If You Give a Kindergartner a Chromebook...
If You Give a Kindergartner a Chromebook…
….he will happily surprise you, says teacher Jamie Jo Morgan
Jamie Jo Morgan was among the District’s first teachers to take a full classroom set of Chromebooks and give them to the District’s littlest – the kindergartners. She incorporated them into daily lessons and was astounded at the results.
Next, she taught second-graders with a set of iPads. The same thing happened: The children latched on to the new devices so quickly and they accomplished more than she ever dreamed.
Now she’s on the speaking circuit, giving instructional and motivational talks. Her popular talks, delivered at a recent conference to standing-room-only crowds, are “Wait, Did You Say Chromebooks in Kindergarten?”, “Succeeding with Seesaw,” and “If You Give a Kindergartener a Chromebook…”
Here, she tells WFISD Communications Specialist Ann Work Goodrich about her sudden, deep dive into technology and her one big regret.
Q: How did you get started with all this technology in kindergarten?
A: We were in the District’s Digital Pilot Program as a grade level. All our kindergarten classrooms were given Chromebooks for Pilot Year One, which was great. We said, “Let’s see what works and what doesn’t.” We were the only kindergarten in the District that had Chromebooks. We weren’t sure how that was going to work.
Q: Did you have some fears?
A: We were very afraid. Our first thought was, “Why are you giving us Chromebooks? They can’t read yet. Wouldn’t iPads be better?” We worried that the Chromebooks had keyboards, they didn’t have a mouse, and they had a trackpad. There were no buttons to click. What if they break it? We had a lot of fears.
At first we thought it was crazy. But it didn’t take long at all and we were saying, “Don’t you dare take my Chromebooks! Ever! Ever! Ever!”
Q: What was the first thing you noticed that surprised you?
A: The first thing was the magical level of engagement among the students. That’s what every teacher wants to see. You want that every-kid-is-totally-engaged moment. When you put them on a Chromebook, and you’ve got them involved in a project where they are learning and doing something to show to the world, and every single student is working on their level -- whether a gifted learner doing something totally outside the box or a struggling learner working at his pace – and there is not a sound in the room -- it’s magic!
Q: You had students with ADHD, ODD, autism, visual disabilities, intellectual delays, and gifted and talented students -- all in the same room. You used Chromebooks with all of them?
A: That’s what was so beautiful about the one-to-one program, giving a device to every child. All those children were all in the same room. We did so many different things. In Google classroom, it’s easy to send a special assignment to each child. They can click on the assignment tailored just for them. You can give one student an assignment to work on blending. You give a different assignment to a student who already knows that but needs help with comprehension. It doesn’t matter what they need help on. I can tailor every lesson for every kiddo.
Q: Isn’t that hard?
A: It depends on your definition of hard. For me, it’s fun to find things for each kid. I think, Oh, they’re going to love this! You get excited about it because you know they’ll love doing it. And teachers are willing to customize lessons this way because they love doing it.
Q: What were the people around you saying to you about using the Chromebooks with kinders?
A: We didn’t have anybody who was negative about it at all. But we had a lot of people who were completely shocked that we were able to do what we did with it. (Laughter) “Did you say kindergarten?!!” was the reaction we got. They wanted to know more. We invited them to come see what we were doing. We were all the time saying, “Yes! Come look! Come see!”
Q: What preparation did you get?
A: We had a training during the summer before we started. The Chromebooks were given to us to work with and play with over the summer. So we were already familiar with them.
Q: What can you teach us about using technology?
A: When you introduce technology – or anything new – you have to be comfortable with the possibility of some chaos, because it’s going to happen. It’s technology. It’s not always going to go perfectly or as you planned. There will be some chaos, and you have to be comfortable with it. You can’t be afraid to let it happen. Just pick up and move on. Say, “Oh, that didn’t work. Let’s move on.”
There were many great things we discovered because something else didn’t work. So, be comfortable with the prospect of being uncomfortable. And be comfortable with a little chaos. Because there’s going to be some.
Q: You started out with a “Meet the Chromebooks” meeting for parents. How did that go?
A: It was actually a Meet the Teacher night. Our parents got to Meet the Chromebooks. Parents came in, and when they sat at the tables, the Chromebooks were set up for them there. Instead of filling out forms, they filled out a Google Form on the Chromebook. They had their hands on the Chromebooks. Some of the parents were uncomfortable. They’d say, “Well, I can’t figure out how to get this to work.” I told them, “You just wait. In one week’s time, your kids will show you how to work this.” And it was true.
It was like magic how quickly the kids picked it up. People don’t give the young ones enough credit. They love technology and pick it up so quickly.
Q: So how did you begin?
A: The first few days we gave them a couple bookmarked websites and let them play. We figured they were not going to hurt anything or change a setting we couldn’t fix. I found one of the coolest accommodations for visual impairment through a student who found it by accident. He was just clicking stuff. That is so great for this kiddo who needs it.
Then we taught them how to work with it. We taught about bookmarks, the track pads, the keys, backspace, arrows. I drew a rectangle on the board and showed them how to click and drag. With their little tiny fingers on the Chromebook, I taught them to click and drag with two hands.
