PREDICTION: Increasing access to digital content will lead to
exponential growth in school-based online communities on the
At Woodland High School, in Woodland, Washington, algebra
homework is engaging,
interactive, and, dare we say it,
actually fun. Patty O'Flynn's
math students stand in front of the Hitachi
StarBoard, working out problem sets aloud.
The screen shows their scribbled notes, while
their voices show their level of confidence as
they explain each step. This real-time problem
solving is then turned into a MathCast:
a movie that can be viewed from a YouTube-like
application on the school's home page.
Students can review problems they had difficulty with, and parents can see what their
children are learning.
"My students used to be focused just
on getting the work done," O'Flynn says.
"Now, they are more focused on understanding.
They're engaged. And they ask
Each class usually begins with an interactive
warm-up quiz reviewing material taught
the previous day. Using clickers to punch in
an answer to a multiple-choice question or
type a numeric response, the students say
they feel as if they're in the qualifying rounds
of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Within
seconds, O'Flynn can determine how well
the class has integrated the material and then
print out individualized study guides.
As educators learn to embrace Web 2.0
technology and foster connections through
social-networking models, classes such as
O'Flynn's will become the norm. More than
half of all American kids ages 12-17 with
Internet access use social-networking sites,
according to a January 2007 Pew Internet
& American Life Project survey. In order to
catch their attention, teachers will have to
travel on the same tech turf.
"The walls will come down in the
classroom of the future," predicts John
Calvert, a technology-integration specialist
at New York State's Public Schools of the
Tarrytowns. According to Calvert, textbooks
will be replaced by more up-to-date wikis.
Instead of instructing students to memorize
facts, educators will assign collaborative
projects aimed at instilling problem-solving
skills. Forget about borrowing pencils; in
the classroom of tomorrow, students will ask
their friends for an extra battery charger or
This September, Calvert will use Pageflakes
to introduce customized class Web sites with
RSS feeds that allow students to track their
grades, comment on classmates' blog entries,
set up to-do lists, and view class schedules.
A Sesame Street rhyming video and alphabet
matching games, tailored to the kindergarten
curriculum, will appear on the kindergartners'
page. Students in grades six and up will
be able to modify their own pages, though
certain class-related elements will remain
locked in. For the second year, third graders
at W.L. Morse School will team up on a wiki,
The Morse Guide, a collaborative guidebook
aimed at helping incoming students navigate
Although social-networking tools are empowering
for students, Calvert admits that,
"as an educator, it can make you feel naked.
You're used to displaying projects in the hallway
that are perfect. Now, you're giving up
control as the disseminator of knowledge and
standing on the sidelines."
But the rewards are worth it, he says,
estimating that online school-based communities
will multiply rapidly in the coming
year. "You see how motivated the kids are,"
he adds. "Here you were, banging your head
getting students to write. Then you give
them a blog, and now you just can't get them
What's Next > Vocational Programs