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Blending on a Budget of less than $2500

7 April 2014 No Comment

I’ve spent the better part of the last few years traveling to schools that are doing things a bit different. Much of this has been in the area of blended learning. In terms of innovation, it’s been a struggle. Many of the schools doing great things have either had great funding to implement a 1:1 program, are a charter school that has more wiggle room in how things are done, or just do things in a way that are hard for a school that has 100 years of traditions to do. I believe a lot of schools are in this situation. With these things in mind I’ve set out to figure out how to rework some of these ideas on a budget, and in a way that can mesh a little easier with traditional classrooms. this will be  a multi-part post, with the first covering the logistics of the setup for under $2500 per classroom.

Let’s break this down a bit.

Obviously, for $2500 we’re not looking at a 1:1 situation. I don’t see this as a problem. I see this as an opportunity to use technology for what it’s good at, while giving the teacher more leverage for adjusting their message to the right students at the right time. For this setup, we’ll look at a 1:3 and it will work in a bit of a rotation model for blended learning.

Part 1: The Chromebooks

Given 30 kids, we’ll look at 10 Chrome Books for that class. If you’re new to this, Chrome Books are a dirt cheap laptop with a web browser at it’s core. No installing “apps”, or a the familiar windows/mac user interface. The interface IS a Chrome web browser. You are limited a bit more, but there’s also a lot less that can go wrong. There are a lot of web apps that run on these, as well as a lot of edu sites like Aleks, ReadingPlus, Khan Academy, etc…

These can often obtained around the $200 mark. Thus, putting us around the $2000 mark. As a side note, New Egg often has these on factory refurbished sales for under the $200 price point. You’ll probably turn up similar results for other vendors with roughly the same prices. If you’re interested in seeing what web-apps are available for the chromebooks, I highly recommend checking out their App Store. Of course you also have Google Docs/Drive and Onedrive for document publishing and collaboration. Both work wonderfully in the chromeOS ecosystem.

Part 2: Charging

With devices figured out, it’s time to look at something that often comes as an after-thought. Charging. Carts are often stinking expensive. The obvious features that you’re wanting are lockable, ease of access for plugging them in, and size. Since we’re looking at only 10 Chromebooks, I felt mobility wasn’t a necessity. Thus, I’m opting for a tabletop unit. I stumbled across the powerhouse of space-efficiency, affordability, and sturdiness at KYSTE this Spring. It comes from Custom Education Furniture, it is a beauty. It charges at least 10 Chromebooks. The top section with the charging outlets slides out for great access, it locks nicely, and most importantly it comes fully assembled. Trust me, that last one is one of the biggest perks for me. This one came right at the $300 mark. They are based in North Carolina, so keep in mind that that price may go up a tad if you live further than Kentucky(where I’m based). Regardless, I’ve not found this much quality for that low of a price. The ones that I have seen that have come at this price point required assembling, and felt cheap due to the pressed wood nature. Any security put into these cheap implementation could easily be thwarted with a cup of water and some time.

Part 3: The Software

With the hardware taken care, you can start to picture the rotational model. What we have worked out in our Math classrooms utilizes Khan Academy. Using the reports to find students of similar capabilities, students are placed into one of three groups. The three groups rotate through stations. One station uses focused direct instruction and is custom tailored through the reports to pinpoint the most critical area for each group. The second station is the Khan station. The playlists that are in Khan help them to decide on what area to focus on. The final station is a deeper learning station that has the students doing project based work. With all of this going on, you’re going to want something to help keep tabs on the computer students. Netsupport fits this need nicely. It displays the screens of all of your students on a teacher machine or tablet. Aside from monitoring, it allows the teacher the ability to control, message and filter student activity. They currently have a free offer going on for the first 30 licenses free. No strings attached, and they licenses are good for life.

This wraps up the technical overview. Happy Blending!

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