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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 4, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 11Oakland, CA

‘Digital natives’ alter schools

In the fall, Bishop O’Dowd High students will be issued tablet computers. With a stylus, they can add notes to existing text and graphics and, using Blackboard software, share their work with their teachers and other students.
One Bishop O’Dowd High student found geometric shapes in her shoes and added this slide to her PowerPoint presentation on geometry in everyday life
GREG TARCZYNSKI PHOTOS

This is not Pythagoras’ geometry class. It’s not even your father’s geometry class. It is a new angle on high school learning.

Secondary schools in the Oakland Diocese are adapting to an academic world inhabited by what geometry teacher Romeo Baldeviso calls “digital natives.”

To speak their language, schools are embracing technology that was unimaginable in the days of graph paper and overhead projectors. They are issuing laptop computers, expanding their curricula to include online classes and professing by podcast and PowerPoint.

Baldeviso, who teaches at Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School, is ahead of the curve in implementing technology.

For their final project, Baldeviso said, he required his students to photograph examples of geometric relationships in their everyday surroundings. The teens had to create and give a PowerPoint presentation, using their downloaded pictures and adding bullet points and summaries.

Geometric relationships were only part of the learning equation. Baldeviso’s students also came to appreciate the relationship between technology and learning.

“Using technology and the computer in math is very different than doing math problems in my math book,” said freshman Brianne Parnow. “I think it creates more depth in math and makes math feel more connected to our lives.”

Katie Ring, another freshman, found the requisite
shapes for Baldeviso’s project in flowers and trees, and also found a comfort level with PowerPoint and a flash drive. “These are skills I think I will use over and over again throughout my life, so it’s nice to learn them while I’m still pretty young,” she said.

In executing her project, 14-year-old Tenaya Izu knew how to think outside the rhombus. “For one of the required shapes, a rhombus, I didn’t have my digital camera with me when I found an example of it on a car, so I used my camera phone,” she said.

Moreau Catholic High School’s Assistant Principal of Instruction Simon Chiu wants all students to have access to this technology.

Starting this fall, the Hayward school will begin to phase in a laptop computer program with all of its freshmen and sophomores. Eventually, every student will have an Apple laptop to lease or purchase, and every classroom will have Internet access, Chiu said.

The computers will allow students to produce assignments through podcasts, video, PowerPoint, music and the spoken word, Chiu said.

“The idea is not to use them as a glorified typewriter,” he said.

Bishop O’Dowd is taking the same direction. In addition to a laptop program to begin in 2008, all teachers in the upcoming school year will use the course-management software Blackboard.

According to the school’s director of instructional technology, Joy Lopez, Blackboard provides computer-based ways for teachers and students to interact for a classroom assignment.

For example, a Spanish teacher can post audio clips on Blackboard along with assignment instructions. The students log on to Blackboard, download the clips, record their version as assigned and return it to the teacher using Blackboard.

“We’re going through a renaissance here at O’Dowd,” Lopez said.

Students will be issued Gateway Tablet PCs, which function like written notebooks

“Students can download the PowerPoint and can (electronically) write notes directly on the presentation,” she said. “These notes can be saved and referred to later… And the list goes on.”
Computers were the gateway to a larger curriculum in 2006-07 at Concord’s Carondelet High School. Economics teacher Bob Rigor headed up an e-learning program that for the first time offered online courses through Virtual High School.

VHS’ curriculum includes interesting classes that Carondelet does not offer, Rigor said.

The six students who participated this year took such classes as “101 Ways to Write a Short Story” and “Employability Skills,” he said. Also included in VHS’ 271-course catalog are subjects like “Peacemaking” and “Nuclear Physics.”

Rigor, Carondelet’s liaison with the Massachusetts-based VHS, explained the mechanics of the virtual classroom -- VHS teachers, who might be anywhere in the world, post weekly assignments, links to resource materials and tests. Students, in turn, post completed work online.

Rigor said students can share and discuss work within their assigned VHS virtual classroom, or communicate directly with the teacher through “private threads.”

“The classes are not live or in real time,” he said, so students can set their own work schedule, day or night.

That kind of flexibility can be a blessing or a curse. Rigor observed that some students have difficulty with self-motivation. “It’s not easy to discipline oneself…without someone standing there,” he said.
So, Carondelet set aside a study period, which Rigor monitored, solely for participants to work on their VHS courses. Rigor said all six Carondelet students passed their classes.

Next year, 25 students will participate, he said.

Carondelet limits its students to one VHS course per semester. Because some colleges will not recognize online courses, Carondelet treats VHS courses as electives, Rigor said.

Students pay nothing for the online courses, Rigor said. Carondelet pays a participation fee, and in exchange for additional spots for Carondelet students, Rigor taught “Entrepreneurship” for VHS this year.

Rigor feels that online coursework provides technology skills that prepare students for college. “It builds their confidence,” he said. “All universities are using full-blown or adjunct Internet learning now.”
One VHS alumna, 17-year-old Jenni Clark of Carondelet, took “Employability Skills.” She said, “That one caught my eye because I’m going to college and I want to be able to write a resume and do a solid interview.”

In addition to learning those skills, Clark studied how to conduct job searches and how to dress for success.

Clark said she learned a lot about finding a job, but would not take another virtual course because it was too difficult to communicate with her out-of-state teacher.

To remedy such frustrations, at least one school is taking online in-house. Baldeviso is creating his own “hybrid” geometry course at Bishop O’Dowd this summer, which will combine online coursework with class meetings, he said.

Other high schools in the diocese permit limited online coursework—mostly make-up classes—through such institutions as Stanford and Brigham Young University.

 


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