Chromebook bootcamp: 6th-graders learn to use new laptops at school

Chromebook bootcamp: 6th-graders learn to use new laptops at school

Jake Bowen, a 6th-grader at Gallagher Middle School, uses a program on his new Chromebook laptop to design a rollercoaster at a bootcamp last Friday to teach students how to use their computers and Google Apps for Education. (Valley Breeze & Observer photos by Melanie Thibeault)

SMITHFIELD - Henderson Ledesma, a 6th-grader at Gallagher Middle School, said that school used to be boring, but now that he has his own Chromebook laptop to use in class and bring home at night, "it's pretty fun."

He used the computer in his math class last Thursday to graph points and watch videos to help him better understand how to solve certain problems, he told The Valley Breeze & Observer.

All 179 6th-graders were given Chromebooks last week, as part of the Smithfield school district's three-year plan to equip all students in grades 3 to 12 with a laptop that they can use in and outside of the classrooms.

Students will use the ChromeOS operating system and Google Apps for Education, which are similar to apps that come with a Gmail account.

Last Thursday, students began bringing the computers with them to their classes. On Thursday and Friday, administrators held a bootcamp in the cafeteria for the 6th-graders to learn how to take care of the devices and how to use Google apps like email, calendars, and documents.

"It's fun to learn," 6th-grader Olivia Hoxie told The Observer. "We've been learning how to organize our stuff and do assignments."

It also "helps save the trees," she added.

Ledesma was so excited to start using his new laptop that he co-wrote the next day's morning announcements with a classmate while they were both at their own homes Thursday night, by using a shared Google document.

They then shared what they had written with their teachers, who edited it so the students could read it to the school Friday morning.

Hoxie said that she can now easily email her teachers from home if she has questions on her homework assignments, rather than wait to ask them the next day at school - a point that Assistant Principal Ken Hopkins also brought up.

"We're working harder by working smarter," he said.

Hopkins hosted the bootcamp event, and used games and activities to show students how technology can help them learn in their classes.

Kids used a program to make rollercoaster rides, while learning about kinetic and potential energy.

Hopkins told students and teachers that the Chromebooks "won't eliminate talking and collaboration."

"This is supposed to be fun," he said.

Victoria Carruba, a 6th-grade social studies teacher, said that she's excited to start incorporating technology into her lessons.

"It opens (students) up to a whole other level of education and knowledge," she said.

Teachers are learning alongside the students, she said, adding that the administrators have encouraged teachers to use the Chromebooks and computer programs at their own pace.

"I plan to hit the ground running," she said.

Paul Barrette, the school's director of technology, was at the event to help out and make sure that the programs and laptops were working properly.

With so many students tapped into the school's network at once, Hopkins said "we're seeing technical hiccups."

Barrette added, "It's a great learning experience for us."

This year, 3rd-, 6th-, and 9th-graders received the first batch of laptops, which will be collected over the summer and returned to the same students next fall.

In addition to the laptops, students also received protective cases and AC adapters.

The laptops cost roughly $218,000, while the cases cost about $12,000.

Only 6th- and 9th graders can take their Chromebooks home, while 3rd-graders must leave theirs at school.

The school district will decide which Google Apps for Education are available to which grades.

While 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-graders have email accounts, Gallagher Middle School Principal Laurie Beauvais said that students can only send messages to people with Smithfield schools email accounts.

For parents worried about security, Barrette explained that email accounts are private, Google does not record or store any personal information, and there are no ads to spam students and staff.

The school department created a policy to outline that the Chromebooks are to be used by students at school and at home for educational purposes only.

Student Internet access will be filtered, both at school and away from the district's network.

"Paul did an excellent job of alleviating fears," Beauvais said. "We are concerned, too, about what kids can get into, many unintentionally."

With safety and security policies in place, Beauvais said that school administrators can focus on the positive aspects of technology.

Barrette said that 3rd-graders at McCabe Elementary School have received Chromebooks. The rest of the 3rd-graders and 9th-graders are scheduled to receive theirs this week.

Paul Barrette, director of technology for Smithfield schools, sits with 6th-graders Robert Squillante, left, and Jake D'Amico during a bootcamp last Friday to teach students how to use their new Chromebook laptops and Google Apps for Education.
Audra Brochu, left, works on her new Chromebook laptop, as Madelyn Young listens to Gallagher Middle School Assistant Principal Ken Hopkins give instructions.