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Oregon Trail third-graders get use of classroom Google Chromebooks

The Oregon Trail School District has introduced a new tool to classrooms. It may seem like just a cool gadget, but to teachers, this new advancement means easier access to online learning and a jump start on computer education.

Through an uptick in the education general fund, along with donations from parent clubs and a DonorsChoose campaign, the Oregon Trail School District now has more than 400 Google Chromebooks for use in classrooms.

The main recipients are the district’s nearly 300 third-grade students. Of the 264 purchased for use this year, 204 Chromebooks are housed in third-grade classrooms. Each of the district’s third-grade classes received 14 CTL Education Chromebooks to be used in the students’ education.

According to Scott Coleman, the district’s technology director, there are also a few spares on hand because, let’s face it, they’re being used in an elementary school classroom, and there are bound to be mishaps.Photo Credit: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Ivy Pursell, left, and Sophia Brown, right, third-graders at Sandy Grade School, spend some time doing activities on their classes new Chromebooks.

If funding allows, Coleman said, the hope is that the Chromebooks will move up with the students through their education. When this year’s third-graders become fourth-graders, new Chromebooks will be brought in for the new third-graders.

The decision for any Chromebooks purchased for next school year will be made as the school board visits the budget beginning in February 2015.

According to Coleman, a lot of school districts have been working to build new infrastructure to support wireless technology in classrooms, but not all of them have the opportunity.

“This is an amazing thing the taxpayers did for our kids,” Coleman said. “Not all of our kids have access to computers and Internet at home. Now we can make sure they get those critical thinking skills as well.”

Sandy Grade Principal Rachael George said her school is fully on board with the advancement.

She said the opportunity for younger students to learn technology is particularly important considering the changes to state testing, which has become more interactive this year in math and reading with the switch to the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

“Kids who don’t have experience with computers score significantly different,” George said.

She added that having the Chromebooks in classrooms give teachers more opportunity to use technology and improve students’ knowledge of it.

Chromebooks in the classroom

Michelle Bennett, a first-year teacher at Sandy Grade, said her third-graders received their Chromebooks at the beginning of this month and are excited to be using them.

“They’re picking it up quickly,” Bennett said.

Bennett said she has students using the Chromebooks daily for spelling words, online math games and during classroom literacy rotations.

Literacy rotations encourage independent learning — students are assigned to work either on writing or unfinished work, read on their own, learn in a small group with the teacher or literacy specialist or spend time on their own with the new technology.

For now, the students are mostly getting familiar with the computers, but Bennett hopes to use them soon as a tool to teach students how to type.

Bennett said even though young students today have a lot more access to technology, it’s mostly on tablets or smartphones, making keyboards a whole new realm. “Keyboards are harder,” she said. “But they’re picking it up quickly.”

She added that her students will learn to type using an online program and eventually will use those skills to begin typing their work.

“Being able to type their stories and print them out means a lot to them,” Bennett said.

Bennett said that having Chromebooks gives her students a better opportunity to access knowledge. And she doesn’t have to schedule computer lab time for them to be able to use the technology.Photo Credit: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - (Left to right) Porter Zook, LaRone Polk and Draiden Valente learn the computers that the school district hopes they will get to continue using through their entire careers at Sandy Grade School.

For Bennett, who graduated from Concordia University with a master’s degree in teaching in December 2013, this is her first year teaching, so the introduction of a new tool was no big deal.

Coleman said that for some teachers, this advancement is like taking their first steps, something he says is normal.

“Everyone is in a different place,” he said. “It’s our job to meet them where they’re at.”

Coleman and other district technology staff are readily available to help teachers make a successful transition.

Shift to Google Drive

In learning how to type their work, elementary school students are going to use Google Drive.

The plan developed last year with the start of a districtwide shift from Microsoft Office.

The Google Doc program, which is what the youngest Oregon Trail students will be using to type, allows an online document to be accessed by multiple students and the teacher as well.

“The work flow is amazing,” Coleman said.

Whether it’s three, seven or 10 students working on a project together, each student can work on the same file at the same time. Photo Credit: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Students in Michelle Bennetts third-grade class work in partners to learn on the 14 Chromebooks allotted to their room.

As students get older, it allows for fewer forgotten assignments if a group member is out sick or has a family emergency. It also saves each of the drafts so teachers can go back and see the revisions made throughout the editing process.

If students have access to the Internet, whether at home or at the library, they also can work on assignments away from school without the need for a USB drive.

Coleman said some parents have asked questions about the benefits of the Google Drive program over Microsoft Office, but he responds it’s not the program that’s important, it’s the skills.

“Sometimes the best tool is a pen and piece of paper,” Coleman said, “but the teacher gets to make that decision for that day.”

Teaching online safety

When accessing the Chromebooks, each student must use a personalized username and password.

Even though third-graders use a group password, which Coleman said helps cut down on time spent logging in for students who may not remember a password week to week, this process is often a student’s first introduction to the importance of a safe, online identity.

Coleman said Internet safety and media literacy are always at the back of his mind.

“We are taking steps to that already,” he said.

The district employs two media specialist librarians who are shared between the schools to help teach kids how to correctly and safely use technology.

Coleman said during this new step for the district, he doesn’t care about what it means for technology advances, he cares about what the kids are learning.

The main goal of improving technology that is readily available to students is to get them to use it in learning critical thinking skills.

“The goal is not to get them to use that tool,” Coleman said. “The goal is to get them to think.”

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