Once they were comfortable using it, I said, “Let’s do Google Slides.” We created math manipulatives in Google Slides.
Q: What is Google Slides?
A: Google has a whole suite of services that are Google’s version of Microsoft Word services. Google Doc is Google’s Word; Google Sheets is Excel; Google Slides is its Powerpoint, I delivered it to them through Google Classroom. It’s a beautiful system. I’m not making paper copies of anything anymore.
There’s something called, “Share to Classroom.” It allows me to push a website to all students, and they click on it. This is easier than me trying to put them all on one website. I’d say, “Hands up!”, they’d raise their hands, and I’d push it out to them, and it pops up on the screen of every Chromebook.
The children particularly liked one money game on a website where they count money and manipulate the coins with sounds and music. They zoom through the first level and go on to the next. It moves at their speed, giving them what they need. It’s a beautiful thing. Everything saves automatically, up til the last keystroke, so children never lose their work.
The really neat thing about Google Slides is that I created my presentation for TCEA in it and then went off to Austin without worrying if I had it on my thumbdrive or if it would work when I plugged it into the computer at the presentation site. It’s on my Google Drive, so I can access it anywhere in the world. It’s a really good feeling.
Q: What else do you use?
A: There’s lots of amazing technology out there that we just don’t know about. If more people knew about it, they would use it. For example, Screencastify allows you to record lessons for absent students. How come teachers the world over haven’t used this?
One teacher here puts test questions on Google slides, then uses Screencastify and reads her test questions so her kids can have an oral administration of the test.
Another example: A program called Explore. It captures everything happening on your computer screen and can even capture your webcam if you want it to.
I also use Seesaw. It’s my favorite tool. Seesaw is a digital portfolio. Students create work – maybe they draw a picture, then record a voiceover – then send it to me for my approval. I approve it, and the student’s mom gets notified immediately. She can view his work, “like” his work, comment, “I love the drawing! Great use of your vocabulary word!” He sees his mom’s response and gets inspired. They do such great work when they know parents will see it. It creates a classroom community. They see each other’s work, they cheer each other on, they talk about each other’s work. It creates a way for us to showcase that work.
You can put work in the hallway, and that’s adorable. But when a student can record themselves explaining what is in the hallway because you created a QR code, and you can see a video of the student explaining the work that’s in the hallway – that adds a whole new level of communication. That’s just one of the things Seesaw can do.
I also use it to send newsletters to parents.
Q: Has the digital emphasis allowed you to go paperless?
A: I’ve tried to go as paperless as possible this year. I don’t send paper letters home at all. In the old days when I sent a note home, mom MIGHT see it, dad won’t, or it might get lost in a backpack and nobody sees it. I sent a link to my parents this morning and said, “Go visit this.” I can send links to parents that will help them work on specific things with their kids. I can say, “We need more work with math. Go to this website.” It’s a great way to stay connected. Of all the tools in our arsenal, Seesaw is my favorite.
I have 100 percent of my parents connected to Seesaw – actually more than 100 percent because I also have grandparents, step-moms and step-dads. Everybody wants to see what the kids are doing. A grandma is North Dakota can see what her granddaughter did this morning just after she did it. When you know Grandma is about to see what you just did, you’re going to really try your best.
Q: eSchool News wrote an impressive story about your success with kindergartners and Chromebooks. The writer said that your first class was high-achieving, that your new class entered with “scary” test sores but by year’s end, their test scores surpassed the high scores of your previous class. You attributed it to the Chromebooks.
Tell me about that.
A: I was disappointed with that reporting. It wasn’t quite right. With that initial group, we did have some pretty high test scores on reading tests among the kindergarteners. They were really high test scores at the beginning, middle and end of the year. With the next class, the test scores at the beginning of the year as we started out with the Chromebooks were considerably lower. I wouldn’t call them scary. As we went on, the Chromebook group’s scores grew so much faster than the scores the year before without the Chromebooks. It was pretty remarkable. I don’t think you can discount the Chromebooks in all of that. I can’t say, “Oh, yeah, the Chromebooks are the reason for that.” But I don’t think you can discount them. When you use them every day and you are able to differentiate the learning, and give every kid exactly what he needs, you’re going to see more growth.
Q: Was there anything you wanted but didn’t have?
A: Initially, I thought I wanted the kids to have a mouse instead of a track pad. But I was wrong! (Laughter.)
Q: Do you have any regrets, anything you would do differently?
A: I wish we had more faith in their ability earlier. We kinda thought, “Oh, they can’t do that yet.” But they absolutely could have done it. If we had a little more faith in their abilities earlier, we could have done a lot more. Which we will definitely do as we go forward. We can certainly do more! But it was the first year. We didn’t know!
Q: Is there an advantage of a little one getting a Chromebook over, say, a sixth-grader?’
A: There are a couple advantages. Imagine what that child who has had it from kindergarten through sixth grade will do with it as a sixth-grader. Compare that to the child who gets it for the first time as a sixth-grader.
