Kevin Keen is ready to get down to business.
“Get out whatever you’re taking notes on. This will be on the test,” he said.
A student asks, “Is it OK if we take notes in Google?”
“Take notes in whatever works for you,” Keen replies.
And then Keen starts in on the day’s discussion with some facts about Sikhism, a religion founded in the 15th century in India’s Punjab region.
While Keen talks, most of the dozen or so students in this Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography class at Gamble Montessori High School type their notes into documents on laptop computers. A few use pen and paper.
The Gamble Montessori students only gather in a classroom with Keen one day a week; the rest of the time, they get their AP Human Geography educational materials online. If students have questions outside their classroom time, they e-mail Keen for assistance.
When the students head off to other classes at Gamble Montessori, Keen packs up his materials and drives to another high school to teach the rigorous AP course face-to-face with a different group of students. In all, Keen takes his traveling Human Geography class to seven CPS high schools.
It’s a new approach for CPS, and part of the new My Tomorrow high school initiative, which is aimed at ensuring graduates are ready to either head into the workforce or into college. By blending traditional brick-and-mortar classes with the virtually unlimited resources of the Web, CPS can utilize one teacher to bring advanced learning to students at numerous high schools.
CPS plans to offer more “blended learning” AP classes in coming years.
The approach brings AP classes into CPS high schools that previously didn’t have enough student interest or faculty resources to offer the more-rigorous AP coursework. Students benefit in numerous ways from taking AP classes because the classes carry more weight when figuring students’ grade point averages and might earn them college credit as well as credit toward high school graduation.
CPS provides the laptops and wireless Internet access that allow students to take the online portion of the course, which includes reading materials, videos, quizzes and tests, and, of course, projects and homework assignments.
“As far as this type of learning goes, when these kids go to college or career training, they’ll be working online all the time,” Keen said. “This is all very applicable for them in the future, this type of learning.”
Online coursework is an educational trend, “that keeps picking up steam and steam and steam,” he said.
The technology makes it all possible, and without the laptops and Internet access provided to students at no cost by the school district, many of Keen’s students wouldn’t be able to take the class, he said.
“The access is crucial to the majority of these kids,” Keen said. “They wouldn’t be able to take this kind of coursework without these devices being loaned out.”
All new things come with bumps that need smoothing out, such as students getting used to using G-mail and some of the other applications built into the program, but the approach gets students used to using a variety of technologies to learn and do coursework on, Keen said.
And the course content and requirements coupled with the tech platform give students a taste of what they’ll face when they head off to college.
“I feel like it’s giving me the college experience,” said Kendra Myles, a Gamble senior.
The AP Human Geography class is Kendra’s first blended-learning class, and she’s enjoying the experience. She hopes to become a clinical psychologist and probably will study at the University of Cincinnati after graduation, she said.
Cameron White, also a Gamble senior, enjoys that the class is intellectually stimulating. He also likes being able to take the online component on his own time.
“It’s self-directed,” he said. “It calls for self-accountability. I like that. And it’s good for college, ’cause you’re not going to have the teacher standing there saying, ‘Do this, do this, do this,’ and handing out stuff. It’s all going to be online.”
The laptops and wireless access are important components for Cameron and Kendra. Using their family’s computer at home “isn’t always convenient,” since the rest of the household needs it, too, Cameron said.
“This is really convenient. The laptop just makes everything easy,” he said.