This story originally appeared in the spring 2014 Harker Quarterly.
Few days go by that Harker’s grade 4-5 students aren’t using Google Chromebooks in their classrooms. From accessing comprehensive online Spanish textbooks and vocabulary programs to showcasing multimedia history and English projects, Chromebooks are revolutionizing the way the fourth and fifth graders learn.
Handed out at the beginning of the school year to grade 5 students (and stored in class for grade 4 students), the Chromebooks have become second nature to both students and their teachers. The versatile devices are being used to do research, write essays, receive assignments, maintain calendars and more.
Some students enjoy being able to communicate with one another directly by creating electronic walls enabling them to “pin” constructive feedback on each other’s presentations. Others enjoy working in a more collaborative environment, as they do when they complete projects in shared documents and presentations. And teachers can now comment directly on students’ soft-copy assignments, follow up on corrections in real time and interact via online commenting.
“A Chromebook is an amazing device … Internet, email and Google Drive! It’s something to make you crazy with delight,” enthused grade 5 student Arohee Bhoja.
Though conceding that the “pop-ups and amazing learning software” can, at times, be distracting, Bhoja said, when it comes to Chromebooks, the good cancels out the bad. “When you have all the letters of the alphabet at your fingertips, and all the learning sites you can ever imagine, it’s impossible to criticize.”
Bhoja’s classmate Sarah Raymond agreed. “I think that using the Chromebook has changed how we learn in the classroom for the better. It’s also a lot easier to collaborate with our peers on a Google Doc. At home we can still be working with our classmates even if we are not together. It is also more convenient for checking the homework calendar. Plus, it’s easily portable so we can bring it from class to class,” she said.
Most recently, a new wireless network called MercuryFast was implemented for the grade 5 students to connect their Chromebooks to the internet. But, despite the name, the fifth graders won’t have a faster connection than anyone else on campus. Instead wireless traffic is being split on two separate channels to increase speed and stability for everyone at the lower school.
Fifth graders are particularly familiar with Chromebook online applications such as Membean, a vocabulary learning tool that helps students understand and remember words; Movenote, an app that synchronizes video of the students with their docs or presentations; and Google Docs, which allow users to create and edit documents online while collaborating with other users.
At the lower school, a pilot program using Google Chromebooks began a couple years ago with a small group of students. The Chromebooks were then deemed so well-suited to Harker’s educational mission that it led to their now-standard issuing for grades 4-5. (There are also 50 Chromebooks available in the grade 3 classrooms, which are shared by students.)
“Each of our 129 fifth graders has a Chromebook that they use almost daily at school and can take home as well. And each of our 120 fourth graders has a Chromebook which stays at school and is housed on carts in their classrooms,” reported Lisa Diffenderfer, the lower school’s assistant director of instructional technology.
Chromebooks run on Google’s popular browser, are affordably priced and primarily intended for Internet use. Chromebooks also have great security features, which allow the school to enforce an Internet filter when the students are using the devices at home.
Over the past two years, some lower school teachers received funds from Harker’s technology grant program to find ways to get the most out of using Chromebooks in the classroom. Today, students in grades 4-5 are becoming adept at using the devices to learn and practice course material as well as showcase their newly found knowledge and skills.
Other fun-yet-practical ways Harker’s fourth and fifth graders have used Google apps include making notes about how to create Colonial-themed board games, tracking data from gummy bear experiments, creating a student tech help site, viewing rehearsal schedules for performing arts productions, and tracking nutrition and fitness information, according to Diffenderfer.
The use of Chromebooks in grade 4-5 was made possible as part of a $100,000 grant, which provided both Chromebooks and iPads for use in the lower school classrooms. The gift from the Paramitas Foundation was endorsed by parents Winston Chen and Phyllis Huang (Karina, grade 5; Nicole, grade 7), who are passionate about helping teachers use technology in meaningful ways to enhance learning.
“On any given day I can walk around the fourth and fifth grade classrooms and find students on their Chromebooks engaged in their learning,” said Diffenderfer, adding that the future for Chromebook use at the lower school looks bright, based on the students’ demonstrated level of comfort and success using the resourceful devices.