2013-2014 Netbook Recommendations

posted Jun 6, 2013, 11:55 AM by Paul Schwan   [ updated Jul 7, 2013, 10:28 AM ]

5th-8th graders at Saint Michael participate in a "1 to 1" computing program. Every student uses his or her own computer as a learning tool during the school year. We provide wireless Internet connectivity (WiFi), and students bring their own computing device. Each year we recommend a minimum standard for computers used in 5th-8th grade. We continually make adjustments and changes over the course of a school term as technology improves and options change.

Since all 5th-8th grade students begin school in August as part of a 1 to 1 program, all students will need to purchase a netbook or laptop prior to the first day of school. The recommended model(s) and minimum specifications that will enable 4 years (grades 5-8) of productive use for the device are listed below. Any brand or model is fine, and we've made suggestions based on several years of use in our 1 to 1 program.

Minimum Specifications:

Netbook, 10.1" screen, 160 Gb Hard Drive, 2 Gb RAM, Intel Atom N550 processor, 5-8 hours' battery life. Windows 7 home starter.

  • Consider buying Scrip from the school office, then use that Scrip to buy a computer online at Amazon. That will provide a savings, and is a win-win for all involved.
  • The first two computers above have an 11.6 inch screen, larger than we've used in the past few years. The third option features the smaller, 10 inch screen we've used for several years with great success. The only downside to the larger, newer models is battery life, which is less than a full school day. Your child will need to bring his or her charger to school! We charge during lunch and recess so there is enough juice to get through the afternoon.

Any computer in this performance range is fine. Please be sure to get a netbook or laptop with at least Windows 7 or Windows 8, and avoid tablets like the iPad, as they will not run all of the software programs we use in fifth grade. I also suggest you avoid laptops larger than 15" as students have a hard time carrying them between classes. A netbook works well in 5-8 grade because of its smaller cost and size.

Each year someone asks if a newer Mac laptop will work for school. All the software programs we use (see below) will work on a Mac. The thing to consider is that a newer Mac laptop is a significant investment costing 2-3 times more than a netbook like the Asus models recommended above. The other consideration is that most of our instructional staff has been trained on Windows  and will not be knowledgeable on the Mac to assist students with any troubleshooting. With these caveats, a Mac can work in Saint Michael's 1:1 computer program if you decide to go in that direction. However, we recommend a Windows 7 or 8, 10- or 11-inch netbook.

Software Programs To Download and Install

You'll need to download and install several software programs (apps) to prepare your child's computer for school use on the first day of school. They're all free, so you should only need to purchase a netbook/laptop, a carrying case to keep your computer free of scratches or other damage, and we're asking all students to also bring an inexpensive set of earbud/microphones for their netbook. Make sure yours has the same plugs as your computer. Some have only one plug, and some have two (mic and earphone). Get one that matches your child's computer.

  • Open Office (openoffice.org – click on “I want to download OpenOffice.org”). Uninstall any trial version of Microsoft Office on your netbook, as we won't be using it.
  • Avast (http://www.avast.com/free-antivirus-download – in the far-left “Free Antivirus” column, click on the grey “Download” button; then, the grey “No thanks, I want free protection” button (not the upgrade for $19.99). Uninstall any trial versions of anti-virus programs already on your netbook/laptop, as these will conflict with Avast.
  • Audacity – audacity.sourceforge.net/download (click on “for Windows” 2.0.3, latest version for Windows 7 and 8 as of June 2013)
  • Adobe Flash – http://www.adobe.com/support/flashplayer/downloads.html - click on “Get the latest version”. (Note: if you download Google Chrome, below, it has Flash already included and you should get a message telling you this.)
  • Google Chrome (https://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/browser/ – click on the blue “Download Chrome” button). I encourage my students to use Chrome because it works well with our Google Drive accounts. Student may use Internet Explorer, which should already be on their netbooks; however, it doesn't work as smoothly with Google Drive apps.
  • Dropbox (dropbox.com) - Students migrating from 4th grade at Saint Michael should already have a Dropbox account set up using their St. Michael email address and password for login. New students will receive an invitation to join Dropbox. All students should download the Dropbox program to their netbook/laptop and set it up by checking "I already have an account", then entering their school email address and password.

Parents, I'll provide you with ongoing orientation to all the new technology tools we're using in fifth grade so you can help your children at home and be involved in what they're doing. Please help them with these initial downloads of software. 


If you don't have WiFi, try the FREE WiFi at McDonald's, Panera, etc. Students will need Internet access after school hours, and they can use the WiFi at school if necessary.

If you have any questions, please email me at paulschwan1 -at- gmail.com.