Local elementary students are utilizing Chromebooks and Google Docs in the classroom

by: KEVIN SPERL - Ochoco Elementary fourth-grade teacher Stacie Keller assists Kevin Arroyo in the use of Google Docs in class.

Editor’s note: Part two of this four-part series will examine technology in elementary classrooms focusing on communication and collaboration

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, today’s students must master more than the three R’s -- reading, writing, and arithmetic.

To succeed in secondary and post-secondary education, as well as the workplace, students must add competency in the four C’s -- critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration.

To that end, students in the Crook County Elementary schools have their heads in the clouds, and not because they are daydreaming.

At Ochoco Elementary, fourth grade teacher Stacie Keller asks her students to think about why they should, or shouldn’t, be a pirate.

Student Macey Puckett gets right to work. Not by raising her hand or writing in a journal. She turns to her Chromebook.

"These are the pros of being a pirate,” she types. “You may find treasure. You can blow stuff up. You can get out and see the sea.”

Meanwhile, Keller roams the room amid a crowd of raised hands -- students asking her questions about logging on to the network or properly opening a document.

“Don’t forget to share your document with me,” she instructs. “You’ll need to type in my user-name to make it work.”

The cloud these kids have their heads in is Google Docs.

Google Docs is a collaborative tool for editing documents in real time, where documents may be shared, opened and edited by multiple users simultaneously. And, it definitely meets one of the four C’s mentioned above.

To the benefit of the school district, Google Docs is web-based freeware. From a technology maintenance point of view, the district need not deal with software installs and license issues on a per computer basis. Students simply access word processing, spreadsheet and slide presentation software as web-based services. Their work is even saved “in the cloud,” which unfortunately means that the age-old excuse of “the dog ate my homework” doesn’t apply anymore.

To those new to the technology, “the cloud” is the ability for computer users to store information, and access software programs, on computers other than their own. Doing so provides access to information from a variety of devices, including computer laptops, tablets and smart phones.

Puckett is one student that knows how to add creativity and critical thinking to the mix as she continues with her essay: “But you shouldn’t be a pirate because it’s hard and you may not find treasure.”

According to Principal Dave Robinson, the Chromebooks were made possible by a state-based grant the school obtained more than two years ago.

“We had a tech boot camp with staff over that first summer, in collaboration with the Educational School District,” he said. “We had a lot of discussions regarded sharing and collaboration between students and staff.”

Sharing and collaboration has definitely become a central component of the school’s curriculum.

“We share lesson plans, calendars and instructional documents,” explained Robinson. “We are all much more collaborative with each other. My goal is to ensure that the kids hit the ground running with Chromebooks when they get to middle school.”

Keller agreed.

“As a teacher, Chromebooks keep them engaged,” she said. “And it is good preparation for students moving on to middle school, where they have the one-to-one project.”

Keller said she uses the technology in her reading curriculum as well, explaining that teams of students are asked to develop presentations, use word processing and research mathematical websites.

For Keller, and the school, adding technology to the curriculum is about teaching students how to use computers as a learning tool, not just a toy.

In Merile Glass’ Crooked River Elementary fifth-grade class, student Brett Smuin is busily researching Zebra Sharks, using Google search to find descriptions of the animal, learn about its habitat and find a few interesting facts.

Smuin and his classmates are working on their “ocean books,” using every letter of the alphabet to study various animals or geographic features of the ocean.

“My favorite is the Humpback whale,” he said, “I like how they can jump out of the water.”

Myles Semas is looking up information on the Bahamas, his research leading him to the tropical island while he was learning about common ocean fish.

“Part of our requirements is to find geographical places,” he explained, “So, I picked the Bahamas.”

Semas admitted that the Chromebook makes researching facts a lot easier, saying that he would otherwise have to wait until he got home to use the internet.

Semas does appreciate how much easier school work is to do with the internet, and the Chromebooks.

“Without access to the internet, I would have to find books on all of these topics.” he said. “That would be a lot harder.”

For today’s student, accessing the internet via their Chromebooks has replaced going to the library and searching the card catalog.

Glass keeps that in mind, saying that she keeps a book cart in the room, right next to the Chromebooks.

“Some of these kids are so into technology that they don’t know how to use books,” she said. “But, technology does make it much easier to do research.”

For Glass, the challenge is to be sure her students are finding sites that are age appropriate, and accurate.

“They might find a high school site with the correct information,” she said. “But they may not be able to understand it all. I don’t want them simply writing down information that they can’t explain.”

She also does not allow them to use Wikipedia, as it is a type of “crowd source” data base, and she can’t always be sure the information is correct.

“Just because it is on the web, doesn’t mean that it is true,” she said.

At Cecil Sly, Principal Jim Bates and his teachers are providing their students a new window to the world.

“We are a storyline school,” said Bates, “Collaboration and creativity is the heart and soul of this school.”

That world window is provided by Smart Board technology, connecting computers to wall mounted boards that encourages tactile, audio and visual learners.

Twelve out of seventeen rooms have Smart Boards installed, complete with ceiling mounted, “short throw” projectors. This technology keeps the projector out of the way of both students and teachers, avoiding anyone staring into the bright light of the projection, or taking up floor space where someone might run into them.

“We are working towards a school where all classrooms have a smart board and interactive projector technology,” said Bates.

Costing approximately $2,200 per classroom, the money has been raised through fund raisers and a close working relationship with the school’s PTO.

In Denby Durham’s first grade class, students are rarely left at their desks working by themselves.

“My students are fully engaged with the smart board,” said Durham.

According to Bates, the school’s technological journey started three years ago when he brought the smart boards to the school, saying that, by the end of 2015, all 17

“Technology is a set of tools to bring people together,” said Bates. “It makes education relevant to the kids and they are more prone to interact.”

Bates is keeping his eye on that new world window, and he envisions the potential shape of technology as it might come to the yet-to-be-built elementary school and a renovated Cecil Sly.

“Kids are visual learners and we are in a unique position to bring new technology to this district,” he said. “In our classrooms, there is less teacher talk and more student talk.”

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