Innovator | Feature
Leadership for the Mobile Classroom
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JD Ferries-Rowe is the Chief Information Officer and debate coach at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. Here, he recounts how embracing BYOT has changed everything from how the school approaches PD to what classrooms look like.
Changing Their World
The joke we always tell is that when I came here 10 years ago, the T1 line was being used as a doorstop in the library and teachers had just started using e-mail. Since then our school has gone through a major renovation. Now we are a 1-to-1 BYOT school, the 30 percent of our kids who are on financial aid receive technology grants to buy their own technology and we’ve completely revamped how we do professional development. It’s a very different environment.
The traditional professional development model of an expert droning on in front of a bunch of teachers while they check their e-mail wasn’t effective, so we started doing a lot more one-on-one. We freed up our ed tech coordinator and me to go into classrooms, watch teachers teach and not only give them suggestions but help alleviate some of their anxieties. We created a teacher resource room that became the focal point of professional development and conversation. We also instituted 10-minute administrative drop-ins where we would address four questions: What is the objective of the lesson, what are the students doing, how is the teacher engaged with the students and what is the classroom environment. When those are the four questions that you ask, it’s amazing how often technology becomes a piece of that conversation.
Left to Their Own Devices
When we reflected on our technology plan we decided that any device you pick is going to be a device you’re embarrassed by three years later. The device is going to change, but what wasn’t changing was the way you think about using the device. What it boiled down to is we wanted the kids to be able to assess the technology they had available to them, evaluate their learning needs and effectively use the technology they chose. That’s what led us to embrace BYOT. Now we’ll see a student on a MacBook typing a lab report, his lab partner using his phone to take pictures of the chemical being mixed and another student recording the teacher giving notes — all working together to accomplish their objective.
For a number of years we had a required computer applications course, and it became clear to us that we needed to teach less how to make a PowerPoint — our kids were coming in with those skills, or they could quickly catch on to it just by button-pushing — and more about how to effectively incorporate multimedia, or to make a really good presentation using a PowerPoint. We told students we were no longer teaching how to type a Word document; we were teaching how to do effective research and avoid social-media confirmation bias, for example. We added a digital distraction unit last summer to help students keep track of the number of times they found themselves being pulled off task by the technology, which gives them opportunities to reflect on what habits of mind they need to develop.
Designed to Succeed
Technology was also a major driver in changing classroom design. When we completed our first year of BYOT and asked the teachers and students what was and wasn’t working, the number-one comment from the teachers was that the traditional classroom doesn’t work anymore. They felt they needed to be more mobile and in different places in the classroom, given that there’s a lot more collaboration and interactivity. The teachers want to be able to not just talk to the class, but also see what the students are working on. Meanwhile, the students would look things up and find a map or a picture that they wanted to share, but we didn’t have an easy and effective way to get six different operating systems — some with USB ports and some without — to be able to communicate with the projector. And so creating a multiscreen classroom with flexible furniture that had systems built in so that any student on any device could quickly share results with the rest of the class on the screen became our focus. Now we’re redesigning our library. It was built in the 1980s before collaboration and computers, making it more than a little outdated.
Dan Gordon is a freelance writer based in Agoura Hills, CA.