District loans laptop computers to 300 students

Photo Courtesy Bloomfield Schools Laptops on loan to BMS students: from left, BOE member Shane Berger, student Joseph Micciche, Superintendent Sal Goncalves, student Justin Nunez and BOE President Jill Fischman
Photo Courtesy Bloomfield Schools
Laptops on loan to BMS students: from left, BOE member Shane Berger, student Joseph Micciche, Superintendent Sal Goncalves, student Justin Nunez and BOE President Jill Fischman

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Three-hundred laptop computers — Chromebooks — were distributed to two groups of Bloomfield Middle School students during August to initiate a pilot program which will link the students to their teachers and to students around the world.

The pilot program launches an effort by the Bloomfield School District to equip all students with a take-home device which connects them to the classroom, information portals, online discussions and Bloomfield School District instructors. According to Alla Vayda-Manso, the BMS principal, a seventh-grade team and an eighth-grade team have received the Chromebooks, each team being about 150 students. It is anticipated that next year all seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade classes will have the computers.

“This will break down classroom walls and provide equity for all students,” Vayda-Manso said at the school last week.

These computers will have a far-reaching effect on the education of the students.
“We’ve seen in other school districts, with this device, for students to publish their work to a larger audience,” she said. “They can work on a project and end with a Skype presentation or connect with a classroom in another part of the world.”

She said that ordinarily disseminating a student’s work is limited to the classroom. But now a student will be able to publish their work on the Internet. This will be possible because all Bloomfield students are now part of the Bloomfield School District domain. This means that, like the district staff, the students now have a gmail account and an email address beginning with their name and ending with “@bloomfield.k12.nj.us.” This will permit a student to go onto the Bloomfield School District website where they could publish their work.

Entry to post on this website requires a password, Vayda-Manso said, but a person with no knowledge of the password could view what is posted without being able to post anything. BMS students received their passwords when they picked up the Chromebooks on Aug. 23 and 24.

“They call it ‘one to one’ but I’ve heard it called ‘one to the world,’” Vayda-Manso said of the effect of student projects being accessible to a larger audience.

Regarding security from intruders into the website, Bloomfield School District Director of Technology and Networks Tom Atkinson said certain blogging features, which would allow outsiders to participate, will not be available to students. He said Google provides secure domains to school districts and the Bloomfield School District will follow this practice.

Also, before a student publishes any of their work, they would need teacher approval.

“It’s a Bloomfield School District domain,” she said. “They would be representing the district.”

She said the Chromebook is a superior learning tool.
“Everything is Cloud-based,” she said, meaning that information is stored on the Internet and not just on the hard drive of a single computer. “It can be manageremotely so a student can login from any computer. Also, there is no limit to the tools you can get to the student.”

About 210 Chromebooks were handed out on Aug. 23 and 24. Another 70 were distributed on Aug. 30. Vayda-Manso said last week that another 20 remained to be picked up.

She had met with the team leader of the seventh- and eighth-grade classes and told them there were some 300 Chromebooks available, not enough to go around, but to discuss who would want to be part of the pilot program because it was first-come, first-served. Diane Doman, the Team 8D leader, and Aprel King, the Team 7K leader, stepped up first. King has left the district and has been replaced with Jessica Herrera.

“It was only a short period of time to decide,” Vayda-Manso said. “It was difficult but we couldn’t do the entire school for the pilot. In order to implement something so complex, you want to try it out on a small scale.”

How successfully the students take to their new learning tool will be measured in two ways, according to Vayda-Manso.

For one thing, most of what the student will do on the Chromebook can be tracked. This will provide teachers with a wealth of achievement data.
“I wouldn’t judge it on a standardize test,” Vayda-Manso said. “It would be a school-based assessment; something our teachers design.”

The other way to measure the success of a Chromebook, she said, is to see how well the student cared for the device.

Teachers will be able to monitor student assignments while they are being done and tests while they taken.

“Immediate feedback is possible,” Vayda-Manso said. “And a teacher doesn’t have to wait until a paper is turned in. The data is easily tracked. But students can do things privately.”

Streamlining is a benefit of the new tool, according to Vayda-Manos: it will help to streamline informed instruction; student evaluations; grading; and assessments. But she said it was up to the individual teachers to set their own parameters on how much Chromebooks impact classroom.

“It’s a pilot, Vayda-Manso said. “We have to see how we will structure it. We’re not looking for this to replace anything. It’s to enhance instruction. I told the students not to throw away their paper and pen.”

Vayda-Manso said from her perspective the Chromebook distribution went very well but she was waiting for feedback from parents and students. Having the students as part of the Bloomfield School District domain will help facilitate this exchange of information.

“So far, it’s been very positive,” she said of the feedback while pointing at the screen of her Chromebook. “I can tell you that because I found it right here.”

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