#TeenTalk: Plug Into Learning

Constantly reminding my kids to get off their phones or put away the iPad, I often find it more difficult to appreciate the wonders of modern technology than it is to simply be annoyed by them. Yet, I know there must be an upside to all of this connectedness. In an effort to better understand how these devices might actually be used to enhance our children’s lives rather than serve as a huge distraction, I decided to take a field trip back to school.

After 10 years in Tulsa Public Schools, Neil Guard currently teaches six sections of physics, including one AP and three pre-AP sections, to high school students at Edison Preparatory School. Following an AP workshop he attended last summer, Guard chose to flip the traditional classroom model on its head this fall, utilizing technology to create a curriculum based on student-centered learning. Where previously Guard spent much of his classroom time lecturing from the book and then assigning problems for homework, he now assigns the lectures for homework in the form of short video presentations, and the students use their class time to solve problems collaboratively.

Guard’s physics home page on Edison’s website is full of supplemental links to online learning resources such as Khan Academy, a free, non-profit, educational website created in 2006 by MIT and Harvard Business School graduate Salman Khan. Khan Academy’s website features close to 1000 “micro lectures” in short video form covering topics from math and science to art history and healthcare.

Guard’s page also includes links to his homework videos, which Guard created himself using his iPad and an application software called Educreations. Like the Khan Academy videos, Guard’s video lectures average about 6 ½ minutes in length. “If you go more than about ten minutes on a video, they’re going to fall asleep about halfway through,” he joked. “This is exactly the kind of thing I would normally be doing up here on the board, but they get to just see it and watch it.”

The videos are assigned as homework over several nights. Guard encourages his students to watch each video three times, once straight through, once slowly while taking notes, pausing and rewinding the video as necessary, and then a third time to go back through the details. To ensure that the students actually watch the homework videos, Guard gives the students a quiz on the day the homework is due.

Guard sees many advantages to this format. “Knowing that they’ve watched the videos, I can just start in using this material to start solving problems. (In class) we jump right in to the problems in the book,” he commented. It also frees up more time for hands-on lab work. Because classroom time is used for practical problem solving, rather than lectures, “that really allows me to work with specific students who are really struggling… They’re (also) learning to learn themselves as opposed to waiting around for somebody to always have to tell them.”

Guard also created a Facebook page, “Mr. Guard’s Universe,” where the students can access the video lectures. “They can write a post…and use it as a collaborative tool or a communication tool. They can ask me questions and I can respond to them or they can ask each other questions and start a dialogue.”

Guard believes this trend will continue. “You want to become much more of a facilitator of learning than an instructor,” he noted. “It’s a difficult transition for people who are used to doing the telling all the time to just do the advising and the pointing out,” he laughed.

At Monte Cassino, a private school in midtown Tulsa, middle school librarian Nancy Henry spoke to me about the many different online resources available to their students. The school subscribes to a number of electronic publication services that the kids utilize during school hours and “can access at home or anywhere they happen to be on the web, using any device,” she told me. This includes traditional reference sources. “Basically, every kid here is carrying around a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book and a whole suite of specialized encyclopedias put out by Grolier…and it’s all there for them any time.”

Henry appreciates the way the Internet and these services have made resources broadly available. “In the olden days, you had a class and here are all these books, but only one person can open a book at a time. With time constraints, in reality, a lot of the kids wouldn’t get to the material they needed in the time allotted.” Now that many of these resources are available electronically, “everybody can log on and be looking at it together in a classroom, guided by the teacher, and they can all get to work.”

The teachers can also “highlight and customize the display to what’s going to work best for them and still get the content because that’s the most important thing, the content.”

Henry also sees this use of technology continuing to grow. “It makes so much more possible. It makes so much more available…Everyone has their own particular manner in which they are comfortable and can take up information, and technology allows the kids to customize the format so they can grasp it better and organize it.”

For more information on Khan Academy, visit www.khanacademy.org. For more information on Edison and Mr. Guard’s physics class, visit www.edison.tulsaschools.org.

JulieJulie Wenger Watson is a freelance writer who’s worked in all aspects of music promotion. She’s also Co-Director of “Live From Cain’s,” a public radio show pilot.

Categories: Tweens & Teens