A new kind of 'book': how Chromebooks are impacting teaching and learning in Smithfield

A new kind of 'book': how Chromebooks are impacting teaching and learning in Smithfield

Gallagher Middle School Teacher Andrea Pleau works with 7th-grader Vito Vecchitto. They are working on a Chromebook. (Valley Breeze & Observer photos by David Wuerth)

SMITHFIELD - Educational leaders and students alike can't say enough about the benefits of using Chromebook laptops in the classroom.

"It's not the days of going to a classroom and sitting there all day (with) someone lecturing you," Supt. Robert O'Brien said. "Kids need to be able to talk to one another (and) use their creativity."

That's just what 6th- and 7th-grade students at Gallagher Middle School were doing the morning of Oct. 14, as Assistant Principal Kenneth Hopkins walked from classroom to classroom, pointing out how students in math, social studies, and chorus classes were using the new technology to teach and learn.

The current group of 6th-graders received Chromebook laptops on Oct. 5 and are already diving in, using them in most, if not all, of their classes, Hopkins told The Valley Breeze & Observer on a tour of the classrooms.

Last spring, the current 7th-graders, then in 6th-grade, were issued Chromebooks, as part of a 3-year plan to equip all students in Smithfield with a laptop and Google Apps for Education.

The first stop on the tour was to Cynthia Ripley's 6th-grade science class where student Finn Eager lived up to his name as he excitedly pointed out "all of the different things that Google provides us (with)," including email accounts, Google documents, and calendars.

The calendar, Eager said, will send notifications reminding students when their homework is due and having email accounts allows group members to ask and answer each other's questions when they're no longer in school together.

"We can share documents with other people," he said, pointing to his screen. "I just shared it with my group here."

That morning, Ripley's students were divided into small groups and were tasked with creating PowerPoint presentations about "why matter matters," also using their Chromebooks to do research and gather relevant information from the web.

Having Chromebooks and being able to use technology at a young age simulates what they'll be experiencing in college and in their careers, Hopkins said.

He was quick to point out that teachers and administrators make sure that screen time is limited, following recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Down the hall, in Kristen Lund's language arts class, every student was typing in the same Google document in different fonts and colors, all sharing their ideas about what the word "empathy" means.

By being able to instantaneously read each other's ideas, students could respond to each other and tweak their own definitions as they went. "You can't get that in a traditional classroom," Hopkins said.

"This is what a 21st century classroom should look like," O'Brien added.

In Sharon DePalma's 7th-grade math classroom, students pulled out their Chromebooks as soon as they sat down at their desks.

"When you get a problem wrong, don't just go on," DePalma told her students as they prepared to do a warm-up exercise online. "The website walks you through how to do a problem. If you still don't understand, call me over."

Lest students forget what a traditional notebook looks like, DePalma encouraged them to use scrap paper to help solve problems.

By having students work on their own with the online resource, DePalma had time to go around the classroom and help individual students who needed a little bit more attention.

"Teachers can focus their attention on students who need enrichment or remediation," Hopkins said.

In a 7th-grade social studies classroom, students Aedan McCurdy and Norin Madeline Ith were working a group project, collecting information about the Great Depression and typing it into a Google document, which McCurdy said will be useful for studying for a quiz or test on the material.

"The Chromebook is a really useful tool for this," he said. "It makes life so much easier."

Though they don't have their own personal Chromebooks issued by the school department, 8th-grade students do have access to email accounts and Google applications. If they wish, they can bring their personal devices to class, Hopkins said.

Many teachers have Google classrooms, which students can access online. Users can post articles and links to share with each other, and teachers can send out assignments to students.

In chorus teacher Bill Maker's Google classroom, he posts links for his students to practice music at home on their own time. "You can learn all the words to a song before you're taught in class," Maker says.

In his classroom at the middle school, Maker has his students take out their laptops and find sheet music for a song, while he opens an application called Dr. Beat, which acts like a metronome.

Maker sets a tempo using his computer and prompts the students to sing along.

Walking to Maker's class that morning, I ask Hopkins what he thought the educational environment would look like in 10 years with technology advancing as rapidly as it is.

The word "global" came to mind, he says, noting that he pictures students from across the world being able to connect and learn from each other as easily as if they were in the same classroom.

Sixth-grade science teacher Cindy Ripley answers questions for students Aiden Powers, left, Cameron Corriveau, center, and Clifford Christian while they work on their Chromebooks at Gallagher Middle School.
Teacher KRISTEN LUND works with her 6th-grade language arts students as they compile a list of definitions of the word ÒempathyÓ into a single Google document, using their new Chromebook laptops.