Jennifer Auten teaches second graders at Montclaire Elementary School in the Cupertino (CA) district.* She has been teaching at the school for 13 years. She teaches in a portable classroom. When asked does she like working in a self-contained classroom removed from the main buildings, she said she finds it helpful and time efficient that her seven year-olds can use the bathroom, sink, and other amenities in the portable without traipsing across 50 yards of playground to the school’s bathrooms and water. Here in the portable, Auten has had her second graders using iPads throughout the school day. In 2010, she was one of a small group of teachers who volunteered to pilot iPads in their classrooms. She has used them ever since and now has enough devices for each student to have one.
I heard of Auten from a reader of this blog who introduced us to one another via email.** I observed her 90 minute class on April 19, 2016. The carpeted portable was festooned with student work, wall charts, guidelines for students to follow in different activities, mobiles hanging from ceiling and tables for 2-4 students arranged around the room in no particular pattern.
Twenty students enter the portable at 8:30 and immediately pick up iPads from a corner of room (there are also earphones for students to use nearby). They open the devices, go to Socrative app where they indicate their presence for the day and choose a regular or vegetarian lunch, permitting Auten to move ahead with the lesson without stopping the class to take attendance or ask about lunch choices.
Auten calls the class to order and flashes on white board a YouTube video that shows teenagers stretching, dancing, and singing. The seven year-olds are familiar with the routine; they cluster in the center of the room and jump up and down in time with the teenagers on the video. For the next 10 minutes there are additional videos of singing and stretching that the second graders copy. When I asked Auten whether this was a warm-up for the lesson, she pointed out that the state requires so many minutes of time in physical education and while she does take students outside to exercise 30 minutes, three times a week, she also uses videos from Go Noodle–in the morning to get her second graders moving.
After the videos, she gathers the class on the carpet in front of her and she goes over what they will do in the morning. They will write a “research paragraph” that contains three important details. Carrying her laptop in one hand, she projects slides on a white board (she uses Apple TV and a ceiling mounted projector to throw image of her laptop screen on the white board). She shows a sample paragraph on plants that the students can read–she told me that all her second graders can read. She reads the paragraph aloud and points out that it contains description of seeds, roots, stems. She wants students to work together and write a practice paragraph on a topic they choose from an online folder called “student project choice”. Each pair or trio of students will choose the topic they want to research–dinosaurs, bicycles, planes, etc. Later in the day, she continues, each group will present that paragraph (with text and photos) to the rest of the class. She asks class “I am looking for a presentation that that has how many details?” Most of the students hold up three fingers to show her how many details they need to include. She then turns to the rubric students will use to determine the quality of the paragraph. She flashes it on screen and goes over each part, asking whether students understand and to show whether they do or not with a thumbs up or thumbs down. Most of the students comply with hand signals. Auten goes over each part of the rubric.
Teacher then shifts to topics in the different folders on their iPads–which pairs and trios will choose–the items to read and videos to watch in order to create their presentations. She then summarizes tasks for the class: research the topic, read materials using apps, take notes, prepare presentation, and check the rubric before they turn it in. Auten then goes over the apps students will be using to research their topic (e.g., Epic !, Zaption, etc. ), pointing out which ones work well and, after a few students identify other apps, the teacher points out which ones might cause a crash. She asks if there any questions and three students ask about different apps and what to do if the program crashes. She answers their questions and points out that if students load too many visuals using Seesaw, the program may crash. To an observer, it is clear that this class has done other reports before. When I asked the teacher, she said they had been assigned an animal and are still working on that report (see photo).
She then asks students whether they want to choose a topic first or choose partners first. Auten lets student decide by asking them to hold up one finger for choosing topic first or two fingers for partners first. Most students want to choose partners first. They do. I scan the group and see that boys chose boys and girls chose girls. The children scatter to different tables and discuss which topics they will research and create a presentation. Students walk around holding their iPad and discuss with classmates what they have chosen and what they are taking notes on.
For the rest of the period, students work in small groups and pairs. No one works individually. Auten moves from table to table answering questions, inquiring about topic second graders chose, and asking about readings students had finished in their iPad, notes they have taken. Some students come to two baskets sitting on a ledge that hold note cards and pencils. Three boys are sitting on carpet as they read and take notes. When I scan the class I do not see one second grader off-task or disengaged
Auten raises her arm and quiet descends on class as students raise their arms in reply–another signal that students have been socialized to follow. She praises students for how well they have been working on project and reminds them that they have 25 minutes left to work on the projects before morning recess. Groups return to work. I walk around and ask different groups what they are working on–planes, dinosaurs (three trios), bicycles. I asked one seven year old in another group what a rubric was. She explained to me that the rubric tells her whether she has done all parts of the report and what she has to do on each part of the presentation to get a high grade on the report. Teacher continues to check in with different groups at tables.
Chimes toll for recess. Students line up with balls and other equipment they use during recess. Auten opens door and leads them out. I thank Jennifer Auten for inviting me to observe and leave.
*Montclaire is in the Cupertino School District. The school has just over 500 students. Of the school enrollment, 46 percent is white, 38 percent Asian, 5 percent are Latino, and the rest are distributed among multiracial, African American, Filipino, etc. Those categorized as poor (i.e., free and reduced price lunch) are just over two percent of the school. According to Auten, many of the parents work for Google and Apple.
The district has a policy of 2 students per computer. They also provide a tech support person on site. For Auten, however, to get to one iPad for each student she became entrepreneurial. She got 12 from the district, applied for a grant to get a few more, parents contributed devices, and she corresponded with a University of Michigan professor who acquired the rest through a program he was affiliated with.
**Anita Lin, a former science teacher, who works for a local foundation contacted me after reading about my project examining exemplars of teachers, schools, and districts integrating new technologies into daily activities. She had observed Auten teach and asked if I were interested in seeing this classroom. I said I was and introductions were made. Auten invited me to visit her classroom.