6th Grade Groups Enjoying Benefits, Challenges Of Tech Pilot

In late February, two groups of sixth grade students at each of the District’s three middle schools became the newest participants in the Glass Paper Project, a 1-to-1 technology initiative designed to introduce FPS students into the 21st century learning environment.

The sixth graders – 400 of them – have been using Windows 8 tablet computers in an in-school pilot in language arts, math, science and social studies classrooms. Feedback from teachers in the classroom has been generally positive, noting that the students’ use of the device as a part of their learning process has become more routine.

As with the high school groups who began the Glass Paper Project initiative earlier this year, teachers are now able to point the middle school students in the right direction of the research they need to answer their own questions, a hallmark of the self-reliance component of the Strategic Plan. To date, students are using the tablet for writing, creating videos and design projects, and the online discussion forums in Moodle, a virtual, online learning environment managed by the teacher. In such forums, for example, teachers are able to receive feedback from all students regarding what they’ve learned at the end of a session, where answering out loud might fall short. That information is available quickly, and can be utilized in a more efficient manner for teachers to make adjustments.

Other methods and learning techniques that have become opportunities with the new devices include the selection of text passages to listen to in audio files rather than just reading them. Textbooks are also now becoming a secondary reference tool to support arguments or positions when students have to defend an answer. Google Docs, a suite of web-based collaborative composition tools, is a mainstay in the Glass Paper Project. Its design allows for teachers to see collaboration, note taking and updates to group assignments in real-time.

The sixth grade pilot has revealed some applicational challenges for both students and teachers that will shape future use of the devices. For example, use of the devices in math classes to work through traditional problem solving is not as fast or efficient as solving problems on paper. The use of online textbooks is also being evaluated, as some students have struggled reading the online text. On the other hand, electronic texts save paper waste and allow students to apply reading strategies, such as highlighting and taking notes in the margins. And the in-school nature of the pilot also presents challenges with student work left on the machine, which becomes a different access process using a laptop or desktop computer at home in the evenings or on weekends.

Looking ahead, the pilot will provide direction for teachers and IT staff on how to scale this model in our middle schools. The pilot will continue for one more year before expanding the middle school implementation.  Beginning next year, FPS will reallocate a large number of laptops from the high schools, which will improve the learning device ratio in all middle school classrooms easily to 2-to-1.

Many of the teachers involved in the Glass Paper Project will be taking Project-Based Learning courses over the summer. The professional development allows teachers to present lessons to students in formats where they are asked to solve problems related to the real world. The interdisciplinary approach will reach across subject areas, and match well in preparation for Common Core Standards lesson design.