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Philly School Swapping Macs for Chromebooks, Opening Center of Excellence in Learning with Dell

Science Leadership Academy receives $620,000 grant to fund effort, open new building, support Center of Excellence

A high school in Philadelphia is in the process of moving its students off Mac laptops and onto Chromebooks.

Science Leadership Academy is a college-prep school whose curriculum focuses heavily on STEM education and entrepreneurship. The school, whose instructional strategy is inquiry-based, is operated as a partnership between the School District of Philadelphia and the Franklin Institute, an organization that operates a science and technology museum center and conducts various outreach and educational programs. It also partners with public schools on STEM equity initiatives.

SLA is a 1-to-1 district, with students and teachers currently using Apple MacBooks and tablets and Dell laptops, tablets and all-in-ones. (Teachers will continue using Dell tablets and all-in-ones.) The MacBooks have been in place in the school for about seven years.

But in the next few weeks, the school will begin rolling out Dell Chromebooks to current freshmen. The full, schoolwide rollout will take place over the next few years, with each new freshman class receiving their Chromebooks.

According to Dell, the transition had actually begun earlier this year, with teachers and students shifting over to Google technologies, including Google Apps (for presentations, word processing and the like), in the Chrome environment.

"We knew that for students to truly be in charge of their learning, we had to provide them with a device where they can research, collaborate and create projects that develop the critical thinking skills they need for future success," said Chris Lehmann, founding principal, the Science Leadership Academy, in a prepared statement. "The Dell Chromebook 11 gives our students access to their apps and content from anywhere and enables us to integrate learning into every facet of student lives, whether in the classroom, in a lab or at home."

Dells 11.6-inch Chromebook features a dual-core Haswell processor and supports 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi.
Dell's 11.6-inch Chromebook features a dual-core Haswell processor and supports 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi.

The devices themselves are Dell's new Chromebook 11 models, which just started shipping this month. They're powered by a dual-core, 1.4 GHz Intel Celeron 2955U processor and sport 4 GB of onboard DDR3 memory and an LED-backlit, 11.6-inch screen with a resolution of 1,366 x 768 powered by Intel HD graphics. The devices will support 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and will include Bluetooth 4.0.

Other features include:

  • 16 GB embedded solid state drive with a boot time of about 8 seconds;
  • SD card slot for removable storage;
  • HDMI port supporting 1080p video output;
  • Front-facing 720p HD camera;
  • Dual USB 3.0 ports;
  • Two 2 watt speakers; and
  • 10-hour batter life.

He added: "Our mission at SLA is to help our students to become the fully realized citizens our society needs by immersing them in an inquiry-driven, project-based environment that encourages them to find their passion. The Chromebook gives us the flexibility to achieve that goal."

"As SLA's founding partner, The Franklin Institute is deeply committed to this unique and successful partnership," said Dennis M. Wint, president and CEO of the Franklin Institute, also in a prepared statement. "The Institute provides extraordinary opportunities for SLA students, including memberships, collaborative events and programs, board of trustee scholarships and unprecedented exposure to some of the best scientists in the world."

As part of the announcement, Dell is providing a $620,000 grant to Science Leadership Academy in technology and funding.

Jon Phillips, director of worldwide education at Dell, told THE Journal, "The goal of the grant was to help Science Leadership Academy to continue to do what they've been doing really well, which is to put students through this inquiry-based model." He said the funds will be used to help open a new building to allow more students to attend SLA.

The funds will also be used to support the efforts to create a new Center of Excellence in Learning, part of whose mission will be to develop and disseminate best practices for the use of technology in inquiry-based models.

According to Phillips, the School District of Philadelphia is looking at SLA as a testbed "with an eye on what is scalable and replicable in a very large district."

The Franklin Institute's Wint added, "Dell is a valuable partner to advance the goals of SLA and The Franklin Institute, and with their support, we are able to share SLA's model of inquiry-based learning with educators across the nation and engage even more students in STEM education. We are excited to see The Franklin Institute's spirit of inquiry grow with the founding of the Center of Excellence in Learning to foster innovation in our region and beyond."

An event launching the Center of Excellence is being held at the SLA today. A discussion put on by students will be made available online following the event. It will be accessible at

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .