The Bay Area may be a cradle for technological innovation, but chronic funding shortages often prevent high-tech tools from being used in public school classrooms.
James Sanders’ history class at KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy, a charter school in the Western Addition, is an exception. Sanders, who has worked with Google and YouTube to develop educational applications and help teachers use online videos, has taken his classroom entirely paperless.
“We have a computer instead of scattered papers everywhere,” explained seventh-grader Widya Batin, who had just finished researching the Aztec Empire for the class blog.
Sanders’ seventh-graders use donated Chromebooks, simple laptops developed by Google to run Web-based applications. They read their lessons on Sanders’ class website, and they use Google software to turn in homework, create presentations, take quizzes and collaborate with each other on projects.
Sanders’ students say his hi-tech approach makes history more exciting.
“We use Twitter to share our ideas,” seventh-grader Maya Michael said. “It’s more interactive.”
The technology was especially useful earlier this year, when KIPP students were paired with students in Prague for a project researching the origins of artifacts found in a Czech castle.
“We would communicate with them through email,” said KIPP seventh-grader Rebecca Leung, whose team examined a cup and saucer. “My group sent a video to me and I sent a video back. It was very cool.”
While the tech-savvy young people find Sanders’ approach more fun, it has a higher goal. KIPP, which stands for “Knowledge is Power Program,” is a nationwide chain of charter middle schools with a focus on getting its mostly low-income black and Hispanic students into college. Sanders believes online, collaborative learning will help prepare the students for the sort of work they will do at their universities and in their future careers.
“Those are really valuable experiences, to be able to work collaboratively on an international scale,” he said.
Sanders began working with Google two years ago, when he piloted Chromebooks in his Los Angeles classroom. The tech behemoth also recruited him to work on a project called YouTube EDU, which allows educators to curate and create online videos. There are now nearly half a million educational videos on the site, and thousands of schools have signed up for YouTube for Schools, including the Chicago Public Schools.
“We want to make it easy for teachers to find great videos to bring learning topics to life in the classroom,” said YouTube spokeswoman Annie Baxter.
Sanders himself fields frequent inquiries from teachers, who make up many of his 1,800 Twitter followers.
“I really believe that, when used effectively, technology can have a huge impact on the classroom,” Sanders said. “The momentum is definitely growing.”