Ask most any kid in Loudoun County how the first month of school has gone and you’ll likely hear a breathless announcement about a new tool they’ve made room for in their backpacks this year.
More than 40,000 students in 46 schools are now equipped with their own Chromebook. It’s a major milestone toward the school system’s goal toward a one-to-one device model, in which every teacher and every third through 12th-grade student is assigned a personal digital device to use in the classroom and at home.
Next year, students in 23 more schools will be assigned Chromebooks, and students in the last 23 schools will get them the year after that.
“The awesome part is this didn’t happen overnight. We have been on a continual track toward this,” said Vince Scheivert, who was hired a year ago as the assistant superintendent of Digital Innovation to lead the roll out.
Scheivert said the foundation for the one-to-one device model was laid long before he came to Loudoun. The School Board hired Superintendent Eric Williams in 2014 in part because of his success introducing technology in the classroom at his previous school district in York County. Just days after Williams started in Loudoun, he introduced the Bring Your Own Technology model, inviting students to bring laptops, tablets, and even smart phones with them to school.
It provided teachers a nudge to use the devices as another classroom tool to get more out of their lessons, and many started using Google Classroom, a free web service that allows students to create and share assignments—and allows teachers to grade them—digitally.
“This isn’t all new,” Scheivert said. “What’s great is we simply adopted the system that 70 or 80 percent of our teachers were already using.”
Heather Day, a fifth-grade teacher at Cedar Lane Elementary, embraced BYOT as soon as it was introduced in Loudoun, but she said it was a lot to juggle a variety of devices. “Only about half the students would bring devices in, so they’d have to share and then some would have iPads and others would have laptops—it was a lot of juggling,” Day said. “This is effortless.”
Victoria O’Bruba, a first year teacher at Cedar Lane, admits she was nervous when she heard she’d be tasked with managing a classroom of third-graders armed with brand new Chromebooks. “But it’s been really good. They thrive off of it.”
She said she’s seen students pick up concepts faster because there are so many options for how they can learn the information. On a recent Monday, two students mentioned that they decided to create a project using Google Slides over the weekend. “Oh, are you neighbors?” she asked them. “No, but we can work together now,” the student said.
“They’re learning how to be independent, how to work together, and how to research without teachers holding their hands the whole time,” she said.
It’s allowed for a shift in how teachers deliver lessons, according to Cedar Lane Elementary Principal Robert Marple. Instead of simply relaying information to a roomful of students, they are inviting the students to discover the information themselves and lead their learning. Marple said his team of teachers is giving students more choices in how they learn and how they illustrate they understand a concept. He gave the example of a recent science lesson that invited students to illustrate to their teacher they grasped the information by: writing and performing a skit, creating a video or a slideshow, and presenting their final product in front of the class.
“Teachers can’t be the hardest working people in the room anymore,” Marple said. “I think now they are facilitators of learning, and we’re learning alongside the students now.”
Students can also access their school library’s catalogue on their Chromebook to pinpoint exactly where a particular book is before walking down to the library to check it out.
It all has fifth-grader Owen Killian loving school more than ever before—and even playing math games with classmates over the weekends. “These things are great,” he said in class recently, with his Chromebook resting on his lap. Each student sits through a Chromebook Bootcamp to learn the ins and outs of the device, and Owen was happy to hear that they are water resistant. “So I’m still careful but it’s not like I have to keep it totally away from the kitchen or anything.”
There have been a few reports of Chromebooks destroyed in the first few weeks of school. At least one mom ran over her son’s Chromebook with her car and other Chromebooks were dropped down flights of stairs. Scheivert said the devices are under warranty and will generally be repaired or replaced free of charge. Parents, on the other hand, are on the hook to replace the device if it is lost, stolen or intentionally damaged. They cost about $300.
Scheivert said the cost of arming each student with a Chromebook is about the same as the school system’s previous digital model to provide one device to every three students, because the devices the division was buying under that model were laptops and desktops which are more expensive than Chromebooks. The school system spends slightly more than $11 million each year on computers. About $2.5 million of that cost is paid for through state grants, $7 million comes from the school system’s lease fund and the remaining $2 million is carved out of the operating budget.
And while the high schools will continue to have specialty labs lined with desktops and laptops for courses such as cybersecurity that require more robust devices than Chromebooks, the one-to-one model means students no longer need to stop by the computer lab to log on.
“In the past, it had always been dependent on the availability and capacity of a computer lab, and that isn’t the real world,” Scheivert said. “Versus scheduling a time for them to access computers, we want our kids to move in and out of the digital world as much as they need. Within three years, every student in Loudoun will be able do that.”
Find a list of frequently asked questions at blogs.lcps.org/studenttech.