New Apps Enhance Learning
In the not so distant past, publishing student work typically required a magnet strong enough to secure a star-adorned sheet of paper against the household refrigerator. A small audience, primarily the immediate family and the occasional relative or wandering neighbor, would encounter the piece en route to a glass of milk or a handful of grapes. Comments about the work were likely confined to the kitchen and almost certainly dissipated into thin air soon after the words were uttered.
Lest they be nostalgic for simpler times, students in Brevard Public Schools’ classrooms are finding out that the World Wide Web offers a virtual refrigerator of immense proportions and, true to the global implications of its name, an audience of commensurate stature.
Apps for Education
Joining a growing number of districts in the state and across the nation, Brevard has partnered with search giant Google to provide staff and students an entire suite of integrated, safe, secure, and highly collaborative “Apps for Education.” Among the core offerings are applications suited to creating online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, surveys, drawings and websites.
Unlike similar services offered to the general public, Google Apps for Education is completely devoid of advertising and is configured to operate within the parameters of the district’s specific policies and procedures. In fact, student accounts are only created with the explicit written consent of parents or authorized guardians. Even so, more than 20,000 student accounts have already been provisioned in Brevard’s Google environment. More astonishing is the fact that our classrooms have collectively produced and published some 42,000 digital artifacts this year, ranging from ABC books to planarian regeneration projects.
“Students have become participants in class instead of spectators, and our collaborative projects have been outstanding,” remarked John Latherow, Satellite High School science teacher. The veteran educator introduced Google Apps as a tool to simultaneously collect data in a single shared spreadsheet from different student groups stationed in various locations throughout his classroom laboratory.
Principal Sue Murray revealed that her Surfside Elementary students, unsolicited, have begun to share presentations with her. “They are responding to literature, writing stories about the water cycle and more.” The enthusiastic leader continued, “What I love is looking at when the messages are sent to me. Today, I had three delivered to my inbox after 5:00 p.m. I had another one from Sunday afternoon at 2:30.” Optimistic about the high level of student engagement, Murray suggested, “Not only do they love Google Apps at school, but they obviously cannot wait to get home and work on their projects.”
Some may wonder what all the fuss is about. Word processing and spreadsheet software have been around for decades. According to advocates of Google Apps and other platforms of a similar ilk, the difference lies in the social nature of the new tools. In a matter of clicks, document authors can invite a number of peers to review and comment upon their work. Moreover, a complete revision history is persistently available to recount the various edits made by whom and when throughout an entire group writing project.
Aside from the collaborative benefits, others cite accessibility and consistency as reasons to get excited. Because the platform is browser-based and all documents are maintained securely on Google’s servers, students and teachers can access their files from any Internet-connected device without worrying about portable storage or compatible software.
The late playwright and Nobel Prize Winner George Bernard Shaw posthumously offers insight into the phenomenon we find ourselves experiencing today. Intimating a primary grade math problem, Shaw begins by saying, “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples, then you and I will each still have one apple.” He finishes the thought revealing, “But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
Brevard Public Schools is committed to nurturing a culture marked by shared purpose, collaboration, innovative spirit, and continual learning. In that vein, we are inspired by the work of our teachers and students as they navigate a new set of tools to exchange ideas and achieve emerging and unprecedented literacies.
Matt Frey is the Manager of Training/Customer Service with Brevard Public Schools.