Back to School 2.0

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 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 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 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 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.

Written by Adam Hurwitz

Adam Hurwitz

Teacher at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, CA.


  1. I’m excited to follow the progress at Brewer – I think Chromebooks are great, and your students will benefit immensely. I’ll be curious to hear how you handle tech issues amongst students; will they wait for a teacher’s help, or will they be helping each other?

  2. great question. solutions to tech issues will likely vary across classrooms and different teachers as we try different strategies — over time we’re shooting to develop a common protocol. so far we’ve been encouraging students to take troubleshooting steps on their own before turning to a neighbor or asking for the teacher’s help.

  3. Thanks for sharing Adam – really looking forward to reading more about your blended learning class! The whole team here @Schoology is excited about your experience and we’re here if you need anything.
    -JMR, Schoology Community Manager

  4. Adam, I am a student at the University of South Alabama, and I am studying Elementary Education. I am currently in EDM310, which is a class about blogging and using technology in the classroom. I really enjoyed reading about your blending learning class. It sounds like this will be a great experience for the students to become familiar with technology. I think it is awesome that y’all have Chromebooks. I am interested to see how this works in your school. I look forward to hearing more about this.

  5. appreciate that! we’re excited too. the kids are loving schoology and parents are getting on board too :)

  6. thanks keri! three weeks in we’ve had a very positive experience with bringing the chromebooks into the classroom. i’m currently working on another blog post as a 7th grade english class is writing tweets about shakespeare’s the winter’s tale.

    lion_tees: @lordofall hast thou slain him? #oldentimeslang


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *