Planning and Rebuilding with Help from HP Chromebooks

Nancy Caramanico

Brick Township Public School District, in Ocean County, NJ, has built a thriving program where student learning comes first. In the wake of a devastating hurricane, teachers, leaders and tech personnel worked as a team to plan and implement their most recent educational technology initiative. Intel-powered HP Chromebooks are a key component of this student-centered middle school program.

Ocean County was greatly impacted by Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012, sustaining damage to many homes and businesses and closing schools for 10 days. Up to 100 families were displaced by the storm. In the wake of this disastrous storm, Brick Township was one of nine districts to receive a grant via the NJ Hurricane Sandy Relief Organization. This grant of 1.9 million dollars supported the district educational technology initiatives in the recovery phase following the storm.

In planning for a refreshed and expanded educational technology program, Brick Township focused on expanding access to digital content and supporting differentiation as key academic goals.   They scheduled infrastructure updates and a purchase of new HP Chromebooks. Careful planning by superintendent, Dr. Walter Uszenski, IT leaders and administrators helped everyone to prepare for the rollout. Planning took place in the summer of 2013 and Chromebooks were in the hands of students by February 2014.

Selecting the Chromebooks

Brick Township had employed a variety of devices in the past from tablets to laptops and netbooks.  They now wanted a device for quick and seamless access to digital content and online productivity tools. They found the HP 14-inch Chromebook to be the right choice. Attracted by the HP Chromebook’s faster (Intel) processor, more durable build, and flexible interfaces (HDMI & USB), they especially liked its student friendly features such as a 9-hour battery life and larger screen size. The price fit their budget too.

James Baio, and Ross Ellicott, co-IT managers, highlighted the many functional benefits of Chromebooks seen by teachers, students and tech personnel alike, “With Chromebooks,” Baio explained, “there is minimal tech support needed compared to our older laptops. This includes everything from setup time through app rollout and daily use.”

Renee Kotsianas, principal at Veterans Memorial Middle School supported these benefits with her own observations, adding, “With two months of daily use behind us, we have never had to call tech support once!”

The Chromebooks are being used at Brick’s two middle schools in a shared one-to-one fashion. A Team of students share the use of two Chromebook Carts. The teaching teams in the middle school coordinate sharing according to classroom need.

Digital Content and Paperless Classrooms

A typical school day now involves less paper! As Chromebooks provide easier access to digital content, Brick Township finds that students quickly retrieve information and can easily collaborate and share the work they do. As an added support to a paperless digital environment, each teacher and student uses Microsoft OneDrive. Chromebook licensing was also put in place to provide for easy back-end management and distribution of apps. “One clear benefit is that we are 100% digital,” says James Baio. “Work is going directly to the teacher who can comment and give feedback in real time.’

According to Dr. Alyce Anderson, principal of Lake Riviera Middle School, “With access to many of their books and class materials online, students were even able to learn from home during a recent snow day.”

Creative uses are seen daily, from virtual forensic experiments to math interactive activities. Says Veterans Memorial Middle School Principal Kotsianas, “They are so busy with their activities, I couldn’t disengage them if I tried!”

Common Core Curriculum and Assessment

Common Core State Standards are more easily addressed with expanded hands-on access to the Chromebooks. As Kotsianas puts it, “Tasks such as research, finding multiple sources and citing their work are easier to complete with the new tools. Teachers and students are so excited they want more!”

With additional tools, more students can be online at the same time. District leaders are confident that the Chromebooks will be useful for PARCC and other online assessments. Brick Township has a standards-based reading program that gives every student an individually customized learning experience according to their reading level. Since the Chromebooks have arrived, use of the program has increased substantially.

Brick Township reports that performance assessments, reporting, and differentation are now well supported by the increased one-to-one access to Chromebooks. With the Chromebooks in hand, students want to rewrite and revise their work. “This is a major shift,” says Anderson.

Spreading the Word

Overall, participants in the Chromebook program cite the following benefits:

  • Ease of Implementation and deployment;
  • Quick adoption by staff and students;
  • Creative classroom uses by teachers;
  • Enthusiastic and effective use by students.

They offer the following advice to others considering a similar deployment:

  • Plan well: Research options and coordinate the implementation well.
  • Set and communicate the vision: Communicate the vision well to all stakeholders – including administrators, students, teachers and parents – and then everyone knows what is coming next.
  • Provide ongoing support and training: Allow time for teachers to collaborate and model best uses.
  • Provide for funding for technology: Annual commitments are needed in order to sustain technology for the long term.
  • Select cost-effective tools: Chromebooks, with their lower price point, are a great option.

With a successful one-to-one implementation well underway, Brick Township has created a completely digital, paperless work environment for students and teachers and provided always-on access to digital content and the school web portal.  Supported by the vision of district leaders, teachers, parents, and the enthusiastic implementation team, they are on the right path.

At A Glance: 
This coastal, suburban district serves a total of 900 teachers and 9,665 students;
 
30% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch. 
 
The growing use nationwide of digital books influenced the district digitization of content across the curriculum. They are also committed to teaching Common Core skills and providing for college and career readiness for their students. 
 
Infrastructure: 

Brick’s 2 Middle schools -- Lake Riviera (968 students) and Veterans Memorial (1,173 students) – launched a Chromebook implementation in 2013 with the purchase of 1,325 HP 14” Chromebooks Model 14 - Q010NR. These devices replaced existing laptops and netbooks.

The Chromebooks are used in a shared 1:1 fashion with one cart of 24 Chromebooks for every two classrooms. All Chromebooks receive a full charge overnight as they are securely stored in classroom carts.

Upgrades completed in the past year have provided classrooms with a greatly enhanced wireless capability, a 1GB internet backbone and improved WAN connections between schools.

Brick Township uses Microsoft Office 365 Online for its productivity applications. All middle school students, administrators and teachers have access to One Drive for creating and storing documents online. Teachers use Office 365 for email use.

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