What is a Chromebook and why should we use them in school?

I am writing this post on a Chromebook. It retails at just over £200 including VAT yet in terms of build quality it feels more like a MacBook than a cheap laptop. It turned on this morning in seven seconds. There was no waiting for it to talk to the school network, no setting up profiles. I say again, it turned on in seven seconds. I put in a password and I was on the internet. Think of all the times when you ask children to turn on a computer and they wait… and wait. It can be five or ten minutes whilst you wait for them to all be ready. I worked with Bankfoot Primary school who bought just over sixty Chromebooks earlier this year. This is what the class teacher Kelly had to say about them.

So we can see they are fast. So how else are they different to a Windows laptop? Well a Chromebook is essentially a web browser. There are no programs to install. You turn it on and launch Google Chrome and you are on the internet. This can put some teachers off as it makes them sound very limited. There are a few things to remember here. Because you don’t install programs they don’t slow down. We have Chromebooks that are three years old and they are still our fastest computers. They don’t need anti virus software as they don’t get viruses either. They do still work for some tasks with no internet connection as well.

What can you do on a Chromebook?

It’s more a case of what can’t you do. More and more services are available online so children access activities such as Mathletics, Education City, MyMaths, IXL, Bug Club and so on. There are also online services that allow children to create documents, posters, certificates, databases, music, animations and more. J2e and Purple Mash and DBPrimary are the main two sites for these features.  If you look through the different strands of the Bradford Computing Curriculum there isn’t much you can’t cover using a Chromebook. You can code with Scratch, Discovery Coding or the Hour of Code to name three. In the Media Strand you can animate online, connect cameras and create stop motion animation, use loop programs to create music, make presentations, slideshows, posters, certificates, web sites and blog posts. Chromebooks can handle Data Handling with database creation, graph or pictogram makers and spreadsheets. Lots of tablet apps such as Explain Everything and Book Creator are also already available on Chromebooks or will be shortly. The only thing where they may not be a suitable program is video editing. Personally I would use iPads with iMovie for video editing with children every time.

In order to use a Chromebook you need to sign in with a Google account. You would need to sign your school up for Google Apps for Education. This is free, you can do it yourself or as a Google Education Trainer it’s something I can help you with.

The real elephant in the room is Microsoft Office. How can children use a device that does not have the programs Word, Excel and Powerpoint installed? When you sign up for Google Apps for Education every user gets Google Docs, Sheets and Slides which are the equivalents to the Office programs mentioned above. If you download a Word, Excel or Powerpoint file on a Chromebook it can be opened in the corresponding Google application. You can also access Word, Excel and Powerpoint online using Office 365, although you need extra logins for these. If your school has Purple Mash or J2e they will allow pupils to create a huge range of documents online.

The costs of  licences.

There is an extra £19 cost per Chromebook that you need to pay on top. This is for the management licence and is well worth paying for. This allows you to access controls for all your Chromebooks from one online portal. You can control almost every aspect of what users can do and what the device looks like. In the US administrators control thousands of Chromebooks through one admin screen. You can set wallpaper, bookmarks, blacklist web sites, stop users logging in with their personal Google accounts, organise printing through Google Cloud Print and so much more.

So in summary I would recommend Chromebooks to schools. They are fast, cheap, versatile and easy to control for use at school and at home. I wouldn’t say they are the only device a school needs as iPads support different areas more effectively but Chromebooks are now the number one educational device in the USA , their uptake is in its infancy in the UK and is well worth looking into.

If you’d like any more information please contact me.

Tim Bleazard

Tim has over 20 years experience as a primary school teacher, twelve of them as an ICT co-ordinator. In 2009 he was seconded to Challenge City Learning Centre and used the opportunity to assist schools in their understanding and use of a range of new and emerging technologies. He joined the team as a Curriculum Innovation Consultant in 2012. Tim is a qualified E-Safety Mark Assessor, CEOP Ambassador, Apple Professional Development Authorised Trainer and a Google Certified Teacher. Tim’s role includes evaluating a range of mobile devices (Apple, Android and Microsoft) and advising on their appropriate use in schools. Tim is passionate about blogging, programming and using creative digital technology such as video, animation, photography and audio to raise attainment across the curriculum. He leads the very successful ‘Media Literacy Leaders’ project in partnership with Bradford UNESCO City of Film, the British Film Institute and Cape UK.

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