She is 14, my daughter, talkative and with a mind that leaps from idea, to memory, to whatifs in the span of a microsecond. This is the age where kids – especially girls – enter and embrace the nebulous social rules of friendships, gossip, and hyperbole. Everyday runs like a CW soap opera.

Screens attract her. Not the passive screens. She doesn’t have much patience for long narratives or epic movies. She loves the social apps where she can leap into the river of conversation with other teenage girls. Academically, she loves the sites that gamify her learning or provide instant feedback (she can pass hours on the excellent website

She is bright and resourceful. And like many a teenager, she finds loopholes all the time.

The 1:1 School

Schools that are 1:1 create a learning environment where each student has a device. These programs come in different flavors including:

  • The district provides a managed Chromebook (sometimes paid for by student fees).
  • The district allows the parents to buy their own Chromebook and let their student bring them to school.
  • The district allows the parents to buy ANY device (usually with a few basic requirements) and let their student bring them to school.

The last option is a nightmare for management as it basically requires schools (usually the classroom teacher) to troubleshoot all kinds of technology issues. Inevitably you’ll have a student show up with a laptop running Windows XP and unable to visit websites.

Fortunately, my daughter’s district only allowed the first two options.

Allowing families to purchase their own Chromebook has advantages. Technically minded parents might want a more advanced Chromebook. Or they might want to have broader control over the device.

Being a former technology director, I went the route of purchasing different Chromebook models for my different children. Part of this was pride (this was MY area of expertise). Part of this was having connections with different suppliers and knowing the market really well. But as with most things involving pride and parenting, my daughter humbled me.

Dad Meet Entrepreneur

Allowing families to purchase their own Chromebooks also has distinct disadvantages. When districts buy Chromebooks, they come with management capabilities. These capabilities allow districts to control things like:

  • Homepage
  • Extensions
  • Apps (Particularly kiosk apps)
  • Chromebook Assignments
  • Filtering
  • Access to products based on user

Most of those features are not available to individually purchased Chromebooks. In particular, kiosk apps cannot be deployed and used.

What’s a Kiosk App?

A kiosk app is an app that takes over the Chromebook and only allows one primary function. For example, the state of Ohio distributes the end of year course exams (AIR) via a kiosk app. This prevents students from opening up a new tab and googling the answers (or visiting any other website). Kiosk apps are powerful and exceptionally helpful in education.

At Abre, we use a kiosk app called “Guided Learning”. Guided Learning allows teachers to list up to 8 websites for students to visit and, with the capabilities of the kiosk app, ONLY allows students to visit those websites.

In short, distraction-free browsing. A helpful way to keep students on task.

And teachers love it.

What teachers don’t love is students showing up with their own Chromebooks without the Guided Learning App. We’ve somewhat addressed this issue at Abre by creating a Guided Learning Extension which works in the Chrome Browser. But it has some very real limitations that particularly bright students like to discover.

My daughter, with her own non-district Chromebook, kept finding ways to travel to texting websites (even with the rather robust filter in place at her district). Given the choice between paying attention to a history lesson or leaping into girl drama, she would usually decide on the latter. It was becoming a problem.

Sidewalk HTML. A great way to learn.

Solution (Sigh)

We bought a district-managed Chromebook. And gave her Chromebook to her brother (with only a minor wiggout – she knows her weakness).

As a bonus, my wife works at the district and has access to Guided Learning as a teacher. She can create Guided Learning lessons for our daughter as well.

Now my daughter uses Guided Learning for both school work and online activities at home!

A simple solution to a common problem.

Up Front Caveat

Every kiddo is different and needs to be parented differently. My other two children require less supervision in matters pertaining to digital addictions. The important fact is to know and be involved with your kids’ screen time.