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Chromebooks Reach Oakdale Classrooms
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Cloverland third grade student Yari Rincon, 8, works on a writing assignment during her class time in Cindy Bellingers class. - photo by Teresa Hammond/The Leader

The word ‘lab’ is taking on a new definition this 2014-15 school year in Oakdale schools.

Students of 30 classrooms districtwide were greeted by Chromebooks as they entered the school year and became acquainted with their newest classroom.

“We added about 1000 devices districtwide this year,” Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Kristi Rapinchuk stated. “Beginning with grade levels three and above.”

The current school year is being deemed as a ‘pilot’ year for the program, as funds only allowed for a roll out of one Chromebook cart per grade level for each school site.

According to Rapinchuk, the district has built a budget with hopes of taking the Chromebooks districtwide in the next three years.

The addition of the technology requires many variables including staff training and proper technical support.

“We are trying to be really careful with our technology dollars,” she stated. “A lot of people ask what we did with our Common Core one time money, that’s what we did.”

The addition of the devices to the classrooms now has students faced with Technology Goals (T-Goals) and among them are: Keyboarding Fluency, Basic Proficiency, Digital Citizenship and Technology Integration in Core Subjects. A list, which may seem daunting to an older generation, yet timely and necessary in many aspects for the current student body.

“Chromebooks have revolutionized the way I teach,” stated Amanda Hensley, sixth grade teacher at Sierra View and a Chromebook lab participant. “Having Chromebooks in the classroom is really preparing them for the real world that exists outside the classroom. For a while now, there’s been a disconnect between their outside lives where almost everything is digital (cell phones, iPads, computers, internet, TV, etc.) to when they walk into a classroom where technology has played a minor role. Finally, we’ve closed the gap.”

Playing an instrumental role in guiding the district on the proper way to close said gap, is Director of Technology Kevin Brown. According to Brown, Chromebooks were the best choice based on affordability and the keyboard option, versus a tablet use which other districts may have opted for.

“We started a bit differently,” Rapinchuk said. “We approached the objective from the standpoint of what are going to be our 21st century learning expectations, then backed up from there.

“That model of let’s start with what students are supposed to do, was the best way to start. I have not second guessed that decision once.”

Also important to note is the addition of the Chromebooks does not eliminate the student/teacher interaction. Quite to the contrary. Students use the devices in class under the direction and guidance of the instructor.

“I was excited when we got our Chromebook in Mrs. Bellinger’s class,” Cloverland third grader, Meghan Jones said. “We get to do Math, ABC Ya (educational computer games), Typing, write our own stories and we get to send our work to Mrs. Bellinger to correct. I can’t wait to see what is coming up next.”

To aid in the initial implementation and continued roll out a Technology Committee composed of teachers, district officials and lab instructors was developed. The committee continues to review and focus on the overall objective. In keeping with that, the decision was made that Chromebooks would not leave the classrooms. Each student is assigned a device, provided with a log in, but they are stored and maintained in their classroom. Utilizing their log in, students are able to access their work from computers, laptops or tablets, outside of the classroom, as well as share it with their teachers.

“When it comes to bringing technology to the classroom school districts might start with the easy process of establishing a budget for technology,” said Luke Hibbard, of the Stanislaus County Office of Education. “Identify a device, purchase them and finally, roll the technology out to students and staff.

“Oakdale Joint Unified is approaching the challenge of integrating technology into the classroom in a strategic way. This approach speaks not only to the fact that OJUSD is being innovative with respect to deploying technology into the classroom, but that every step they take in this direction is student centered.”

The current district plan is to add 50 more labs or Chromebook carts in the 2015 school year and go districtwide by 2016.

“Each site has already put together a plan,” Rapinchuk said of the varying school sites. “They are now asking us, can we buy another Chrome cart? They’re really thinking creatively on how to expand the technology integration. It’s very exciting.”