Slingerlands students in Mrs. Clarkson’s fourth grade class share computer programming fundamentals - and their Chromebooks - with first graders in Mrs. McCaffrey’s class during Hour of Code in early December // Photo: BCSD
BETHLEHEM CSD — At the Dec. 7 Board of Education meeting, BCSD Chief Technology Officer Dr. Sal DeAngelo provided the Board with his department’s annual technology update — which featured a districtwide initiative put a Chromebook device into the hands of every student in grades 3-12.
Since it was introduced in October 2013, the affordable and durable lightweight laptop, which runs on a Linux-based Chrome OS operating system, has leapt to the front of classrooms around the nation. Designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, Chromebooks store most applications and documents in ‘the cloud’ like tablets do, but are also equipped with a traditional keyboard. In 2015, Chromebooks made up almost half of the approximately nine million devices sold to schools and school districts K-12. Put another way, 30,000 new Chromebooks were activated in schools every day.
Currently, each Bethlehem student in grades 3-5 has a Chromebook for use in their elementary school classroom. DeAngelo said that the district has introduced the new technology over the last two and a half years, and teachers in those classrooms can use the devices as much, or as little, as they wish. He also reported that access at both the middle and high schools has also expanded significantly over the last two years, now with enough laptops to outfit 23 and 21 entire classrooms respectively.
DeAngelo’s plan, which he calls the “Power of One,” is intended to advance personalized learning and foster early proficiency with basic computer technologies. It is being spearheaded by the Technology Department and supported by the K-12 Computer Science Cabinet, which includes Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dave Hurst and K-5 Administrator for Instructional Technology Laurel Jones.
“Before we begin on this journey, it is important to ensure there is a proper foundation in place to support our efforts,” Dr. DeAngelo told the board. “We must also gather research and data to support our decisions and test and pilot our assumptions.
“We have begun to put some of those pieces in place, with existing research, visits to other districts that have implemented similar plans, and in conversations with administrators, faculty and students,” he said.
A tentative timeline described by Dr. DeAngelo would allow for expansion of Chromebooks into the middle school and high school in the 2017-18 school year.
In his presentation, DeAngelo also said the district is surveying students, teachers and parents to identify where technology gaps might exist and where areas of strength are.
“One of the most important aspects of our survey is asking teachers for a self-assessment of their own technology skills,” he said, “so that we can design and deliver targeted professional development that will help them incorporate the Chromebooks into their classrooms.”
The tentative plan presented to the Board of Education included three grade-specific models for providing Chromebooks to students in grades 3-12:
DeAngelo told the board there would also be opportunities to integrate more personalized technology at the K-2 level, but several devices under consideration are currently being tested.
“We see four- and five-year olds who come to school already having been exposed to technology,” he said. “Expanding personalized learning allow us to engage this generation of students and help us meet the district’s goal of providing an innovative and cohesive educational program.”
According to DeAngelo, a reallocation of funds within the Technology Department’s existing budget would allow for the “Power of One” Chromebook expansion without an additional budget impact if it was to move forward in 2017-18.
The Jan. 4, 2017 Board of Education meeting is expected to include a presentation on “Capacity Building in 1:1 Personal Learning” currently underway at the district’s five elementary schools.