As if sixth grade isn’t enough of an adjustment for some students, changing their routine and giving them a big responsibility in the middle of the school year could go good or bad.
Earlier this year, sixth-graders at Brownstown Central Middle School were chosen to pilot the one-to-one initiative that will be rolled out corporationwide at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
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That meant the nearly 120 students would be assigned their own Chromebook, and they would take it home to do assignments and ensure it’s fully charged to use at school each day.
Fortunately, the pilot program went smoothly and there were few hiccups. That left Brownstown Central Community School Corp. staff members confident for the full rollout in August.
In recent months, though, the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic led to closures for the remainder of the school year, and schools had to use eLearning and state-approved waiver days. That meant all students had to have access to Chromebooks to complete their assignments.
In a matter of about 18 hours, Brownstown staff members formulated and executed a plan to distribute more than 1,500 Chromebooks to students so their learning could continue uninterrupted.
“Your commitment and professionalism are unparalleled,” Superintendent Tim Taylor shared in a Facebook post. “You displayed grace under pressure as we entered uncharted territory. I am proud to be a member of your team.”
As proud as Taylor is of the staff members and students for adjusting, middle school Principal Doug McClure expressed similar sentiments for his sixth grade students and teachers with the pilot.
“I really do think they were initially very excited for the responsibility. I think they’ve handled the responsibility really well,” he said of the students.
“This is a new procedure for them, a new responsibility taking their devices home, bringing them back,” he said. “You never know by adding that to their routine, is that going to be a problem, but the kids have really taken ownership and they’ve done a good job by and large as a class. It has been seamless. It has really been a good thing.”
One reason sixth-graders were chosen to pilot the initiative is because all of the teachers are in the same hallway at the school.
McClure said some of them previously worked at schools with one-to-one programs, while it was new to others.
“Even if you’re more of a seasoned educator, there are still things that you’re learning, principals are learning,” he said. “I applaud Mr. (Will) Hubbard and certainly Mr. Taylor for the professional development opportunities that they are providing our staff. I think we’re going about it the right way, and it’s working.”
Kristen Hollenbaugh is in her first year as a sixth grade English/language arts teacher at BCMS. At her previous school, kindergartners used Chromebooks in the classroom but didn’t take them home. Then when she moved to third grade last school year, they took the devices home.
“It didn’t feel like a big transition for me since I’ve already done it, and I could tell the kids, ‘I’ve done this before. It might sound intimidating, but it’ll be fine. You’re just responsible for it, instead of just inside school, at home, too,’” she said. “The big thing is making sure they are charged at home and come back the next day.”
Going from just using them in the classroom to taking them home, Hollenbaugh said the students were getting more comfortable.
“They are exploring Google, Google Docs, Google Classroom more, whereas before, it was go get it out of the cart, we only had a few minutes. That took time,” she said. “Now, they have a little bit more freedom and practicing on their own time or in their free time. Their comfort level in navigating and using the Chromebooks seems to be a little more in-depth than before.”
Hollenbaugh created a choice board for her classes with multiple options. Students could pick one to work on in the classroom and also could finish at home if needed.
Students being able to take the Chromebooks home allowed her to add some options, including podcasts and the IXL skill-based daily practice.
“We were using some of it beforehand. We’re just going further in-depth, I feel, now where we have a little bit more time from not having to go get them, put them back and all of that stuff,” she said.
Hollenbaugh said students accomplish assignments quicker and it’s on their own time, and that gives her more time for instruction in the classroom.
“I’m getting communication in ways that I didn’t before, as well,” she said. “Some of them were not a fan of taking them home and they were a little nervous, but I think they’ve enjoyed getting that freedom of ‘I can do this at home. I can talk to my teachers if I need to and communicate with them.’ I think it has been overall positive.”
The pilot program also has allowed teachers and students to be more creative.
“As we go further, we’ll experiment more and more,” Hollenbaugh said. “Technology is endless. There are so many things that we could find and play with until we find what works for each teacher. That’s a nice thing, too. Each teacher has their own style. It just opens up so many more doors that we didn’t before.”
Sixth-graders Collin Downing and Genna Preston have liked using the Chromebooks in the classroom and being able to take them home.
“If you forgot a book at school, we couldn’t do the work. Now, if you forget something, you can still do the work,” Preston said. “I think it’s easier to do your schoolwork with your Chromebook because it’s always at our house.”
Downing said taking the Chromebook home gives him and other students more time to complete their work.
“We get homework, and it’s not like (teachers) have to set aside classtime for us to do it,” he said. “That way, we can take them home and everything is saved on that Chromebook because we don’t have to put them up and have someone else use them.”
McClure said each Chromebook costs a few hundred dollars, so it’s a big responsibility for the sixth-graders.
“I’d like to think that there’s an added motivation to keep those cared for because when they get collected at the end of the (school) year, they get this very same Chromebook back next year,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s going to help, too, just in terms of wellness and health. Instead of having seven or eight different hands on one device every year, it’s going to be your hands on your device.”
Beyond this school year, the students will be using Chromebooks and other technology at school and possibly in their future careers. From that aspect, McClure said it’s a good experience for the kids.
“They live in a technology-enriched world, and so they have to be able to navigate within that world,” he said. “This is just a common thing to their generation. It’s just something that feels normal to them. … These kids are seamless in that. It doesn’t really matter what form of media it comes to them. They are just as comfortable working in that cyberspace classroom.
“Education is changing to try to keep up with the times and meet the demands of the things that the kids are going to need to be able to do,” he said. “This is what they are going to see beyond high school, so it’s just another step that we’re using to try to get our kids ready for what they can expect to come next.”