iPads? That’s so 2013. The newest revolution in classroom computing can be found in Chromebooks—small, basic laptops that connect to the Internet using Google’s Chrome operating system. In late 2014, sales of Chromebooks to schools surpassed sales of iPads for the first time, signifying a shift toward keyboard-based technologies, especially for older students.

Why? Educators cite Chromebooks’ convenience, ease of use, and relatively low cost (about $200, compared to about $500 for an iPad or $380 for an iPad mini). With a Chromebook, students can tap in to the power of the Internet—and because the devices include keyboards, they build essential keyboarding skills, required by the Common Core and many state standards, as they research, collaborate, learn, and create. Here’s a look at how some educators are using Chromebooks in the classroom.

Make History Shine

Seventh-grade social studies teacher Shahr Rezaiekhaligh knows most middle schoolers don’t get excited about ancient history. So Rezaiekhaligh, a teacher at Summit Lakes Middle School in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, has students investigate the history of ancient civilizations using TimeMaps, a free Google Chrome app. “Mesopotamia is the world’s earliest civilization, but kids don’t know anything about it. With TimeMaps, they can click through the map and see how the region has changed,” Rezaiekhaligh says. “They notice it didn’t go through a lot of changes early on, but then they hit a point where they see lots of changes. We’ll discuss things like, ‘Why would this civilization be really big one day and then nonexistent?’”

Bolster Science Skills

It’s essential to mix online and offline instruction, says Katie Budrow, a science teacher at Caruso Middle School in Deerfield, Illinois, who uses Chromebooks and virtual simulations to build students’ skills and confidence before embarking on labs. One of her favorite simulations is BrainPop’s VirtualMicroscope lab. “Kids practice on the virtual microscope before they get to use the actual microscope,” Budrow says. “The simulation allows them to turn the knobs and lower the stage without the risk of breaking the slide. When they feel they’re ready, they can use the real one. You end up with really confident kids.”

Conquer the Elements!

Rebecca Grgurina, a sixth-grade science teacher and STEM coordinator at Kennedy Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, frequently uses Google Forms, Flubaroo (an instant-grading program), and ExitTicket, a Chrome app, to assess students’ mastery of material. Kids who have already mastered a lesson’s basic objectives can go on to more challenging material, while others receive supportive instruction.

“Five of my students mastered the class objectives for atoms before I even taught the material,” Grgurina says, so those students delved into the elements of the periodic table and created Element Superheroes. “They used their Chromebooks to learn about the physical properties and molecules that create an element, and then each student created a superhero to represent it. Some used Marvel.com; others did computer drawings or hand-drawn posters. They got to be creative and expand their knowledge of protons, neutrons, and electrons and how they work together.”

Team Up to Track Explorers

Many teachers love Chromebooks because apps such as Google Docs and Google Slides make it easy for students to collaborate, whether they’re in the same room or across town. (Budrow says she’s had students ask to work on group projects while home sick!) Vicky Hartwig, a fifth-grade teacher at Mayville Middle School in Wisconsin, says the ability to collaborate electronically has fed her students’ creativity. She introduced her class to Google Docs and Slides, but they’ve since used the technology to collaborate in unexpected ways.

Given an open-ended social studies assignment—the kids had to research and present a Midwestern historical topic—one group used Chromebooks to make a movie about Harry Houdini. “They wrote a script, built props, acted it out, and gave the info to the class in a story, via their movie. It was amazing,” Hartwig says.

Some oversight is necessary, of course. Because Google Docs, Slides, and other apps allow all project members to make revisions, kids can “mess with each other’s work,” says Rezaiekhaligh. You can decrease the opportunity for trouble by arranging your classroom so that students’ screens are visible during work time. Try placing their desks in a circle, with yourself at the center and screens turned toward you.

Win the Keyboard Race

Digital literacy and keyboarding are essential 21st-century skills for all students. The Common Core ELA Literacy standard W.3.6 requires that third graders be able to “use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills), as well as to interact and collaborate with others.”

Chromebooks’ small keyboards are perfect for little hands, and free Chrome apps such as Typing Club make it easy to integrate keyboarding into the school day.

A Roomful of “Geniuses”

Inspired by Google—which encourages employees to devote 20 percent of their work time to passion projects—Grgurina introduced “Genius Hour,” a period when kids are allowed to explore their own interests. “One student was interested in Minecraft and video games. He found a website that allows people to create games, and he created his own and shared it with the class,” says Grgurina. Another student researched homemade products and created her own face cream.

Create Computer Buddies

Most elementary schools still use tablets, in part because younger kids’ fine motor skills are not as developed. Yet introducing Chromebooks to your youngest students can be a step in the right direction. Besides keyboarding, they learn basic computer skills.

Mentoring by older students is also a great strategy. “I have fifth graders come in and showcase their projects with graphic organizers and interactive multimedia,” says Jessica Butterfield, a second-grade teacher at New Roads Elementary School in Santa Monica, California. “That helps raise the bar for my learners. With a little scaffolding, anything is possible.” 

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Photo: Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images