Chromebooks in the classroom?

RICHLAND, Wash. -- While the school year winds down, the Richland School District isn't just evaluating students.

A pilot program that put laptops in the hands of 75 Richland students could grow exponentially after this summer. Students use personal computers every day at Hanford High School, and they could become commonplace throughout Richland.

Students in teacher Chris Butler's class are on the cutting edge of what could the norm in just a few years: using school-issued laptops as an everyday part of class time.

"The kids are drawn to it," said Chris. "It increases collaboration among kids; it increases the ability to think and reason on their feet."

Just a few months ago, 75 of the lightweight Chromebooks, computers that run Google's Chrome OS, were introduced into three classrooms. Richland schools spent around $15,000 on the test program they plan on growing over the next five years.

"We want to be able to get to something close to a one-to-one implementation where every kid has one," said RSD IT Director Mike Lesberg.

At $300 a pop, it's a move that could end up costing the district almost $1 million. But Lesberg says it's time for the schools to catch up with technology.

"We want to leverage the fact that our kids already have technology in their hands," he said. "Everything that we're trying to do right now today is to set them up for the future."

Firewalls come preinstalled on the devices so that kids can't just fool around during class.

Students like Taylor Duberstein use the laptops for collaborative projects, where multiple kids can work on a single document simultaneously. It also allows for instant feedback from instructors.

"He'll set up chatrooms and stuff, and we'll talk through that or through email," Taylor said.

"Instead of handing in a paper and I write on it and they get it back a couple of days later, it's right there, right then," Chris said.

While it's too early to see how it affects test scores, Chris says it helps reach students on a much different level.

"A lot of students that struggle with engagement, you put them on a Chromebook and they're - boom, they're in it and they're rolling," he said.

It's a new approach that Richland says it's ready to get on top of.

Richland isn't the only district taking a hard look at more technology in the classroom. All three districts have jumped on using iPads in classrooms in the past few years.

Richland wants the laptops to be implemented across the board within five years.