Other positives included the Chromebook’s ability to run some of Chesterfield County Public Schools’ existing software programs (i.e., Google Drive) and the device’s light weight. “That’s basically how we came to the decision.”

The devices, which are being used by students in grades 6-8, were acquired on a three-year plan that will allow the district to “review where we are and how well the device has performed,” said Evans, “and make some decisions going forward.” He said the grades were selected based on student maturity and the fact that Chromebooks aligned well with the district’s middle school curriculum. During the summer of 2014, teachers were trained on how to use the devices in the instructional setting—a professional development approach that aligned well with the district’s existing blended learning training.

Going to camp

To get all of its middle school teachers on the same page, the district held a “Chromebook Camp,” where instructors got hands-on with the devices and learned how to use them with students in and out of the classroom. Teachers also used the devices to develop lesson plans, communicate with students and other instructors via social media, and distribute lesson plans to their pupils. Evans said the camp worked so well that the district will replicate it this coming summer, when high school teachers will receive similar professional development in anticipation of their upcoming one-to-one Chromebook initiative. “They get training, play with the devices, and learn how the Chromebooks work with our online curriculum,” says Evans. “Then, we’ll roll them out to our high school students next fall.”

At the camps, teachers convene and use digital pacing guides, Standards of Learning testing, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and other online platforms and content in conjunction with the Chromebooks. Throughout the process, Evans said one of the bigger challenges was getting teachers to fully understand how the mobile devices would enhance what they were already doing in their classrooms.

To help work through those and other issues, the district assigned technology integrators who work with teachers individually (to do demonstration lessons, for example) during planning periods. “We really wanted teachers to see the Chromebook as a tool, and not as a ‘replacement’ for what they’re doing,” said Evans, who sees the PLCs as a best practice for any district that’s looking to replicate Chesterfield County’s successful Chromebook initiative. “Teachers talk about what’s working and what’s not, share lessons and documents digitally, and talk to integrators about any issues that they may be having,” said Evans. “This level of ongoing collaboration and communication has really made a big difference.”

The fact that teachers were involved in the device “shopping and selection” process also helped, said Evans, who sees this early step as a best practice for other districts to follow. “This helped get teachers knowledgeable about what’s out there on the market right now.” Convincing the district’s community of the value of handing out hundreds of Chromebooks to middle-schoolers took a bit more elbow grease. “That was a very big piece of our initiative, and one that we approached via public forums, board of supervisor meetings, and device demonstrations,” he said.

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