In a storage room at Alvord High School, where servers hum and metal shelves are piled high with hard drives, cables and old computers being scrapped for parts, 400 brand-new notebook computers sit neatly stacked, ready to go into the hands of students.
Any day now.
Alvord ISD waited longer than most districts to put a “one-to-one” solution into place – that is, to put a computer into the hands of every student.
But at a June 26 school board meeting, district Technology Director Charlie Mann told the board about Chromebooks – notebook computers which hold minimal software and data, but provide “cloud” access through the Google Chrome browser. They are specifically designed for classroom use.
On the administration’s recommendation, the board approved a three-year lease-purchase of about $50,000 a year.
Since then, Mann has upgraded the wireless Internet access points in all three AISD campuses, set up a system to check out the computers, and taken delivery of the devices, cases and – just this week – charging carts.
Sometime in the next few days, he will put one in the hands of every high school and middle school student in Alvord ISD.
“They’re ready to go,” he said last week. “They’re set up on the network, configured out on the cloud – basically it’s just a matter of handing them out.”
Each unit is barcoded and will be assigned to a specific student, with its own slot in the charging cart. Students will be asked to sign an updated authorized user agreement, and those under 13 will need parent permission to get email.
Once that’s all done, the students will be able to use them – but only at school.
“We won’t take them home this first year, just to see how it goes,” Mann said. “This is a way for us to do this without having to tell the parents we need to charge them something for insurance.”
And, he noted, if the kids have access to a computer at home, they’ll have access to everything that’s on the Chromebook.
“There’s a thing called Google Classroom, which is basically a virtual environment to turn work in, to do assignments,” he said.
Mann said when a teacher makes an assignment, Google Classroom will automatically create that assignment on their drive.
“It’s almost like somebody’s walking around with the kid all day with file folders, and every time they do something, he creates a file folder and puts it in their thing,” he said. “It keeps them organized without them even having to be organized. I think that’s huge.”
And unlike computer nightmares of the past, the students can’t lose their work. There’s no “save” button – it’s being saved as they go.
“Staying organized, staying on top of things – I think that’s really what’s going to help the kids,” he said.
Mann, a former classroom teacher himself, said the administration insists that technology be a help, not a burden, to teachers.
“Academically, Alvord really excels already,” he said. “I don’t want the technology to cause any problems. You want it to help the teachers, not hinder what they’re trying to do. You want to take it to the next level without them having to take 10 steps back.”
And, he said, because the Chromebook is a fairly inexpensive system, teachers can feel free to use it as much or as little as they wish.
“If they don’t need to use it during that class period, it’s OK. It may not be the most effective thing,” he said. “It’s like any other tool you use – pliers might do the same thing as a crescent wrench. You have to choose when to use that tool.”
Mann, who takes care of phones, computers, smartboards, security systems and all the other technology at Alvord ISD, said the district has come a long way since he started in December 2011.
“In the last two-and-a-half years, by leaps and bounds, we’ve moved Alvord into the 21st century,” he said. “It’s not just me – the administration, school board and superintendent have really just embraced it and said ‘We need to get going.’ We’re really doing a lot of things.”
Including, sometime this week or next, putting Chromebooks into the hands of 400 kids.
“The students are going to embrace it,” Mann said. “They’re going to take to whatever you put in their hands. You just need to put something in their hands – something they can use.
“I think we’re really moving in the right direction.”