Just a quick post to commemorate the havoc that children can wrought on technology. I’ve seen students of all ages tear keys off of devices, toss Chromebooks through the air like frisbees, and strip screws from the bottom of laptop cases as they attempt to find out “how they work.” But when Brian Bennett tweeted out the image of his MacBook Pro with keys torn off yesterday, I wept softly. The repair work will be monumental, if even doable, given the notoriously tight tolerance that Apple engineers their products to have. I had to create a meme out of sympathy for Brian.
Brian admitted it had been far too quiet for his 3-year old. Any parent can attest; the biggest child-induced mischief typically comes at the quietest of times. It got me thinking though. In almost 20 years in education, most of that time involved with the management and/or incorporation of technology, Kindergarteners and other younger learners get a bad rap.
Many education and technology leaders in K-12 wrap iPads and devices for younger learners in the nerf-foam equivalent of child safety helmets. Tablets become 2 to 3 times their actual size. Chromebooks get wrapped in what appears to be ballistics grade Kevlar with tire-tread edging. All in an effort to protect precious digital learning tools from clumsy hands, and trips & falls.
And yet, after three-and-a-half years overseeing a total K-12 1:1 device program, the age group of students that routinely bring broken devices into the office for repairs are 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Every week, repair ticket after repair ticket, the Middle School/Junior High aged learners routinely smash, drop, and break their Chromebooks FAR more than any other grade level. They shut Chromebooks with earbuds, phones, or pencils accidentally laying on the keyboard and shatter the screens. They sling devices down the hallway like frisbees (still in their case, so it’s cool, right?). And they pry up keys with the fervor of dwarves eagerly delving for precious metals hidden just underneath the keyboard.
I know what you’re thinking; Ben, the younger students aren’t breaking devices because they are so well protected. Wrong. Our iPads for preschoolers and Kindergartners have iPads devoid of the finger-foam materials. And Chromebooks for our 1st-5th graders don’t have any protection at all! They are stored safely in charging carts, but otherwise there’s no case or protection. And yet, under the careful guidance and observation of elementary teachers, our K-5 students treat their devices with a lot of care. The older students, once trusted with a device of their own, tend to be more curious, mischievous, and at times malicious, with their school-issued devices.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not an overwhelming majority of students treating their devices poorly, and it’s usually just a few repeat offenders that need to learn the lesson of paying for repairs a couple of times before they ultimately treat their Chromebooks with more respect. But when it comes to just plain accidents with school-issued technology, the 6th-8th graders take home the prize any day of the week.
To any school districts currently awash with devices thanks to COVID, and are just now entering a new 1:1 reality, don’t worry so much about how many layers of polycarbonate and foam you wrap around your digital devices. Instead, make sure you’re listening in the hallways and classrooms. It’s when things get really quiet, and you become confident that Middle Schoolers can safely respect their devices after years of careful guidance in K-5 that the most damage will likely occur.
And when you come up with a solution for 6-8, let me know!
For the 19-20 school year we started our 7th graders off with new machines in the 1:1 program, telling them that they will get to keep the laptops when they graduate. The hope was that they would be more likely to take care of the machines if they knew the machine was going to be theirs. And, in turn, we’d be able to get 6 years of use out of them.
Unfortunately, COVID kind of threw out any hope of getting accurate numbers, but I’m hoping that things will settle down enough that this idea will bear fruit in fewer repairs as we go forward.
We had some success last year with the 6-8 crowd with monthly “get your device checked out” email reminders. We sent them directly to students encouraging them to bring in their devices for repairs (since many of them do elect to purchase accidental breakage insurance). We used to do “Camp Chromebook” prior to COVID where we spent a week doing special sessions about the care and keeping of the devices alongside going over special features and tools in Google Workspace. Might have to bring that back as well.
As far as how long they get to keep their devices, they only keep them for the three years they’re in Junior High, then they get a new device in 9th grade. We’ve found that the kids treat their devices MUCH better in High School.
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