester Academy graduates told current students what to expect in college. They said they wished they’d had more experience with computer-based and wireless learning.
Three years ago the Academy didn’t even have wireless, said Spence.
“So we’ve come a long way," he said. "In talking with our teachers, our administrators, and our students, we came together with the tech committee’s help and decided to go with Chromebooks."
Spence said the support of administrators, especially Hyatt, of the "instructional vision of the school board and the superintendent and that we were able to make this happen."
Paperless cost savings
The laptops cost $250 each. The school saves money on textbooks, which can cost about $100 each but can now be accessed online at a much lower cost. Posting handouts, homework assignments, and tests online instead of distributing paper copies saves time and the cost of paper and printing.
Unlike Apple and Windows computers, Chromebooks maintain themselves. Updates are automatic.
The district still has some Windows computers requiring individual attention.
“You have to visit each laptop and make sure all the updates were processed and downloaded, and that’s extremely time-consuming," Spence said.
Spence and Patel are former IBMers. Most of the few needed repairs can be handled in-house.
Hyatt said teachers embraced the Chromebook "in large part due to these guys. And we’ve have some key teachers teaching other teachers, saying, ‘Hey listen, you can put your whole class in a file. Shoot one homework assignment out and every kid gets it.’”
Hyatt said one formerly skeptical teacher turned around, writing her: “I embrace this — it’s the best thing that’s happened.”
'It's all right there'
Eighth-graders in Stephanie DeRobertis’ English Language Arts class were studying “To Kill a Mockingbird" recently. They had read the text and were watching the movie onscreen at the front of the room. With their Chromebooks open in front of them, they completed an onscreen chart comparing the book and the movie.
“It’s better for the environment," said student Tino Diaz approvingly. "We can interact with students better. We can share assignments, so we never have to worry about them getting lost or taken. Most of the homework’s on the Chromebook and we can research it from the Chromebook. We don’t have to go to the computer lab. We do projects on the Chromebooks together and group work."
Student Ashley Battiato said students can access any of the library's websites from their laptops.
“We don’t have to go to the library," she said. "They have lots of the pages right on there, so we can research right from the Chromebooks.”
Jennifer Battiato said her favorite thing about Chromebook was using it do to homework.
"It’s easier," she said. "You don’t have to write. You can just type it and you don’t lose it — it’s right there. If you don’t save it you can just hit ‘recent’ and it’s still there.”
Jordan Bell said taking notes on Chromebook is "way easier."
"They have guided notes, so all you have to do is fill in the blanks," he said.
When the class was studying immigration, Jordan said, his teacher provided a site with a virtual tour of Ellis Island. Jordan said it's often easier to view video on a Chromebook than on a smart board, which is subject to glare and harder to see.
Hyatt expressed some sympathy for today's Chester students. After all, they no longer have recourse to the time-worn excuses used by previous generations.
“Think about how bad it is for a kid,” she said, smiling. “How can a kid even say to us, 'I don’t know what my homework is'? That story just doesn’t work anymore. The jig is up for these poor kids."
For more information on Chester's Chromebooks visit chesterufsd.org.
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