There are rumors big scale Chromebook deployments could come to the district. There were some pilot programs last year in English IV and Government. I was given a Dell Chromebook 11 to see what possibilities there were for high school math.

Hardware

My primary point of comparison is an iPad. The Chromebook I used sells for $249. You can get refurbished iPad minis for that price, but not with retina screens. Definite price advantage. The keyboard is fine. The case and hinge feel sturdy. Battery lasts for quite a while, with infrequent use would only need a charge once a week. But man, the trackpad is no good. Plugging in a mouse was necessary.

Software

Google Drive and its companion apps are definitely meant for a desktop browser. If given a set of these, I could have students save a lot more of their work. I'm still not sold on handing things in digitally. I like physical products. If anything being able to save things like custom trig graphs or piecewise functions would let students spend time on them outside the classroom if they don't finish. I could add some more elaborate write up portions perhaps?

I couldn't try out Google Classroom. It requires inviting accounts enabled for it through Google Apps for Education. And I have no children at the moment. It doesn't seem to be much more than a central point for students to grab things from you. The add-on Doctopus appears to offer similar management features. I didn't explore add-ons much.

Printing was among my major questions. Google handles this through Cloud Print, a work in progress. In theory you tie a wireless printer or a printer tethered to a desktop you control to your Google account and any subsequent device you sign into can print to that device. I successfully sent stuff to the printer many times, but some OS X weirdness prevented it from working. I don't blame Google here. Everything on their end seemed to work.

Products

I set out to reproduce things I've done with iPads. Regardless of hardware, when it comes to technology the application has got to really trump the quickness of pencil/marker and paper. Remaking things you can do in Desmos on an iPad was simple. My experience with Desmos classroom activities was no different than with an iPad.

Clockwise from top left: Identify a region between curves; determine linear equations for a street map; import data and perform a regression; prepping Desmos output for print

The Chromebook excelled in two scenarios. For a couple years I had Pre-Cal kids wander around and take pictures of random right triangles, dimension them, and then give me a the set of trig ratios associated with an angle in the triangle. The drawing tools in Drive make for some better results. A student submission from that version is on the left, my recreation is on the right.

The desktop implementation of Drive is what wins here. You have do a lot of import/export steps on the iPad to get it sent to the right place, part of the reason I abandoned this idea.

The second improvement came with Geogebra. I don't have much experience with it, but I've known it to be a little fiddly and it works better with a mouse. Were I geometry teacher, I'd be very happy at the thought of student computers capable of using it. Geogebra installs a Chrome app (nothing but a bookmark really) version of itself.

The 3D graphing features seem worthwhile. It could offer a lot of enhancement to the modest discussion of 3D I'm able to do today.

Conclusion

At first pass, a Chromebook would allow me to do the same things I can do with my iPads. As stated before, the best thing I've found for technology is off loading the heavy lifting parts of graphing. That's roughly 10 to 12 class days (once every 4-5 weeks) throughout the course of the year. Putting a desktop experience in a cheap package gives me a chance to do those activities and a little more. They still wouldn't come out everyday.

There are easy ways to modify some of my established practices. Students could do more writing. Students could submit projects to me instead of printing them out. Students have all the benefits of the internet and we could find some research angles. Students could do a lot more self-paced learning (like watching tutorial videos! just seeing who's still with me...) There's tons of unexplored potential with Geogebra and I just teach the wrong subject to exploit it. But, the whole experience doesn't do much to make the pencil and paper needs of math class better or obsolete.

If the testing conglomerate every modernizes I could see using these things all the time in Calculus. A notebook, pencil, and Chromebook/iPad is not a bad way to do math.

So are 1:1 Chromebooks a good idea for math? As part of a larger deployment where ELA/SS have gone paperless, sure. Exclusively for math? Just give me a cart.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon