Best practices and PD tips for going one-to-one with Chromebooks

chromebook-rolloutWhen Lyle Evans looks around his district and sees that its year-old one-to-one Chromebooks implementation is running smoothly, he can’t help but think back to a time when Chesterfield County Public Schools’ technology vision was just beginning to formulate and gel. “Our blended learning philosophy dates back about four years,” says Evans, the Chesterfield, Va., district’s assistant superintendent, human resources & administrative services. “Long before Chromebooks, we knew we wanted to deliver the best in face-to-face learning supported by instructional tools.”

Concurrently, Evans says the 65-school district was also looking for new ways to “extend” the classroom and student learning time outside of the traditional four walls. And while the district was already using three to four computers per classroom and a number of Dell laptops, it felt that getting more devices or laptops into its students’ hands would help advance some of its educational goals. “We started to think about our strategic plan,” recalls Evans, “and it became clear that we needed to move to a one-to-one initiative as quickly as possible.”

As a first step in that direction, Evans says school leaders and the district IT team investigated its device and laptop options. After reviewing those options, he says, “it came down to the Chromebook versus the laptop.” The former won out based on its economics (roughly $158 per student via a lease-purchase agreement + a $50 computing fee that students pay), the fact that the district’s current network could support the devices, and the Chromebook’s short boot-up time.

“You open it up and it goes right onto the network and gives students immediate access,” said Evans. “There was no boot-up time like we typical see with laptops.”

Next page: A professional development camp for teachers

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.

Next page: Creating a “safe browsing” experience

In some cases, community members were invited to visit campuses to see Chromebook pilot projects in action. As a final piece of the puzzle, the district surveyed parents and community members to determine whether or not students actually had internet access at home. “From that exercise,” said Evans, “we found out that a higher percentage of students were equipped with internet at home as we previously believed.” That turned into another selling point for the initiative, which is also supported by the region’s public library system and by several businesses in the community.

Finally, Evans said the district’s commitment to creating a safe internet browsing experience and secure network helped advance the Chromebook implementation in the minds of community members. “When students take the devices home in the evenings, the Chromebooks immediately run through our [school] network,” Evans explained. “That gives us the opportunity to screen out any inappropriate content that students would have access to if they weren’t using our network.”

Evaluation period

With Chesterfield County’s high schools bracing for their own Chromebook implementation, the district as a whole is evaluating the results of the last year. “Our research and evaluation department has been out all year long observing, recording results, seeing how teachers are using the devices,” Evans said. “From there, we’ll be doing a qualitative review and we also plan to survey parents.” Even without any solid results in the books yet, Evans said the one-to-one implementation has been the subject of many positive reviews and much encouraging feedback.

“Walk into any of our classrooms, particularly the core subject areas, and you will see devices being used along with other technology devices on a regular basis,” says Evans. “Students are doing their assignments as they always have, but now the paper-and-pencil tasks all take place on the Chromebooks. Our students love them.”

Bridget McCrea is a contributing writer for eSchool News.