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Why there might be more Chromebooks than textbooks in Hall County classrooms
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Camila Barranco, a fourth grader at Martin Technology Academy, uses a Chromebook Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, as part of her studies at the Hall County school. Barranco used the Chromebook to learn to speak English fluently in less than a year. - photo by Scott Rogers

Camila Barranco, a fourth grader at Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science, arrived at her school over a year ago from Mexico, not knowing any English. 

Before the year was over, she was reading and performing above grade level in all of her subjects. 

Camila said she owes this quick advancement to her Chromebook. 

“I feel more confident now,” she said. “Almost at the end of the year, I was already speaking to my teacher and friends.”

Camila relied mostly on Storyline Online, a children’s literary website. Children can watch videos or celebrities reading the books of their choosing. For example, kids can click on the book “The Empty Pot,” and watch Rami Malek, a famous actor, read it to them. 

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Camila Barranco, a fourth grader at Martin Technology Academy, uses a Chromebook Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, as part of her studies at the Hall County school. Barranco used the Chromebook to learn to speak English fluently in less than a year. - photo by Scott Rogers

“When I first got here, I watched them, but I didn’t understand,” Camila said. “Their expressions helped me understand what they were saying.”

Becca Thompson, the student’s fourth grade teacher, said watching Camila grow in her boldness has been “incredible.” 

A couple of months ago, Camila spoke before Hall’s Board of Education and explained how she uses her Chromebook in the classroom.

“To get to the point where you present at a school board meeting about technology, that’s powerful,” Thompson said. “It proves that Chromebooks are accessible to everybody. Kids can pick up on the technology, no matter the language.”

Eddie Millwood, Hall’s director of digital convergence, said Chromebooks are in every classroom in the district. The district has 22,000 Chromebook. 

Several schools, like Martin Technology Academy, have one Chromebook per student. 

Aaron Turpin, Hall’s assistant superintendent of technology, said Chromebooks were first piloted in the system around seven year ago. He said they now cost around $300, but have changed in price over the years. 

Hall is a “bring your own device” district, so many students will bring their personal laptops or Chromebooks to school.

Thompson was one of the lucky few who was chosen as a pilot teacher for Chromebooks in Hall. 

She remembers a time when her classroom only had three computers. Now all the children has their own Chromebooks, which are kept in class and monitored closely. 

Being purposeful with technology 
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Becca Thompson at Martin Technology Academy is a Hall County Schools advocate for Chromebooks. She prides herself on finding new creative ways to use them in her classroom. - photo by Scott Rogers

Thompson said the time spent on Chromebooks in her classroom varies. If she had to guess, she’d say her students spend 50% of their school days on their computers. 

Thompson said she tries to be as purposeful as she can with technology. 

“We’re focusing less on consumption and more on creation,” she said. “I’m on a crusade this year to make sure we balance that. I want to make sure that if half the day is spent on Chromebooks, it’s for a good reason.”

Heather Duren, technology teacher at Cherokee Bluff Middle School, said Chromebooks not only promote creativity but allow students to showcase their learning.

Her eighth grade engineering students explore the effects of tension and compression. They work through the engineering design process to create models of bridges.

“I have some students who really enjoy building a bridge out of Balsa wood, and on the other hand, some of my students would rather create a 3D model of their bridge on their Chromebook,” Duren said. “Having access to Chromebooks provides them with the choice to use technology to create a model of a bridge.”

Duren said Chromebooks also offer a way to increase collaboration. Her students are able to connect with peers through their computers for projects or during class. 

Isabella Sorvino, a fourth grader at Martin, said she can view her classmates’ portfolios and blog posts, and offer constructive criticism. 

Ashlyn Voelkerding, who is in Sorvino’s class, said she enjoys updating her blog with her thoughts on certain books. 

“It’s fun,” Voelkerding said. “You can type and do hands-on text stuff. I like just typing all the stuff that’s going on with my books.”

Are textbooks outdated? 
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Isaac Osteen, a fourth grader at Martin Technology Academy, uses a Chromebook Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, to do his schoolwork. - photo by Scott Rogers

At Martin, Thompson said few textbooks can be found in the classrooms. 

All teachers have access to Hall’s database of digital content, which Millwood said was rolled out around five years ago. The resources include outlined interactive lessons for each grade level and subject, all of which meet Georgia’s standards. 

“It’s more of a base,” Millwood said. “We’re not trying to tell them how to teach; we’re giving them enough to where they’re not having to create all of this from scratch. We don’t care if they use it or not.”

Millwood assures people the district hasn’t done away with textbooks — they’re just not the sole resource anymore. 

“As soon as a textbook is printed, it’s out of date,” Millwood said. “While there’s still value to textbooks, we saw an opportunity with the digital resources that we have access to now.”

Many teachers in Hall, like Thompson, believe that Chromebooks don’t diminish a teacher’s role in the classroom but enhances it. 

When Thompson is out sick for the day or on vacation, she can video chat with her students from home or send a recording of a lesson to them.  This way they don’t miss a beat. 

Beyond classroom lessons

Chromebooks also give kids the ability to work at their own pace. If a student is excelling in a certain lesson, he can choose to complete more advanced work on a computer. 

Ryland Garrison, one of Thompson’s students, has already gone beyond his typical lessons. When he has time at home or during his STEM enrichment classes, he creates his own code for a small computer game in which the player uses a broom to keep a ball of dust from hitting the ground. 

Ryland said he plans on becoming a software engineer when he grows up. 

“The enrichment of coding is a lot of times higher than what I can provide,” Thompson said. 

Not every parent in Hall is as enthusiastic as Thompson about Chromebooks. 

When parents show skepticism about the benefits of this technology, Thompson tells them to do one thing.

“Have your kid show you something on their Chromebook,” she said. “What your child can do is really impressive. Technology is not going away. I prefer to meet them where they’re at and embrace it.”

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