Michael, Tyler’s older brother by a year, is teasing him about how much he likes school. Tyler attends Centennial High School as a grade 9 student while Michael, in grade 10, is learning 100% online from home. Michael had some difficulties “fitting in” at high school so he and his parents decided that this would be best for him. Tyler on the other hand is loving grade 9 in his new school. Tyler’s younger sister Stephanie also loves school and in particular her amazing grade 2 teacher. Stephanie likes to call him“Ty”.
Centennial is a brand new school designed and built for the future. Back in 2010, a vision for Centennial was developed to create a school that would best serve the needs of students over the next 50 years rather than the past. It is designed to have many small learning communities of about 150 students in multiple grades and content areas. In a school of 1400, it still has a small “family” feel to it. Most learning is cross-curricular and project based. Every student has an individualized learning plan (ILP) and a learning facilitator to guide and support them.
Tyler shrugs off Michael’s teasing, pats Stephanie’s head, grabs his backpack, says “goodbye mom” and runs out the door to go to school.
It’s a crisp morning in late October so Tyler quickly walks the 1 km to Centennial. Along the way, he communicates with a few friends using his mobile device. He speaks freely with the device, giving it instructions to retrieve and send messages. At one point a message from his learning facilitator arrives. Ty stops to bring up a 3D holographic video of his learning facilitator and they carry out a “face to face” chat about last night’s learning activities (aka homework).
When Tyler arrives, he sees a group of his friends and joins them. They talk excitedly about their current projects. Tyler and 6 other students have scheduled the looking glass in their learning community today to connect with students in Australia to share and discuss what their ideas and research on preventing flood disasters.
First stop for Tyler and his team mates is the Learning Commons. They grab a nutritional drink (they’re too young for a Starbucks coffee although they ask), sync up a few “books” to their learning slates, and settle in on some couches where they confirm each other’s responsibilities for their Disasters project and what they each will be doing during the looking glass hour. With their learning slates, they logon to their school provided digital learning spaces, post updates of what they will be doing today so their learning facilitators are informed and able to assist. When Tyler’s friend Michelle enters her digital learning space, she see a “happy birthday” notice, including 3D video and holograph messages, from 20 or so of her friends, the principal, her learning facilitator, and her parents. Her day is now shaping up to be just that much better…
The kids hustle off to their learning community and join the other 140 or so students for 10 minutes to hear a live 3D video message from the Superintendent of Schools wishing them a great week. Tyler has an opportunity to invite the Superintendent to drop by for their looking glass interaction to which she agrees and then it’s time for the students to get working on their projects.
Ty and his team head over to the looking glass that they’ve reserved for the next hour. They sync up their learning slates to the looking glass so that they are able to push and share their work via the glass with the Australian kids once they’re online. Ty motions to the glass, which looks like any normal window, and activates its digital nature. The glass comes to life as a digital interactive surface and acknowledges Ty and his team mates. “Do you want me to contact the other participants Mr. Tyler”, the glass says. Ty says “yes please”. When Ty scheduled the glass, he provided all the pertinent details needed by the glass to coordinate the activities and participants. The glass proceeded to connect in the Australian kids and the two groups make their introductions, each seeing the other in life size form. Meanwhile the Superintendent connects in from her office and pushes the looking glass image (she can also see the kids) up on her office wall in life size to enjoy while she works on preparing for an upcoming leadership meeting.
The Australians share a story of a flood disaster that occurred early in 2011. Through vivid video, statistics, news stories, and personal anecdotes of how this event affected them and their family, Tyler’s team is fully up to speed. Of course Tyler and his team had researched this earlier while at home using the Internet and even saw some of the same clips and stories. But having it shared live by kids their own age in this way really impacted Tyler and his team mates. The students on both sides of the world take turns sharing their research and ideas, pushing pictures, 3D models, and data from their learning slates through the looking glass, each seeing the same things. Together, they manipulate the images, video, and data directly on the looking glass surface to analyze their work. They converse and share, and then they wrap up with deciding next steps, new task assignments, and scheduling their next looking glass appointment. One of them agrees to create a wiki on their learning space and invite the others, including the Australians, in to share their notes and learning products over the next few days. Before signing off, the Superintendent congratulates both groups of students on a very interesting and useful exchange of information and ideas. She also signs up for weekly learning updates from this team’s project space as their project is of personal interest to her.
While they were working, various learning coaches (aka teachers) came by to participate with them, to provide adult insight, advice, and also, to learn from the students. At other times, the learning coaches provide lectures on specific content areas, processes, etc. that students sign up or or arrange for. Most work is self-directed but each student’s learning facilitator is co-responsible with the students in their success along with their parents. Students learn the required mathematics, writing, communication, history, science, art, music, and physical education content, and skills as they work through projects. They learn to work collaboratively, to understand that inter-dependence increases all of their learning and understanding collectively far greater than self-sufficiency or independent learning and work.
Tyler is tired but thoroughly satisfied when his school-based learning day ends (there is no bell or required ending time). He decides to take the evening off and that tomorrow he will work online and remotely at home through his digital learning space connecting with other students, learning coaches, and of course his learning facilitator as needed throughout the day. Sometimes he just likes working in his room and with live 3D video it almost feels like he and his team mates are really together regardless of where they are. He wonders what school might look like in 2020 for his sister Stephanie. Maybe he’ll get some other students to work on a design project together for a new 2020 middle school and submit their work to the Superintendent for her consideration…