Tuesday, 4 September 2012

An App Toolkit for Chromebooks in Primary Schools - Years 3 - 6

Now that the Chromebooks for the primary school I am working with are installed and working, I thought it was time to write about some of the  "cloud" resources which we have chosen for teachers and pupils in Key Stage 2.

The free Google Drive (drive.google.com) applications provide the core  - word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing and a simple "forms" database. The facility to work collaboratively in real-time on writing and other tasks a great feature of the Google Apps.

I really like the Aviary suite of programs from the Chrome App Store. The Photo Editor integrates fully with Google Drive allowing editing and sharing of images. The Series 5 Chromebook's built-in SD Card reader makes it easy to upload images to Google Drive for long-term storage and editing.Aviary Audio Editor and Aviary Music Creator also get a place in the app toolkit for pupils and teachers. These are all available free from the Chrome Web Store.

A notebook app that allows pupils to collect information through browsing, make their own notes, add audio and photos and then edit and share also looked like a "must have". I recommended Evernote for Web which is free and allows pupils to collaborate so that a shared notebook can be used by  group or a whole class to collect and organise information. Clip to Evernote is a handy free app that automatically copies a web page into your Evernote notebook. Both are available free from the Chrome Web Store

I want the school to have a set of resources to help pupils develop programming skills. At the simplest level a Logo / Turtle Graphics program such as Online Logo (http://www.transum.org/software/Logo/) will provide an enjoyable introduction to simple programming. Unfortunately there isn't a "cloud" version of Scratch (yet!) but I see no reason why pupils who show an interest and aptitude shouldn't go on and do some of the early Javascript or HTML courses at Code Academy. There are also app design sites such as appsbar.com that take a more graphic approach to designing apps for Android or iPad tablets.

For teachers, all the National Primary Strategy maths resources for Interactive Whiteboards can still be found online at www.taw.org.uk/lic/itp and work perfectly in the Chrome browser. The interactive elements are all in Flash. I also love the US National Council for teaching Mathematics "Illuminations" resources at http://illuminations.nctm.org  which comprise 108 interactive teaching tools and games. Well worth adding to the Bookmarks bar on Chrome.

I have advised the school to subscribe to the TES iBoard resources (worth £11.99 a year of anyone's money!) which all work perfectly on a Chromebook.

The school already has subscriptions to Espresso for Schools (www.espresso.co.uk) and Mathletics (www.mathletics.co.uk) and staff have successfully tested both on the Chromebooks.

The Year 6 teacher is keen to develop class and individual blogs to help develop writing and will be using Edublogs (www.edublogs.org). This is also available via the Chrome Web Store making it easy to access from the Chromebooks.

I'm sure the staff will discover other great resources over the next few weeks. I will post an updated list before half-term break at the end of October.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Almost there ...

The new school term starts on Wednesday 4th September here in Cumbria and it has been a busy week on the Server-Free School project. The Chromebooks have all been commissioned and enrolled on the school domain and the Aerohive wireless network is installed but it still needs a few tweaks tomorrow to ensure it is ready for the staff training day on Tuesday.

Getting the Aerohive network up and running has been more difficult than anticipated. As a remotely managed network it requires particular ports to be opened so that there can be constant two way communication between the Access Points and the Hive Manager. The school takes its internet connectivity from the Regional Broadband Consortium (originally Cumbria & Lancashire Education Online or CLEO for short, but now One Connect  - a joint venture between BT and Lancashire County Council) and it took a few days and several calls to the helpdesk to get someone to take the necessary action and open the ports. However, even with the correct ports open, the APs are still not connecting so I'll have to spend a couple of hours tomorrow on the phone to Solutions Inc, the Aerohive supplier, whilst we tweak and check to ensure everything is working correctly.

Chromebook commissioning was a walk in the park by comparison. The Google Apps for Education Management Console is a wonderful tool - simple, intuitive and and powerful. Enrolling the Chromebooks and Chromebox is handled automatically and it took only an hour to create 145 users and set up the apps they will use. I had kept one access point from the old wireless network working and this was sufficient for the enrolling process. As each device was enrolled the Chrome operating system was automatically updated and was then rebooted to the latest version of the Chrome desktop. This automatic updating is one way in which technical support time is reduced.

I managed to persuade Google to provide the school with a free charging trolley - as they do in the US for a school that purchases 30 Chromebooks. It really would make Chromebooks a much more compelling option if this were to be standard practice in the UK too, but Google seem reluctant to take this step. The trolley arrived on Friday and I was able to leave the school that afternoon with all 30 Chromebooks snugly fitted into the trolley and the timer set for automatic overnight charging.

So, we're nearly there. Fingers crossed for a smooth start at the staff training on Tuesday.

I'll report on that later in the week and keep the blog updated with how the devices and Aerohive network perform over the next few weeks.