PREDICTION: Increasing access to digital content will lead toexponential growth in school-based online communities on theMySpace/YouTube model.
At Woodland High School, in Woodland, Washington, algebrahomework is engaging,interactive, and, dare we say it,actually fun. Patty O'Flynn'smath students stand in front of the HitachiStarBoard, working out problem sets aloud.The screen shows their scribbled notes, whiletheir voices show their level of confidence asthey explain each step. This real-time problemsolving is then turned into a MathCast:a movie that can be viewed from a YouTube-likeapplication on the school's home page.Students can review problems they had difficulty with, and parents can see what theirchildren are learning.
"My students used to be focused juston getting the work done," O'Flynn says."Now, they are more focused on understanding.They're engaged. And they askbetter questions."
Each class usually begins with an interactivewarm-up quiz reviewing material taughtthe previous day. Using clickers to punch inan answer to a multiple-choice question ortype a numeric response, the students saythey feel as if they're in the qualifying roundsof Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Withinseconds, O'Flynn can determine how wellthe class has integrated the material and thenprint out individualized study guides.
As educators learn to embrace Web 2.0technology and foster connections throughsocial-networking models, classes such asO'Flynn's will become the norm. More thanhalf of all American kids ages 12-17 withInternet access use social-networking sites,according to a January 2007 Pew Internet& American Life Project survey. In order tocatch their attention, teachers will have totravel on the same tech turf.
"The walls will come down in theclassroom of the future," predicts JohnCalvert, a technology-integration specialistat New York State's Public Schools of theTarrytowns. According to Calvert, textbookswill be replaced by more up-to-date wikis.Instead of instructing students to memorizefacts, educators will assign collaborativeprojects aimed at instilling problem-solvingskills. Forget about borrowing pencils; inthe classroom of tomorrow, students will asktheir friends for an extra battery charger orpower-supply cord.
This September, Calvert will use Pageflakesto introduce customized class Web sites withRSS feeds that allow students to track theirgrades, comment on classmates' blog entries,set up to-do lists, and view class schedules.A Sesame Street rhyming video and alphabetmatching games, tailored to the kindergartencurriculum, will appear on the kindergartners'page. Students in grades six and up willbe able to modify their own pages, thoughcertain class-related elements will remainlocked in. For the second year, third gradersat W.L. Morse School will team up on a wiki,The Morse Guide, a collaborative guidebookaimed at helping incoming students navigatethe school.
Although social-networking tools are empoweringfor students, Calvert admits that,"as an educator, it can make you feel naked.You're used to displaying projects in the hallwaythat are perfect. Now, you're giving upcontrol as the disseminator of knowledge andstanding on the sidelines."
But the rewards are worth it, he says,estimating that online school-based communitieswill multiply rapidly in the comingyear. "You see how motivated the kids are,"he adds. "Here you were, banging your headgetting students to write. Then you givethem a blog, and now you just can't get themto stop."