New laptops for eighth graders expand students' horizons

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Director of Technology and Curriculum Todd Thieken puts the new Chromebook through its paces. Photo by Deane Erts.

Tecumseh Middle School eighth graders will be returning to school looking forward to more than new classes September 3; they will also be looking forward to brand new laptop computers provided by the school district.

Each eighth grade student and teacher will receive a Google Chromebook when school begins, purchased mostly through grants at a cost of only $249 apiece, which is a far cry from the typical price for such a device.

Tecumseh Public Schools (TPS) has ordered 250 of the Chromebooks at a cost of $62,250 and the computers will stay with the students through the rest of their time at TPS.

Todd Thieken, director of curriculum and technology for TPS, said that the decision to start the process of supplying all of the students in the system with laptops with eighth graders was strategic.

“First of all, we had to start somewhere, and the eighth grade seemed like a logical place to begin. We considered starting with freshmen, but decided that they are dealing with enough transition adjusting to high school. Eighth graders, on the other hand, are at a point where they are comfortable where they are.”

The district hopes to equip all students with laptops in the future, depending on the success of the current program.

Each successive eighth grade class will receive the computers, which they will be able to take home to work on assignments. The school system is already interconnected with a Google network that allows the hundreds of computers that are already in the classrooms to communicate and access online textbooks and other educational material. In addition, the computers are connected with the Cloud, which is a system of central storage and computing centers that allows access to all material in a user’s account.

Each student in the school system is given a Google account, whether they have one of the new laptops or not, to work on computers that are already in the classroom. With the new Chromebooks, students will have the added advantage of taking them home, plus they will have the ability to work collaboratively on the same document if the assignment requires. This ability is a unique feature of the Chromebook: between two and 30 students can type on a word processing document in real time, eliminating the need to be in the same physical place together. All homework and class assignments will be submitted digitally, also, doing away with reams of paper teachers used to have to contend with.

“It’s not just about technology, though,” Thieken said about the laptops. “Most importantly, no matter what we do, the focus is on instruction first. The delivery device doesn’t matter.” He said, however, that he expects the laptops to be popular with the students. “I think the Chromebooks will provide additional incentive to the kids to learn. They already love electronic devices and having one of their own for as long as they are in school will enhance the learning process.”

Thieken said that education is slowly moving away from hardcopy textbooks. “There is so much versatility online,” he said. “Online textbooks are not free, of course, but one advantage they have is that the publishers can update them immediately. You don’t have to wait for the next edition.” At a cost of up to $80 per paper textbook, buying the average class of 250 can cost school districts $20,000 for a single subject. The Chromebooks, on the other hand, can be used for all subjects and have access to not only text but a wide range of electronic pictures and videos on any given subject. Thieken also pointed out that students will no longer be required to stuff four or five textbooks in their backpacks to take home at the end of each school day.

Although this year’s eighth graders will be provided with the computers, any other Tecumseh student is able to purchase a Chromebook and have access to the advantages it provides if they choose to do so.

Supt. Kelly Coffin said that the Chromebook program came about during a discussion between teachers and administrators on a proposed hardcover textbook purchase. “We saw the laptops as a great opportunity to take advantage of emerging technology,” she said, “and with the help of several grants we were able to make it happen.”

Both Thieken and Coffin agreed that computers do not spell the imminent demise of hardcover textbooks, but to those looking to the future of electronic education, the handwriting is on the wall.




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