Friday, May 31, 2013

Chromebook in the Hands of Grade 2 Students

I recently acquired an Acer Chromebook to test out its capabilities for student and teacher use. I blogged about my initial response to the device here, where I discussed the Chromebook's ease of use and the possibilities it holds for blended learning with my students. Shortly after blogging, I handed the device over to the students to see what they would do with it and find out what they think.

We were working on adding and subtracting with and without regrouping and the students had just been introduced to base ten blocks.

The students were presented with the task of adding and subtracting two digit numbers using base ten blocks. A few of my students found this task to be relatively easy so they were tasked with the responsibility of helping me discover on-line sites/activities that would allow us to blend their learning.

We found a great site that had two activities that we thought would be great for remediation and enrichment. Base Ten Fun and Base Ten Bingo  were deemed appropriate and were presented to the students. Using the Bright Links projector via the class desktop I introduced the two activities to the students and explained that they would all get a chance to use a 'computer' to try them out. As we progressed though our learning cycle the students got to use the various computers in our classroom (Chromebook, Laptop, Desktop) to try out the two activities.


The students knew that we wouldn't have the Chromebook for a long time so they all wanted to use it. I placed few limitations on its use - I wanted it to be treated with respect and survive its stay in our classroom. Every student had the opportunity to use the device and as they were using it I observed them and questioned them with respect to their mathematical learning and about the device.

The students loved how portable it was. Some of them sat at their desks and other laid down on the carpet. They liked that it wasn't plugged in and that they could walk around the room with it to show their friends what they were doing. They were happy to be "free" to move about the room. THEY commented that they don't like calling people over to the desktop or the laptop to look at their work, they prefer to simply go to the person they want to talk to - this includes me! Side note: there is nothing better than having many students want my attention at the same time to COMMUNICATE their THINKING.

Even though they are very careful and respectful with the computers, they commented that the laptop is too big and although they could walk around with it, I would probably not allow it. They are correct, the laptop is pretty hefty compared to the Chromebook and the iPads and iPod Touches that they use in class.

One of the students asked why we couldn't use the iPads to do this work. This question came from one of the students that was limited in mobility due to the use of the desktop computer. She wanted to find a comfy spot in the room to explore and enjoy. I explained that the iPads are not "Flash" compatible. The students wanted a demonstration so I showed them using our document camera. Due to the incompatibility with Flash based software I rarely, if ever, get the students to connect to the Internet when using the iPads and iPods. I logged on to the Internet with an iPad and showed them that we could not use the tablets to use the activities we found on the site.**

Here is what my students said about the Chromebook:
  • the screen is big enough to see what is going on
  • they like moving around with it, just like using the iPads/iPods
  • not trapped in an app, can move all over the Internet to get to different places
  • they can use sites that they use on the computer
  • they can use sites that they already know about (,
  • turns on quick
  • can move around the room easily
  • don't have to keep it plugged in
  • it is small and light
The Chromebook proved beneficial to my students while it was in our classroom. The key benefit is that it allows my students to use Flash based software that seems to be everywhere we want to be. For the purposes of our project, compatibility with Flash based software to start us off is key. My students did not have a chance to use any of the Ministry's online learning resources while we had the Chromebook in our possession (which are all Flash based by the way) but I did and everything worked fin. It is integral that we have a device that is compatible with the software used to create the learning resources that my students will be using. Moreover, the Chromebook is the perfect device for what +Ferdinand Krauss will be doing next school year with teachers. Ferdinand has blogged about his plan to leverage the Chromebook mainly with educators while my prime focus will be on blended learning with the students.

So far so good. My students only had one issue with the Chromebook - that they won't be in my class next year when I have once device for every two students!

**I must admit that I have relied heavily on the use of apps with the tablets so I took it upon myself to research web browsers that I could download onto the iPads so that my students could use Flash based software. I downloaded the "Photon" Browser onto one of the iPads and then proceeded to the two online activities listed above. Sadly, we were still not able to load Flash based activities. We got a message that said something about installing the most recent Flash software. Although I am not easily dissuaded most of the time, I threw in the towel on this ongoing issue due to the fact that we have discovered a relatively affordable device that can do what we want and a lot more.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Chrome is as good as Gold!

+Ferdinand Krauss and I are on an exciting journey, one that we believe will lead students to success by employing 21st Century strategies and a blended learning model. Although our journey has just begun, we have already had to make some changes to our project.

One of the changes involves the device that we will leverage to benefit the learning of primary students and the professional development of teachers interested in using blended learning in their classroom. After extensive research and experimentation we realized that the Acer Chromebook would be the best suited device to support us in our above mentioned goals. 

We want our primary students and teachers to be able to view/experience on-line interactive sites, particularly Flash-based learning activities created by the Ministry of Education without having to change/configure any settings. We want their experience to be as seamless as possible with their focus squarely on the learning/teaching and not the technology. 

Enter the Chromebook: not complicated to learn, no expensive software to buy, and it starts in seconds. As I use a Chromebook to write this blog post I can attest to the simplicity of the device. The fact that it starts up in seconds and requires almost no set-up or maintenance is a dream. As a classroom teacher much of my  attention is placed on instructional time and I can see how this device will not take away valuable time from my teaching or student learning. 

The Chromebook is often referred to in a negative light because it is seen as, simply, a web browsing device. It is for this very reason that for +Ferdinand Krauss and I, Chrome is as good as gold! Blended learning is all about combining face-to-face classroom methods combined with "online" content and instruction. We want our students and teachers to engage with a device that will facilitate excellent and fast web browsing. The faster the better!! The web browser (Chrome) is a modern one that includes tools that allow standardized and easy deployment and management that are welcome in educational settings. 

Moreover, the Chromebook houses the best that Google has to offer. With respect to teacher professional development, Google Drive (file storage and synchronization service provided by Google which enables user cloud storagefile sharing and collaborative editing) and Hangout (places used to facilitate group video chatare just two examples of apps that facilitate collaboration and are easily accessible on the device. Combined with the speed of the device these two apps function very well and add to the positive experience. 

I look forward to blogging more about the the other capabilities of this device for the purposes of our project. Stay tuned to read more about our exciting journey!! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Building Capacity via Self Directed Learning

I recently spent several days in Toronto with +Ferdinand Krauss for the Teacher Learning & Leadership Program. We spent our days learning the 'ins and outs' of the program, things like the fundamentals, project management/budgeting, and time to work on our project. This was my second time attending the training and even though I participated last year, the experience was not lost on me. In fact, I gained wonderful insight and "heard" things that didn't get absorbed last year. I looked forward to the training and was mentally ready to engage in it.

Informal discussions around integrating technology in the classroom, project design & implementation, digital resources, and social networking helped "stretch" my thinking and has caused much reflection on my part. In his TED Talk about motivation, Daniel Pink  mentions that one of the ways to engage people is by allowing them to self-direct their learning. The project we are working on, the professional learning network I am part of on Twitter, and the reading I engage in are all self directed and based on my professional needs and interests.

Essentially, I am building capacity by going after what I need and doing so with an open mind, prepared to deal with the critical questions and cognitive dissonance that comes my way. This is no easy task, but what makes it palatable is the understanding that it will make me a better teacher and leader.

As I reflect on the 2012-2013 TLLP that is coming to an end, I can't help but reflect on the learning that has occurred. I must admit that during my project there were times when I was not open or comfortable with the critical questions and dissonance that came my way. If my recent training experience is any indication of what is to come, I feel like I am better equipped to deal with what comes my way and do what I can to leverage it in order to continue to benefit my students, my colleagues, and myself.

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