Friday, 18 November 2011

Chromebooks to the rescue!

This Monday my plans were put on hold when as Key Stage Co-ordinator I was directed by the Deputy Headteacher to cover the Year 6 teacher who was poorly. In addition the ICT subject leader proposed a further challenge - the half term's unit from the Switched On ICT scheme of work was as yet untouched and needed to be started. Fortunately I am both ICT leader and deputy headteacher - so it's all my fault really.

It's difficult to get a day of lessons ready with half an hour's notice, but the Chromebooks helped me in all sorts of ways on the day. The students had only had one previous session with them, in which they had mainly been testing them for me and seeing if there's anything decent in the Chrome Webstore. The students were keen to use them again, but I feared they would just want them to play. "Can I play Angry Birds, Sir?" would be the question I was most anticipating. Now while I've seen Angry Birds work in a classroom context, today was not the day for it. You see, I was behind on teaching year 6 the 'We Are Fundraisers' unit in the Switched on ICT scheme from Rising Stars that I quoted above. In fact I hadn't touched on it at all. The unit covers data handling and real life money problems (amongst other things) and I was keen to work with year 6 on developing their skills at using spreadsheets and calendars. The Christmas Market was three weeks away (it takes place on the 2nd December) - and this was the event that the children would actually be carrying out their business ideas in.

So how did the Chromebooks help?

Direct Teaching

I moved the chairs and tables into rows (yes I know - unusual for primary schools) and had all the children facing the board. Each child had a Chromebook in front of them and was logged into a sample Google Spreadsheet I had created for them. In this I taught them how to add, multiply, divide and take away cells; find a total using the sum function and make predictions of how much profit they make if all their plans came to fruition. Each child then copied my sample spreadsheet to experiment themselves with their own business idea.

Group work

The 'communcations officer' in each team was given a Chromebook. Each group then discussed their ideas with each other of how they might money at the Christmas Market. When an idea was sufficiently well formed, the communications officer would input it into a shared Google Doc that was also projected onto the interactive whiteboard. Each group could then see what other groups were coming up with and as a class we could make sure that no business would be duplicating each other - you can have too many lucky dips.

Independent work

Once each business had a rough idea to work on, each individual worked on the tasks associated with their roles. For example, treasurer, advertising, coms officer. Managers would be using Chromebooks to investigate prices and put together costings of prizes or materials they needed. Treasurers would be putting together a projected profit plan, considering how much money they might make. Communications officers would be putting together a list of questions they might need to ask other adults in the school. Advertisers used Google Drawings and Aviary to create adverts for their business. In many of these tasks the quick start up of the Chromebooks, their long battery life and the stability of their systems proved invaluable at keeping the groups productive.

Whole class presentation

At the end of the day, each group presented their plans to myself and the teaching assistant in an almost 'Dragon's Den' atmosphere, with the rest of the class listening in to the interaction. In this we talked about the realism of their plans, suggested new ideas or alterations and then decided whether to approve their business plan. Again the Chromebooks were useful - keeping the Google spreadsheet open was useful to look at how the numbers changed if, say only 30 people came to their stall instead of the hoped for 200. It also helped me, with my ICT hat on, spot whether students had really got the learning about using formulas within the spreadsheets and write down those who might need further work in that area. Of the 6 groups, 4 businesses were approved. The other two went away with ideas of how to improve their plan and return at a later date.

Given that this was the second time the children had used Chromebooks, I was delighted at how useful and glitch-free they had been. Some students had previously moaned that they couldn't get used to the trackpad (which is more akin to the way an Apple works than the PC laptops they are used to), but none complained in this second session. The Chromebooks blend really well with other activities - in one group the treasurer was working on her spreadsheet while right next to her two other children were painting and advertising poster - I love it when technology is so seamless it's just there - just another way of doing things - like picking up a pencil or using a number-line. It's seems like Chromebooks are already becoming that way in Year 6. And what's even better is not one child played Angry Birds, or even asked the question.

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