For three years, educators in Huntsville, Texas, have been using Google Chromebooks to make teaching easier and help students improve everything from reading comprehension to calculus.
Huntsville isn't exactly the first place most people think of when they think about innovation. But maybe it should be mentioned right up there with Silicon Valley and Austin.
Huntsville is a modest city in the heart of Texas, about 70 miles north of Houston. It's home to fewer than 40,000 people and the largest employer in town is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which has been headquartered in Huntsville for as long as Texas has been a state.
Things change slowly in Huntsville--except for education.
In 2012, school district officials were struggling with how to address an issue that affects a lot of school districts across the country: outdated equipment and spotty cellular coverage.
In today's world, district leaders felt their 6,000 or so students would fall behind their peers across the country and around the world if they didn't find a way to get state-of-the art technology in their hands. After all, a significant percentage of the district's students came from families living at or below the poverty line. There was a good chance that if the students did not get access to high-quality technology at home, they would not have any access at all.
District leaders took a strategic approach to addressing the technological divide in their schools.
The first thing they did was build a wireless network that ensured teachers and students would be able to connect to the Internet from anywhere in the district at any time.
The next thing the district leaders did was get everyone in the district a free Google Apps account for email and word processing. It was a brilliant move that ensured the district would save a lot of money in its technology budget.
But perhaps the smartest move of all was when the district successfully secured a $100,000 grant from the state of Texas to purchase 350 Chromebooks for education.
The little laptop-like computers were given to students in grades 6 through 12, and teachers started incorporating them into their daily lessons.
And Chromebooks for education are making a big, positive difference for both students and teachers. In fact, the program was so successful that today more than 1,000 students in Huntsville ISD now use Chromebooks on a daily basis--and high school students even take them home.
When district leaders first purchased the Chromebooks for education, they new the tools would increase access to the Internet for students. What they might not have imagined is that they Chromebooks would also increase access to teachers.
One math teacher recently shared his experience using the Chromebooks for education, saying that students "can send me a snapshot of the screen to illustrate a problem they're struggling with."
The teacher said he then uses Google Hangouts to help students.
"Student engagement is higher, and the quality of work has improved significantly," he said.
Another teacher started recording lectures and posting them online. This allows students who've missed class or those who may be struggling with a concept to log on, re-watch the lecture and get the help they need when they need it.
Teachers are also using email and Google chat to communicate with teachers, which opens up entirely new problem-solving channels and makes some students more likely to approach teachers.
Huntsville is a prime example of the power of Chromebooks for education. Sam Houston would be proud.