Limited Budget. Latest Technology.

As a small private school in Seattle's computing epicenter, Lake Washington Girls Middle School still struggled to equip students with modern technology.  With the rapid pace of change, it seemed as if the school always lagged  a few paces behind. But now the school and its students are ahead of the  curve with Google’s Chromebooks for Education, devices that get better over time and save thousands of dollars each year on maintenance and software upgrades. 

In September 2011, the LWGMS Board of Trustees created a School Technology Plan for the following two school years.  It built on the school’s Technology Plan of 2009, which set out a systematic inventory of the School’s technology assets and brought greater structure to how technology is used in the school.  The plan called for the creation of a Technology Working Group to collaborate with faculty and staff evaluating the current state of technology – the highs and lows, needs and hopes – and to present their findings to the board. Their report included information about the purpose and use of technology at LWGMS, risks to be managed, the current environment, infrastructure improvement options, and the educational and economic benefits of any updates. The board empowered the Technology Working Group to move forward with their most supported option, and Lake Washington Girls Middle School was to officially become a Chromebook school. 

Before the start of the 2012/2013 school year, we dismantled our 600 square foot computer lab and replaced it with rolling computer cart filled with 48 shiny new Samsung laptops – enough for an entire class of 32 and each faculty member to use at one time. Our Chromebooks — based completely on cloud-based technology — offer an innovative approach to both computing and education. Built and optimized for the web, the easy-to-use Chromebooks boot up almost instantaneously, are protected against viruses, don’t require manual software updates, and, best of all, can access a wide suite of student-oriented applications. They run the Chrome Operating System, which mirrors the popular Chrome browser. Chromebooks for Education—an intuitive and easy-to-manage alternative to traditional PCs—are changing teaching and learning at our growing school.

“Our computer lab was at least seven years old but our budgets were limited, so we had a severe need for low-cost, yet up-to-date technology,” says Head of School Patti Hearn. “Our 18-workstation computer lab became so ragged and outdated that it was difficult for teachers and students to use it in classes effectively. We were not keeping students current with technologies and trends.”

Since finances are carefully stewarded at LWGMS, the Technology Working Group was determined to keep IT costs and personnel needs under control. In choosing between purchasing a school set of iPads, new PCs, or Chromebooks, Chromehooks were the most economical, scalable choice. The merits of an always-on, always-connected device made them a winner for LWGMS's parent volunteer IT managers. Compared to other machines, there’s no software to be installed or imaging required. “Once the Chromebooks are set up and deployed, the updates happen on their own, and the Chromebooks improve with no eort on our part,” says Jeff Huse P'09, '11, and '13. “That’s less administrative overhead and burden needed to manage the computers, so we can put more devices into classrooms and more easily manage them over time.”

It turned out that the Chromebooks made the most instructional sense as well. We were already using Google Apps for Education—a powerful suite of web-based productivity tools— for email and calendaring, so it made sense for our students and faculty to embrace the rest of Google Apps resources. It turned out to be a breeze. There has been extensive use of Google Apps for spreadsheets, presentations, and group-project work. “Using our Chromebooks and Google Docs on a daily basis has changed the way we work in my classroom," says humanities teacher Jenny Zavatsky. "For example, my students have a greater understanding that every paper is a draft. Google Docs allows them – and me – to monitor the growth and transformation of their writing. My students are more in touch with their writing and less attached to "I'm done."" 

For math teacher Martha Straley, teaching has improved by having the internet and Google Apps at her students' fingertips. Her students collaborate on data-driven math projects using Google Spreadsheets, can practice skills at their own place on ixl.com, and can produce reports on their proficiency, trouble spots, and even progress toward meeting their goals. "The students are even more engaged in their own progress and success, whether they are working independently or as a group," explains Straley. “Students create and collaborate, rather than memorize and regurgitate. It’s a better, more authentic model for learning,” she says. 

Students have embraced and enjoyed the changes, too. Student body president Rachel '13 shares: "Everyone ogled at the huge, metallic-silver chrome box as it rolled its way down the halls of fall 2012. And when the time came, each one of us received a color-coded name tag for our assigned Chromebook. It was real! They were coming, and we had color-coded names to prove it. We had some kinks to work out in the beginning, but now we're pros and using them in class all the time. For me, the best thing about them is that the stress about not having your paper is gone. It is in Google Docs! They are also really fast and it is great having the internet at our fingertips."

We’re not seeing compromise with Chromebooks. Instead, we’re seeing lower costs, and more freedom and possibilities with learning online in the cloud.