Jaiden Reinhart, 11, and his teacher Vicky Sachuer work on a school project on Reinhart’s Chrombook. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

The sixth grade students at Key Peninsula Middle have a new learning tool this year. As of Dec. 1, every sixth grader has their very own Chromebook computer.

Every morning, each student starts their day by picking up their Chromebook, and ends the day by turning it back in, according to KPMS social studies teacher Vicky Schauer.

Schauer is a national board certified sixth-grade teacher who’s been teaching at KPMS since 2003.

“The kids carry their Chromebooks with them to most of their academic classes,”Schauer said. “I’m hearing a lot of excitement from the science teachers and I’m having a lot of excitement with it in my social studies class. It’s really expanded our learning. For example, we’re learning about ancient history and we’re able to travel all over the world using these Chromebooks.”

To make the Chromebooks technology accessible to the students and their teachers, the school district has created a platform called “schoology,”Schauer said.

“Any teacher in our district who has access to computers can set up an electronic class room. I’m very excited about this for several reasons: it organizes materials for kids all in one place on their computer.

“Also, it creates an online platform where, if kids are lucky enough to have computer access and internet access at home, they can show their parents their work and show them what they’re doing,”she said. “I can even load their due dates for their assignments on a calendar on the site and that’s been helpful for parents and kids.”

Another good thing about Chromebooks is its wide accessibility. “It’s available anywhere,”Schauer said. “I’ve even tried to access it from other cities and it works. It’s very stable so I’m really happy with it.”

Schauer doesn’t intend to create a “flipped classroom”with Chromebooks.

That’s a concept where a teacher could assign work, such as mini videos, and have students watch the videos at home at night. “But because the kids can’t take the Chromebooks home, that’s not a possibility,”she said.

Instead, Schauer is trying to do a “blended classroom”where some of the activities are on-line, but there’s still a lot of live teaching.

“I still write things on the board and we’re still interacting in a lot of the same ways, but this just adds another layer, another place for them to be learning,”she said.

“Some days in my social studies class we have Chromebooks on during the whole class. And other days we just start an opening activity on it and don’t use them the rest of the time.”

Much of the research that has been done “is still saying that when kids are writing things by hand there’s better memory because it’s a kinesthetic activity. But just tapping on keys isn’t going to help them remember things,”she said.

And typing –– that tapping on the keys –– is not a well-developed skill among most 11- and 12-year-olds, she added. “When we first got these Chromebooks I gave the class some typing tests and their average typing speed is about seven words per minute.”

And, although many of the students felt that the computers were helping them go faster, their actual out was much slower, she added.

“I think the assumption is that kids think digitally and I’m not sure that’s true. Sometimes they’re begging me to let them do their assignments on paper. I think it needs to be blended.”

In addition, most teachers don’t want to grade papers on the computer. “We can’t take all that screen time and we can’t really mark the papers like that,”she said.

The science teachers at KPMS are especially keen on Chromebooks, she added. And in her own social studies class, she’s made some exciting discoveries using the new technology.

“It lets me build a curriculum that has extra layers in it. I can only get so far with the print textbook. Just a few weeks ago there were new discoveries about King Tut’s tomb –– which is exactly what we’re studying right now. So the students can read a week-old article rather than a 2002 textbook, about something that just happened that they might hear about on the news. To me that’s like super learning,”she said.

The students themselves seem to agree.

Mukan Shohradov, 11, is one of Schauer’s social studies students. “I think the Chromebooks are good for learning. Since we don’t really have computers in the class we can work on stuff on Chromebooks. I’m already finished with my paper so I’m doing social studies research. If we didn’t have Chromebooks I’d have to go to the library to do something like that,”Mukan said.

Jaiden Reinhart, also 11, agreed. “You can use it for a lot of different things,”Jaiden said.

“Like you can take notes while you’re watching a video and we can even sign into it at home so we can see all the assignments we have and when they’re due.

“And also the Google Docs is really good because you can write your thing and then print it and it sort of corrects your spelling. But you still have to learn how to spell.

“And you can practice typing and also do research. The teacher gives you links to websites you can use for research,” she said.

Both students said that some kids just want to play games or chat with each other on the Chromebooks.

“Some kids, they just aren’t responsible with it,”Mukan said.

“And some things are distracting about it,”Jaiden added. “Some kids chat with each other, and sometimes they don’t say things that are relevant to what you’re trying to do. But it’s a good tool because you can use it to find sites that might be useful to your lessons.”

Ron Stark, assistant director for technology services for the school district noted that the whole issue of Chromebooks in Washington State came about “mostly due to the fact that technology is needed for the state testing.

“So there’s been an acquisition of Chromebooks for all the students who have to take the tests on-line. And as a result teachers have been realizing the potential for computers in the classroom. We’ve been increasing the number of Chromebooks in the school district every year.”

So far Evergreen Elementary and KPMS are sort of pilot programs for the new technology, Stark said.

Evergreen was able to purchase Chromebooks through a grant the school received. And when some extra money became available through the district, Stark proposed that the sixth graders on the Key Peninsula –– that is, the 140 sixth graders at KPMS –– be given individual Chromebooks because all the elementary schools on the Peninsula feed into KPMS.

“So with this new program, each sixth grader gets their own personal Chromebook and they carry it with them all day,”Stark said. “They have a sort of buy-in ownership of their Chromebook.”

The difference between a Chromebook and a laptop is that with a Chromebook, everything the student is doing is stored on the web, not on the Chromebook itself, he explained. “So when they’re creating documents or turning in assignments, it’s all done through the web.

“I think it’s having a good impact,”he said.

Stark added that the district has a filter system that’s used on every school computer. “But the reality is that no filter is perfect, so there’s no filter that can protect kids from everything,”he said.

“So we have a whole curriculum about digital citizenship. We also always have to keep in mind is that the web is where our students live,”Stark added. “It’s where they get their entertainment, it’s where they’re productive and where they communicate and are connected to their friends. They’re doing all that through the web. So using the web as part of their education is a very natural event for them. It’s our generation that has to catch up with them.”

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