Tech Trends | Case Study

A Small District's Journey to 1-to-1

Since October 2012, we have had five teachers piloting classroom sets of Chromebooks in our high school, with plans of going 1-to-1 in the 2013-2014 school year. Chromebooks are personal computers running the Google Chrome Operating System. They are known for their comparatively low cost and fast start-up time, which is why our district decided to pilot these devices. 

Edenton-Chowan Public Schools (NC) are located in a rural county with approximately 2,500 students in the district and a free and reduced lunch rate of roughly 65%. We needed devices that were durable, were easy to use for individuals with varying levels of technology skill, included support from the company, and were cost-effective.

The Chromebooks are used in social studies, English, science, Spanish, and cabinetmaking classes. This cross-section allows us to observe the use of such devices in different subject areas with different students, teaching styles, learning styles, and ability levels.

We became a Google Apps for Education district at the beginning of the 2012 school year, so Chromebooks seemed to be the perfect fit. Why? Here are some reasons from our teachers:

  • “Boot-up time is second to none. Our students do not have to wait for what seems like forever for the computer to turn on and for them to locate and open their work. There is high time on task, and students are engaged from bell to bell.”
  • “Students no longer can use excuses such as, ‘My printer is broken. My file can’t open on this computer because it’s saved in another format. My paper was saved on my jump drive and I lost it. I finished my assignment, but it’s at home on my desktop and I forgot to email it to myself.’ ”
  • “As a teacher, I never hear, ‘Can I use the stapler? Where is the stapler? The stapler needs more staples. The stapler is jammed. I forgot to save my paper. Oh man, I have to start all over.’ ”
  • The social studies teacher who is participating in the pilot said, “Students are interested in finding information. For example, looking up a term or concept and locating a picture or video and then incorporating it into a Google Presentation or Prezi is more interesting than writing terms and definitions in a physical notebook to turn in.”

What are our administrators saying? The principal at the high school writes, “I am super excited about our 1-to-1 pilot and proud of the programs the five teachers in the pilot have made to transform their classroom into a 21st century classroom. The engagement of students who are in the 1-to-1 pilot classrooms is phenomenal. Students are remaining on task and are surfing the web (in areas other than their class work) very little. I’ve asked students in the 1-to-1 pilot what they think of using the tool–Chromebooks–for learning. They are excited about being readily able to tell me what they are learning today and are looking forward to a Chromebook 24/7 in the near future.”

New Ways to Work Together

Teachers and students have been challenged to think “outside the box” about how to incorporate the use of the device into their everyday instruction in a manner that fits their content, curriculum, teaching, and learning styles. Google Docs has increased the amount of collaboration in the classroom and has led to collaboration on projects outside the classroom as well. Educators have known for years that collaboration increases engagement and learning. With Google Docs, group work is no longer boring. Participants can color-code their portions of the assignment, thereby holding students accountable for their contributions. Those involved in the session appear on the screen when documents are shared, and documents are time-stamped. This type of collaboration is preparing our kids for the workforce.

In our Spanish class, students are recording themselves using the language and submitting assignments to the teacher for grading and corrections. They are creating travel brochures and restaurant reviews in Spanish, and completing quizzes and tests in Google Form. They submit information in a Google spreadsheet that can be automatically graded and can be used to create charts that enliven in-class discussions with students and department meetings with other teachers. In cabinetmaking, students are creating portfolios using Google Sites. In English, students are creating collaborative stories based on novels they’ve read. When writing research papers, they do research and cite sources directly in Google Docs. In social studies, students are creating citizenship posters, thinking maps, timelines, and financial reports when discussing budget and economics.

Students in the pilot have used and loved web 2.0 tools including Wordle, Prezi, Voki, Vocaroo, QR codes, Skype, Twitter, Edmodo, Time Toast, and Bubbl.Us—and the list continues. Learning has truly been elevated through this pilot. Teaching has changed from teacher-led to student-led. Our teachers are operating as facilitators and coaches.

Another testament to our pilot is the impact it is having on students who have challenges. We have one student who had continuous behavior issues. We made an agreement for him to pilot using the device throughout the day, in all of his classes. He was the only student to do so—all the other devices were in carts in the five classrooms. This student passed each course his first semester, office referrals decreased, and engagement increased. Although on a small scale, the difference is huge.

Planning for the 1-to-1 Dream

With the help of a grant, our dream of becoming 1-to-1 is getting closer. In April 2013, our district was awarded a grant in the amount of $827,500 from the Golden Leaf Foundation. Our 1-to-1 Learning Initiative was originally written for students in grades, 8-12 but these additional funds will let us expand the initiative to include grades 6-12. All students will be provided with an individual computing device, probably a Chromebook. While technology is a central component, the major emphasis of the initiative is the creation of a 21st Century learning environment of collaboration, research, and problem-solving. A significant portion of the budget will be reserved for professional development on the effective integration of technology to improve learning.

Members of our school district and community are anxiously awaiting the implementation of the plan. When asked what we are doing to prepare, the district-level instructional technologist said, “Plan, plan, plan, and plan some more.” This includes plans for professional development for teachers and students, plans for the device and implementation, plans for evaluation and reflection that will ultimately lead to more changes and improvement, and lastly, plans for the “what ifs.” It’s important to note that this is not a technology project but a learning initiative. Projects have a start time and end time. Initiatives are ongoing and involve evaluation, reflections, analysis, and continuous growth.

Let’s face it: we’ve been in the 21st century for the past 13 years, and we’re still talking about “preparing students for the 21st century.” This should no longer be our focus. Our focus should be on preparing our students for life in the 22nd century. This is why we’ve investigated 1-to-1 and are determined to implement it. A 1-to-1 environment provides our students digital citizenship and responsibility. It is our effort to close the digital gap (or lessen it as much as possible), provide differentiated instruction, facilitate a change in teaching, provide content to all stakeholders 24/7, engage students in a real-world experience, and present relevant instruction. We’ve found through our pilot that students are more interested in learning, collaboration has been taken to the next level, student engagement is greater, absences are fewer (and when students are absent, make-up work is easier to locate and complete), and teachers are finding creative ways to use the device to support student learning.

According to the United States Department of Education and recent studies by the National Training and Simulation Association, “…technology-based instruction can reduce the time students take to reach a learning goal by 80 percent…however…just having technology doesn’t make you achieve. You need technology coupled with educators who know how to apply it.” Our goal is to do just that!


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