Back to School 2.0
It’s the first day of school.
New shoes squeak through the shining hallways, students look for their friends and for their lockers and for their first classroom and for anyone else who might be looking around too. The morning bell rings, the hallways clear, and the year begins.
At Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, California, 180 Google Chromebooks sleep peacefully inside their charging hub. Brewer received these Chromebooks, as well as network and device infrastructure upgrades, through the Blended Learning Pilot Program joint-sponsored by the Oakland Unified School District and the Rogers Foundation. Brewer will also receive on-going teacher support and training sessions throughout the school year.
It’s Wednesday morning now, the third day of school. 32 8th grade students are eager to open the Google Chromebook waiting on their desks. Our first activity is a scavenger hunt. Students peel open the Chromebook lids — screens glow, so too do students’ excited faces. Where’s the battery? The power button? What’s the keyboard shortcut to cut and paste? Where’s the CD drive? Wait, where is the CD drive?!
A few minutes later and we’re ready to login. An @ousd.us Google account has been created for every student. Some students type with ease, others with hesitant pointer finger pecks. Eventually the students reach the startup page created uniquely for this program. Next stop: schoology.com.
Schoology is a course management website that’s styled a lot like Facebook: messages, friend requests, and notifications in the top right hand corner; a prominently placed activity feed; a place to search for new courses and groups to join.
Ms Maiuri’s 6th grade English students are instructed to find and then take the ‘Welcome to Being a Panther Quiz!’. Some are on it right away. Some are hesitant to click around and try to find it. One young man seems to have fallen upon rottentomatoes.com and is checking the stats on Pixar’s newest feature. I catch him quickly and kneeling down at his desk I look him in the eyes and calmly say, “This is not where you should be right now. You are not setting a good example on this first day with the computers. You are abusing this privilege. Go to schoology.com now please.” He almost cried, poor guy.
Back to the quiz. Students who don’t get a perfect score on the first try have up to five attempts — most nail it in two or three, which is great, Mairui says, because it can be difficult to get students to retake pen and paper assessments.
We move on to a discussion board post: ‘Questions/Confusions at Edna Brewer’. The first post comes from Ms Mauiri with an example for what a post should look like. The next post:
“Hi.” The next: “Hello.” “Hey people.” “Hi everyone!” “Hi.” “Hi.” “Hi.”
Well, at least we have our manners.
Then questions do come. “Is there going to be a baseball team?” “Are Wednesday’s here always as hectic as they were yesterday?” “Do you think we’re ever going to have the kinds of classes like in TED talks?” And my favorite: “I think it is confusing in the morning when we try to go to our lockers.”
The period nearing it’s end, we logoff and return the Chromebooks to their charging hub. As a class we debrief. The bell rings, the students leave, the Chromebooks sleep. Until tomorrow. How will this blended learning program unfold? Will we learn more than in a traditional classroom? Will the same barriers and freedoms that technology creates in the adult world find their way into the classroom? Can we create a digital venue for students not just to be exposed to surface level ideas but to synthesize, to discuss, and to share?
Time will tell. Stay posted.