Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

‘The kids are really truly in charge’
New class gives students freedom, modern technology

by Rob Ireland

October 13, 2011

WALWORTH — With music softly playing in the background, students sit on comfy couches, with the option to sip on a warm beverage and research a school project using laptops, iPads and even cell phones.

This may occur at trendy coffee houses in downtowns across the country, but it’s also happening inside of Big Foot High School during a course called Global 21.

The new pilot class allows students to embrace technology while earning credits in English, social studies and 21st century skills. In addition to using more technology, students in this class have more freedom to create their own projects with the guidance of educators.

“It essentially allows for a learner-driven curriculum,” teacher Pat Hollihan said. “They are given more of a choice on what to study, but we still hold them to state standards.”

Hollihan and Vice Principal Brian Lawton designed the course to integrate more gadgets into the classroom and push students to complete research projects using technology.

For the class, each student receives a laptop, which they have with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, the students communicate with their peers and teachers via e-mail, which eliminates the need for paper.

The costs of the equipment for the class was taken out of the districts regular technology budget. When the course is done, the equipment will be available for the entire school.

For the semester, which is half a school year, students will complete five projects.

So far, students have completed their first project and are working on their second, which requires them to write a persuasive research paper and create a public service announcement using video and audio equipment.

The teachers in the course provide guidance, but the students have the flexibility to control their own work day.

“The kids are really, truly in charge,” Lawton said. “They are going to dictate each day.”

Lawton and Hollihan have told their students this is a learning experience for them as well.

“We are flipping the learning model, but still setting goals for kids,” Lawton said. “They choose a topic they care about and we match it with the (state) standards.”

The classroom feel

Global 21 isn’t held in a traditional classroom setting with a teacher in front of a blackboard providing a lecture. Instead, the course is taught in four separate rooms where the students have a chance to meander between different work areas.

One room, which usually only has a few students in it at once, is a quiet area and another room is equipped with a Smart Board and has the layout of a traditional classroom.

Another room has a coffee table and couches, which has the feel of a coffee house rather than a classroom.

A fourth room has the feel of an office kitchen, which provides the kids a spot to prepare hot chocolate, tea and coffee.

In the class, students are provided with independence and can leave their task to take breaks without receiving backlash from their teachers.

At the beginning of the semester, Lawton spotted a student on, and the student quickly closed his laptop when he saw Lawton behind him.

However, in this class, taking a short break to check sports scores isn’t frowned upon. In fact, Lawton said students are encouraged to take mental breaks, but the trick is keeping these work hiatuses.

Lawton and Hollihan can control what sites the students have access to in the classroom and have blocked some sites, including Facebook.

At the beginning of the year, Lawton said the teachers asked the students what they thought about blocking facebook and each of them agreed it was a good idea.