In our home we have two laptops, a tablet, two smart phones, and many other connected web devices. At first it may seem like adding another laptop type fixture would be wasteful, but I assure you that is not the case. Keep reading to learn more about how the new Google HP Chromebook 11 may be the educational tool your child most desires.
First there was an iPad
When Apple released the iPad Mini in late 2012 my wife decided to upgrade her original iPad unit. That lasted just a short while until sometime last year when she determined she wanted a laptop with a bit more firepower. We picked her up a refurbished MacBook Air 11″ from Apple and then gifted our daughter the iPad Mini. Prior to that she used the iPad regularly, but suddenly it became her own personal device to use whenever we permitted.
We’ve loaded it with pages upon pages of age-appropriate games. It has the iEssentials Rugged Stand Case which offers a kickstand. And the battery life is superb, making it quite the useful tool during our recent 4+ hour round-trip flights from Ohio to California a month ago. Overall the iPad still remains my top pick for kids, but it does has some limitations. In our case the largest limitation was the lack of Flash, making certain web sites unable to load. More on that in a moment…
Then there was a Chromebook
Although our daughter has attended school for a few years for pre-school & pre-K, there is a noteworthy change in the environment now that she is in Kindergarten. Beyond the dynamics of moving to a new building that houses K-2, the most obvious change is the new Common Core education standards in place. There is also more exposure to structured lesson plans and a curriculum set forth by the school system. All of these changes are welcome introductions to the next dozen years of her school life.
We were most pleased to find out that she attends a “Tech Lab” once or twice per week, providing the kids hands-on time with desktop computers (Mac Mini). This is in addition to time spent in their classroom using laptops (MacBooks) . This is great as we believe going beyond the tablet is important. Using a physical QWERTY keyboard and learning how to use a touch pad and/or mouse are just a few of the skills important to growth in this realm. Concepts like point-and-click, or consuming data on a computer screen are all taught.
Although my wife/I each have our own MacBook Air laptops we felt it might be beneficial to get my daughter her own dedicated laptop/computer for home. Firstly, we wanted to keep her grubby paws off our devices and hopefully prolong their life (and cleanliness!). Secondly, we appreciate chances to give her a sense of ownership, to teach her about taking good care of things that belong to her. Finding a device that was simple enough for her but could grow with her needs yet not break the bank– that was going to be the key!
Enter the HP Chromebook 11, a laptop for less than $300 that does everything you could possible need for a 6-year-old kid. The specs read a lot like a tablet, with 16GB of memory and a modest processor. It has a user-facing camera for video chat (Google Hangouts), and a bright high-quality 11″ screen. As mentioned earlier, our iPad Mini has the limitation of not working with Flash. That is not the case here, where the Chromebooks’ web browser opens up doors to educational tools that simply do not exist on the Apple app store.
Unboxing the HP Chromebook 11 was uneventful and easy. Our blue unit came in a recycled-paper carton with a blue outer wrap as shown above. Hardware included is simply the device and the MicroUSB wall charger (which on the early units was recalled but new units ship with a newly-redesigned power adapter). Setup was easy, especially if you already have a Google account (ie: Gmail). You’re up and running in less than two minutes!
Kids Using Chromebooks
Apple’s iOS has long had a feature called Restrictions that allows Parental Controls. This is a feature that is still relatively new to Chrome OS that was just announced as a Beta feature last fall. Nothing that I have seen indicates the feature being released in full yet, but even in Beta anyone has access to use it. Simply follow THESE INSTRUCTIONS to implement it yourself should you so desire.
It is worth mentioning here that we did NOT set up my daughter’s device in this fashion. Instead we created her own Google account, and are careful to monitor her activity. We only allow her access to the device when we are home and in eye/ear shot. Her iPad remains her primary device, so for the time being we have not dabbled with the Supervised Users feature. If that changes in the future then I’ll update my blog post later on here.
With the premise behind the Chromebook being that most users spend 99% of their time in the browser window consuming information, this seemed the right place to test my daughter’s skill set. We were amazed to see her grasp on concepts like two-finger scrolling, point-and-click, and even point-and-drag. She did have some issues dragging items on the games she played, but we’re doing what we can to give her guidance and tricks — like using your left index finger to click/hold, while you drag with your right index finger.
Transitioning from a tablet to a laptop is much easier for a young child who has no past experiences or expectations. The only “oops” I observed was her attempt at one point to tap the screen thinking it was a touch screen. Sadly this isn’t the rather pricey Google Chromebook Pixel device, which does offer that feature set. Beyond that our daughter seemed quite at home exploring the web sites we permitted on this new device.
As a matter of fact, on her second day of enjoyment with the device my wife asked her if she would like to leave the kitchen table to go play elsewhere, to which she rendered this respone: “Leave me alone I’m doing Math!” Bravo, kiddo, bravo!
There are various websites that our daughter’s school recommends as education tools. Many are free, but some do require payments on either one-time or subscription based plans. Thus far our experiences have been primarily with the free sites, which also happen to be the sites they visit most in the classroom.
We’ve added all of the links suggested to her bookmarks (click photo above to see the list). However for my purposes here I have compared only the two sites they use most visit at school, plus one other random site just for sake of experimentation. See my results below.
In all three examples shown above the pages load flawlessly in the Chrome browser on the Chromebook (LEFT COLUMN ABOVE), but a Flash warning/error appears somewhere on the page on the tablet in Safari on the iPad (RIGHT COLUMN ABOVE). In some cases these web sites do offer apps you can download for the iOS devices. But again these websites are usually free (often laden with advertisements, sadly) whereas the apps are not always free.
Within the Apple iOS App Store you will find a great selection of education apps for the iPad. However we wanted to create a linear experience for our daughter. Hence by allowing her to use a Flash-enabled web browser at home gives her a chance to use the same sites/tools she uses at school.
I’m an Apple fan. The iPad Mini is the perfect size for our daughter’s small hands. The granular adjustability of the Restrictions settings makes the device ideal for children. During times when you cannot monitor your child’s activity or simply don’t want to hover over them it is ideal. Hands-down then the first device any kid could best benefit from is the iPad. Apple even has an EDUCATION PAGE dedicated to the concept that the iPad is perfect from learning. And there are apps that will enhance this experience, certainly.
But filtering through the sea of curated reviews of educational software applications for iOS is a daunting task. When one comes up free on occasion that has good user reviews we often snag it for our daughter. Other apps we have came recommended from friends. Yet we have no idea how these apps properly integrate with her school curriculum.
Now that she is in school we want to provide her growth outside of the classroom, using the same/similar tools. That is where I feel the HP Chromebook truly shines. It is a great choice when it comes to website-based learning tools. Furthermore, the low-cost of the Chromebook added to the Google cloud services (Drive, Photos, etc) makes their laptop an amazing option for students of all ages.
Just like with Apple, Google also has created webpages such as this CASE STUDY page, showcasing why they think their device will win over the classroom. And our school district already is on the Google-bandwagon, as you can see HERE. Down the road when our daughter is asked to create a small document that needs typed and printed I see the physical form of the laptop being superior to the tablet. In the end tablets are still best for consumption, not creation.
If your kid is older (teenager) then a full fledge laptop may offer more functionality and longevity. But for most people, especially young children, the HP Chromebook is a great foray into the world of computers. And I think these cloud-based devices are going to be the way of the future, especially in the classroom. What do you think?