4/1/2014 1:59:00 PM Shakespeare goes high-tech Hutsonville English class pilots cloud-computing solution for classwork, testing.
Students adjust their desks after picking up their Chromebooks in Kristen Morrison’s ninth-grade English class at Hutsonville High School. The new computers are part of a pilot program to use more computers in most grades in the district. (Graham Milldrum photo)
Hutsonville schools are expanding their digital presence in preparation for a new generation of computers, and a new type of testing.
The test right now is in Kristen Morrison's ninth-grade English class. One of its projects was on the play Romeo and Juliet.
Each student has a Chromebook, a type of laptop that relies on an Internet connection to provide programs and applications. The so-called "cloud computing" results in a less-expensive machine that can perform the basic applications normally needed in school.
The program was launched to help prepare the students for the upcoming computer-only PARCC testing, said Unit 1 Superintendent Julie Kraemer. She said they need to have students familiar with the system, as it operates differently from many systems.
She said by having students familiar with the machines, students will be tested on knowledge, rather than their ability to use the computers.
The project for Morrison's class was casting the characters of the play with current actors and actresses. Each pair of students had to make their own decisions about the set. Then they had to explain why they had made that decision in a presentation to the rest of the class.
Some choices were made rapidly by the students, such as Salma Hayek for Juliet. Others were more complex, involving talking, typing on the slides and quiet thought.
Morrison guided students during the work. One character was the character Mercutio, Romeo's friend and confidante. Many students chose comic actors for the character, but Morrison highlighted his quick temper. So several students changed their focus from pure comedians to actors.
Student Aubrey Heleine said the use of computers has definitely dropped the volume level in the class. Students would communicate about the decisions by directly typing on the slides they were working on.
During the Mercutio discussion, one student wrote "idk what to put for this one."
Morrison told the class that the school is planning to enable Google Talk, the company's chat utility. This will allow students to talk to each other directly, both in and out of school.
She emphasized that the school will be recording the messages done through the school system, allowing teachers to review what is going on.
Teya Fuller said she is looking forward to using the chat program already in her personal life.
This option drew some attention at the board of education meeting, where Kraemer demoed the Chromebooks. There was concern from members that students would simply chat during class instead of paying attention to teachers or working on projects.
But Dean of Students Michael Woods said his students found the utility very useful. He said there was an explosion of unnecessary messages at first, but students soon settled down and used it for class work.
He said it's a great help to him, as students are able to work with each other while he is helping a different student.
In the future, the school is considering sending the computers home with the older students. This would allow them to do projects out of class.
The machines do have small hard drives capable of running a few of the programs, but working away from school will require homes to have wireless Internet.
The students said everyone they knew already had wireless Internet.
Robinson and Oblong high schools are both participating in the PARCC computerized trials this year.