Maybe your school made an executive decision to purchase Chromebooks for everyone. Maybe it was a gift. Maybe you asked your students to buy their own. The point is that you now have Chromebooks, and you’re not quite sure what to do with them. All kinds of ideas exist for one cool trick you can do with your Chromebooks. Or a list of top ten cool things. All that’s irrelevant if you never get the computers out in the first place. Unfortunately, a lot of school districts purchase Chromebooks without a real plan for what to do next. Then it’s left up to teachers, who already have plenty to do. While this article certainly cannot tell you EVERYTHING you can do with your new Chromebooks, it can give you an idea of what you should be aiming to do and why.
File Sharing / Folder Sharing
Student have been doing this for years. It used to be called cheating. Whether you want them to or not, students will share files. Chromebooks and Google Drive make it easier than ever, but at least it’s out in the open. In fact, that’s your first goal as a teacher or administrator: set up a consistent way for students to share files. Normally, this is done with folders rather than individual files. I had each student set up a folder with a title that made sense for the class, like Lastname,Firstname,Hour,Class--it’s a big deal to get last name first for grading purposes. After the folders were created and shared with me, that’s when I dropped all of the folders into one I’d created for myself for that class. Now I could access every student’s folder. Plus, every assignment would be automatically shared with me as soon as it was in a student’s shared class folder. I could also see everyone with whom the original creator shared a document = collaborative learning with some controls. Yes, you can create lots of other ways for students to share their documents with you. Just remember that it does not take long for you to have several thousand shared documents.
Of course, administrators should also set up several shared folders for staff. Same idea. Share folders, not files. You create a single staff shared folder with everyone on the staff having access, and then you can stop sharing individual files. Each department can do the same thing. Yes, it can get complicated, but not as complicated as adding all 100 staff members to each document or giving the public access to the file and sharing the link, never knowing whether or not students might get a hold of said link.
The point is that Google and Chromebooks are great to use for all of your files and folders, as long as you take a little time from the start to understand how the system works. If not, your staff and students will be asking for Microsoft Office within a week, and they’ll keep asking for something better, and the Chromebooks will seem cheap because they can only run Google Drive, and you’ll look bad.
Students already know this: everything they want to find for your class is online, and Chromebooks have the same access to those online materials as any other device, whether it’s using Wikipedia for articles or some kind of website with a login. The best advice here is to find ways to integrate the internet into the classroom, meaning students following links or doing searches, not you. Yes, you will need to find the links or make sure the searches will result in something educational, but leaving the learning up to the students seems to make a lot of sense, right? I liked to create a lot of web searches, which are similar to the old webquests you might have used back when Netscape and AOL ruled your online world. I always use questions that make the students read a little before answering, though you will still see copied and pasted text. The point is that it’s real research with found evidence. I even started making the questions more Common Core / College and Career Readiness-based, but what the students saw was that THEY were finding something relevant to the assignment.
The internet is also where you’ll find all the apps and add-ons you’ll never really use much with the students. Let them create a cartoon or music video if you want, but the learning curve and time commitment of many of these other learning tools do not add up to a happy, well-rested teacher. I would encourage you to explore what’s available if you have some free time, but don’t expect much of it to make your life easier instantly. In fact, many of the tools available will most certainly complicate your life. Even the good ones, like Google Drive. Therefore, plan on learning the good ones before you venture out into finding more to distract you. This is a classic blunder at tech-share days, when 22 year-old teachers without spouses or kids show the whole staff how easy it is to digitize an entire unit using only three apps and a couple of hours per day. Leave those apps on the internet for the kids to figure out, unless you are running some kind of class about internet apps.
Your plan should be to figure out how to use your Chromebooks each day. They are rugged devices, save for the flexible screen, which can be fixed by a Cranium Chromebook Hard Case Cover. Since the Chromebooks are generally rugged, they can be used daily. You just need to figure out what to do, though it might be easier to figure out what NOT to do.
You do not want to only use the Chromebooks for some kind of introductory activity and then put them away, at least not daily. I know that’s a temptation. Maybe DOL or a practice math problem. It’s simply not the best use of the equipment, though you certainly can make Chromebooks part of your routine. Be sure to extend it beyond the bell ringers, though. Oh, and not with students following your presentation on their own Chromebooks. Students know how to pretend to follow along. In fact, I would always have students put their screens down and look at the screen when I wanted to go over directions, reminding them where those directions existed online. When I tried to follow another teacher’s lesson plans and allow students to read along, I could tell way too many students were jumping ahead and not reading along. The cool part about Chromebooks is that they can go to sleep and wake up quickly. If you have a Cranium with a whiteboard attached, then you can use that for a few minutes, too, and then wake them up and get to work. On what? Online assignments saved to the class folder.
I turned all of my assignments into Google Docs pages with simple 1x1 tables for answers. It’s really simple and elegant. Question and answer in a document. No special knowledge of forms and form submission. Just a worksheet like the olden days but on a computer. You will want students to save everything to Google Drive in order to virtually eliminate excuses for missing assignments.
Probably not, at least for teachers and technology directors. Issuing a computer per student is a big deal, and revamping how you teach is an even bigger deal. I’ve seen some school districts force teachers to create Google Sites pages, Google Calendar assignments, a daily agenda on Google Slides, before finally shifting to Moodle and then Google Classroom. Oh, and remember Smart Boards? That’s insane. You cannot expect educators (or even students) to migrate to a new system each year, but it’s partially Google’s fault for not supporting or integrating their least popular apps. Older teachers I worked with grudgingly learned how to use email and Microsoft Word over a period of a decade, and now teachers are told to change to new systems every other year. The push should be for time savers to be part of the system, rather than educators having to waste time constantly learning each new system. For example, Google could hire a dozen English teachers at developer salaries to create Common Core curriculum to share in Google Classroom. I’d do that, and it would make thousands of other teachers’ jobs easier. Chromebooks on their own, however, will not do it for you, since the problem with computers is that they need input from people (so far) in order to compute. No, Chromebooks will not really save your district time or money, but Chromebooks outfitted with Craniums will certainly not cost as much MacBooks or WindowsBooks for pretty much the same results.