A second advantage is that, in our district, all the children have their own Google accounts, which stay with them until they graduate from high school. They will have access to anything that goes into their Google Drive. Imagine your kiddo graduating with a portfolio of things they did as a kindergartner. How adorable is that? That’s pretty precious. You can’t beat that.
Now, when you have schoolwork that comes home, you try to save it. You do the best you can to save it in a baby book or memory box. But we’re in a digital age now, and people don’t really print pictures anymore. They save everything in the cloud or on Facebook. Schoolwork is going the same direction. You try to save it at home but what if there’s a fire or a flood? You don’t think about that box of school work. Now you’ve got it all in a digital portfolio stored in the cloud.
Q: This year you’ve got second-graders with iPads. How has that been?
A: Still magical and wonderful. It was an adjustment, but it’s been awesome. We have a District that loves technology, and that is awesome. Our kids are so lucky. They’re getting all of this technology immersion. Look at the world around us. There’s an insanely high number of jobs that these kids are headed toward that we haven’t even thought of yet because our technology is growing so fast. They have to be able to use technology and be absolutely fluent in it. They need to be able to use any kind of technology – a Chromebook, an iPad, a desktop computer. My students use a Chromebook, an iPad, a computer in the computer lab. We do it all.
Q: What do you like about it?
A: They’re creating things. They’re not just playing video games, doing worksheets, drawing things or taking pictures. They’re collaborating, using critical thinking, and working together. They’re creating this and this and this and putting it together into a product to share with the world.
Around Christmas, we did a piece of writing called, “If I Were a Reindeer, I would….” Then they did an art project where they drew a reindeer and added a hat or sparkles. Then they used their iPads to take a picture of it and load it into an app called Chatterpix. They read their writing into the app, which made it look as if the reindeer was talking. One little boy wrote, “If I were a reindeer, I would eat a hot dog with lots of mustard. I might need a plate so I don’t drop the hotdog down the chimney and get fired.”
Then they put a QR code on the wall and you could hear them reading their writing fluently with expression because they wanted to make that reindeer sound like a talking reindeer. We have now pulled in all areas that we want them to work on and turned it into a product that we shared on Seesaw with grandma and grandpa and aunts and uncles. Technology has allowed us to do that. We do this all the time now.
There are projects like this all over the building. I’m not bragging or saying, “Look at me.” This building is full of amazing teachers doing amazing things.
Q: Any “don’ts” on the subject of technology?
A: Don’t just put them on apps and make them play games. That’s a “sometimes” thing. Just like some sugar is OK sometimes. But not all the time. Don’t say, “I’ve got iPads. Go play on the apps.” You’ve got to create things. Students need to collaborate. Don’t take a picture of the worksheet and fill in the blanks. That’s not critical thinking and collaboration, because it’s still a worksheet.
Q: You’ve got multiple sclerosis. Does a digital classroom make life easier for you or more challenging? Does it stress you out?
A: There are so many advantages. One of the beautiful things is I’m not standing over the copier all the time making copies. (That’s also great for the environment.) I can work on things from home. I’m not lugging a bunch of stuff everywhere because I’ve got Chromebooks at school and Chromebooks at home.
With anything, there’s some planning involved. But I would be planning with paper or digitally. For somebody who is not comfortable with technology, it could be uncomfortable. But when it’s for your students and what’s best for them, you’ve got to force yourself to be a little uncomfortable sometimes.
Having MS, I am frequently sick. I do miss class. I don’t like missing, but I do because MS affects your immune system. But technology helps me be efficient despite that. I have a class feed where I can send parents links, announcements, videos of field trips we went on, math demonstrations.
What I’m trying to say: Having MS stinks. But I can still see what my kids are doing because I get little notifications on my phone when there’s new Seesaw activity. Even when I’m absent, I can keep up with the kids if I need to and leave lessons for them on Screencastify. If I didn’t have all this technology, it would be a lot harder.
Oh, you try to take my technology away, and I’m going to fight ya! You’re going to have a fight on your hands!
Q: Are your test scores going to be good?
A: It’s hard to compare. This is our first year with iPads. This is my first year teaching second-grade. But I can tell you this: Our level of parent involvement is through the roof. When you look at what makes students successful, you look at parent involvement. Ours is through the roof! Through the roof! Think of how amazing it is that a parent can get an alert on his phone and see the exact thing his kid is doing in his class.
Q: What types of projects excite you the most?
A: Here’s an example. I asked students to show me if they understood the value of a group of coins. I put the coins on the table. They use Seesaw to take a picture of the coins, then record themselves explaining, “This is a quarter. It’s worth 25 cents. This is a dime. It’s worth 10 cents. This is a nickel. It’s worth 5 cents. The total value of my coins is 40 cents.” As they were explaining, they were circling the coin they were talking about. It’s all done on Seesaw.
I approve it, then we send it on to a parent. It’s such an amazing, amazing thing.
If you’re a parent, and you’re sitting at work having a bad day, and you get this notification, is your day going to get better? Yes, it is. Your day is going to get better.