Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What Would We Purchase? Considering a Device for Your Child

Similar to pumpkin spiced lattes, the red cups at Starbucks, and Black Friday ads on TV, part of the holiday season in the IT office is fielding questions from staff members and families about recommended technology purchases for students. These conversations are one of the reasons I love this time of the year. It is a perfect opportunity to connect with families about how their children are using technology at home. As I drafted an email response to a parent this morning, I thought, "Hey! This would make a great blog post."

All of our students have access to technology at school through Chromebooks, iPads, and multiple computer labs and home access is not required. However, if you are looking supplement these tools with the purchase a digital device for your child at home below are some recommendations from all of us in the IT Department. We tend to be a very pragmatic group, so our thoughts on the perfect device are largely based on these five criteria.
  • Ease of use
  • Instructional connections
  • Maintenance and durability
  • Lifespan
  • Overall cost 
I'd also encourage you to check out the Digital Citizenship page on the NCS website. Any of these devices are great opportunities to start (or continue) the conversation about online behavior and responsibility. The Digital Citizenship page has useful resources for parents and families from Common Sense Media. Finally, regardless of what items you are purchasing this holiday season, consider using Amazon Smile by clicking on this link. Amazon will donate 0.5% of qualifying purchases to Natomas Charter School.

Early Elementary (TK-2)
Honestly, our first question for students in this range is "Do they really need their own device?" I've observed in my own home the gravity-level pull an app can have on a young child. A family computer that the child can access with a parent's assistance might be the best option for many households. However, if you have a child who is motivated by technology and has some ability to self-regulate (maybe with an adult's assistance) I find that tablet devices, especially the iPad or iPod Touch seem to work really well. They can be handy devices for developing some basic technology skills, such as trouble-shooting and navigating the web with a very simple user interface. Through the use of the built-in camera they can also be useful for exploring the world, taking pictures, and creating short videos. We do have a tendency to recommend Apple over Android devices mainly due to the simple process for setting up restrictions that act like parental controls and a pretty clean, intuitive App Store with quite a few educational apps.

Intermediate Elementary (3-5)
By fourth grade every child needs to be able to type "a single page in a single setting" according to the Common Core State Standards. This equates to approximately 20 words per minute. Additionally, at Natomas Charter School we provide Google Apps for Education accounts starting in 1st grade. Since children need practice typing on a physical keyboard and already have school provided Google accounts, an inexpensive Chromebook might make sense for this age range. The devices tend to run somewhere in the neighborhood of $250-400 and do not require any additional software or maintenance. If you have an internet connection you are good to go. The low price point also means that should it be dropped, splashed with milk, or stepped on by a heavy dog (all true personal stories) the device could be more easily replaced. Plan on a Chromebook lasting 2-3 years.

Middle School (6-8)
The perfect device for middle and high school really depends on multiple factors including family budget, student interest in creating multimedia (video, audio), and additional computer interests (gaming, programming, etc). A Chromebook is a perfect device for most middle school students. Students can easily access Schoology, Google Apps for Education, and other online tools. However, if you have a child who is into video production, Minecraft, or creating audio files then you are probably going to need more of a full-featured laptop (see below). This can be off set by having a shared family computer for special projects.

High School (9-12)
Similar to middle school, choosing the best device for your high schooler can involve multiple considerations. A laptop is probably the best choice as it will allow the student to access any online content, as well as create media files. However, if your family budget is limited, the Chromebook is a great place to start. Mac vs. Windows is largely a personal preference, although all of us in the IT department would probably chose an Apple product for two reasons - easy-to-use parental controls and minimal maintenance. Families (or ideally kids) with little IT experience can easily update the operating system, add hardware if needed, and keep the device running it's best. These computers tend to be a bit more expensive, but from our experience last longer and have fewer headaches. If I had a middle or high school student in my home I'd be looking at the 11" or 13" Macbook Air. They are portable, fairly robust, and have a long battery life. Sometimes you can save a bit more money by checking out education or refurbished pricing. Refurbished Apple products have the same warranty and honestly what I have been purchasing in my home for the past 6 or 7 years without any problems. If you are replacing a device with a new Apple purchase you might also be able to trade it in for some money.

If you have any questions after reading this post please let us know. We're always happy to help staff members and families find the perfect device for home use.



  1. Thank you so much for sending this out! I bought a Chromebook last year for our 6th grader and after a year and a half it has worked great for him. He's been able to complete schoolwork and complete online tasks. I appreciate the time you put into your recommendations!

  2. Wonderful! This is great to hear. My 1st grader also uses one and really likes having his own "laptop." Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.