There are many available digital curriculum options, online programs and resources, and interactive classes available to today’s homeschooling families. How are your kids accessing them all?
In mid-2016 I realized that I was constantly sharing my device (a Chromebook Flip C100PA) with my kids so that they could look things up, use dictation typing in Google Docs, or attend an online class. My kids had first-gen iPad minis that were great at a few things, but not so hot for using Google Docs, working on full-fledged Scratch projects, or using our CodeCombat subscription.
Over the course of the school year I did quite a bit of research on devices and ecosystems, looking at our current needs, apps we already owned, and what I thought would carry educational value going into the future.
I settled on convertible touchscreen Chromebooks. They function well with Google Docs and Slides, work with some of our existing Android apps and games in touchscreen mode, and were inexpensive.
Which Model to Choose?
In January 2017, two new education models were announced that looked to be exactly what we were shopping for – the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 and the Asus Chromebook Flip C213. They were both ruggedized and were announced as shipping with a Wacom based stylus that would allow for writing on the screen with more fine detail than the current rubber tip styli offerings can manage. I was excited. These were what I was looking for. I was optimistic about the styli – hopeful that we could use them to complete PDF pages digitally for some of our curricula.
Fast forward six months to Summer 2017 and these devices still hadn’t appeared on the scene. The prices were announced though, and they seemed a bit higher than I was hoping – closer to $400 each. I had been using a Chromebook Flip model for over a year that cost me around $150 on Amazon that did much of what the more expensive machines did already (and in fact, this whole blog was created using it). It was decided that the cost to value ratio wasn’t enough to justify spending $250 more per machine – I needed 2 – for the stylus and rugged housing.
So I watched prices on existing models and I waited.
Lo and behold, on Prime Day I came across a Warehouse Deal for the higher spec version of my existing Chromebook – the 4GB Asus Flip C100PA-DS03 model – that put the cost at $145 per machine.
It was a no-brainer. I ordered the two machines and we have been using them all summer. Both machines together cost me less than one of the new rugged ones, so if we do have an accident it is slightly less financially painful.
Setting Up the Chromebooks
When the machines came in, I logged into them with my account first so that I am the “owner” on the machine. Then their accounts are logged in.
We had already set up google accounts, so this was a snap. Basically, the accounts are mine and the kids use them on my devices. This setup allowed us to use google apps on the iPads (Hangouts for family chat, Chrome for stored bookmarks) and for the kids to store their own docs in their respective Google Drives. We were able to login to the Chromebooks with those accounts as soon as they arrived.
Since the accounts, belong to me I know the passwords on them and the kids know that they are not allowed to change them or they will lose their device privileges. I can also log on to all three accounts simultaneously on my Chromebook and switch between them to add or remove extensions, bookmarks, etc that then show up on their machines. Using ChromeOS really makes setting things up easy.
Google is in the process of developing a sort of family account setup with child accounts called Google Family Link, but as of this writing, it is invite-only and only works on Android N devices, not Chromebooks. It would be preferable to me if the family account setup mirrored G Suite for Education at a family level and I could manage our devices from one console, but for now, our setup will have to do.
How We Use The Chromebooks for Homeschooling
Online Lesson Plans
Last year we started using Homeschool Buyer’s Coop’s online lesson planner, Homeschool Planet. We are continuing to use it this year. My kids each have a logon that shows them their work and any linked files or sites, with the ability to mark things complete. It has the ability to re-schedule on the fly (a must in my book!) and takes care of record tracking for attendance and grading if you choose to set it up that way.
We start our day off with religion, using Faith and Life Online from My Catholic Faith Delivered. The kids log on to the site from the link in Homeschool Planet and complete the lesson.
Science and History
We alternate days for science and history, and I put lesson plans for both with the files and links in Homeschool Planet so we can work through them together. The kids each have a copy of their history reader in FB Reader on their Chromebooks so we can take turns reading out loud. I used Google Slides to make presentations out of the mini-books for science, and linked those to the assignments in Homeschool Planet also, so we can all work through them together. The kids also write short papers and create presentations to share about some of the topics in these subjects.
We use Math Mammoth (review) for math. I purchased pre-written lesson plans from Homeschool Planet that include links to videos and games that teach the concepts and go with the assignments. Many of the games use flash and don’t work on iPads, but do work on the Chromebooks.
We do some of our language arts on the Chromebooks as well. We are using The Good and the Beautiful this year. Levels 1-5 are available for FREE (yes, you read that right). This program combines spelling, phonics, reading, and grammar. I added our lesson plans to Homeschool Planet for this also.
We read the readers (not free, but very inexpensive in PDF format) using FB Reader on the Chromebooks. We also practice spelling words and take quizzes using Flippity.
Level 3 language arts has a list of challenging words on printable cards. Instead of printing the cards I created lists in google sheets and linked them to a set of Flippity flash cards. I am working on a similar setup for the phonics card in the earlier levels.
Sharing Games and Content
We also use a Chromecast device to share images, content, and videos to the screen in whichever room we are schooling in that day. One of my favorite things is to use cram.com to setup flashcards and use their “Jewels of Wisdom” game (try it here) over the Chromecast to play together. They tell me which cards match and I do the clicking/touchscreen controls. The kids have fun, and we reinforce concepts that might be tedious otherwise.
Overall, our experience has been positive thus far. Chromebooks, like any device you hand to your kids, require supervision and discussions about appropriate use. We feel like they have been a positive addition to our school day.
What devices do you use in your homeschool? Have you considered Chromebooks? Share with us in the comments!