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
- Overall cost
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.