Teachers Integrating Technology: Fifth Graders at Sequoia School

Mona Ricard is a fifth grade teacher at Sequoia Elementary. Selected as the 2012 teacher-of-the-year for the district, she is the go-to person for new iPad, Chromebook, and laptop apps. Ricard has pulled together an eclectic collection of laptops and desktops and tablets from various sources in and out of school. Patricia Dickenson* and I observed a lesson using an app called “Book Creator” so that these 11 year-olds could create an iBook and later in semester, use those skills, to produce a State Report that each one had chosen to research, write, and present to the class.

Sequoia Elementary is part of the Mount Diablo Unified School District. David Franklin, an experienced principal has been at the school for five years having previously served in the Alum Rock district as an administrator. He told me that he is excited about the uses of technology in the school and has been supportive of those teachers who wish to plow ahead and use tablets and laptops. He has a “Mouse Squad” of fourth and fifth graders (boys and girls) who trouble shoot software glitches and simple hardware problems. On his desk he had a book on Minecraft and when I asked him about it, he said that this is an initiative that fifth graders are doing and he got interested; one of those fifth graders knew of his interest and had brought in the book.

A kindergarten-to fifth grade school, Sequoia was a back-to-basics alternative in the late-1970s. District parents who wanted more traditional academics for their sons and daughters sent their children to Sequoia. Over the decades, it remains an alternative–half of its students now come from across the district and half from the immediate neighborhood. As principals and teachers entered and exited, however, Sequoia has slowly moved to incorporating a full range of school and teaching activities from homework-texts-tests to project-based learning. Under Franklin, who has hired many of the current teachers over his tenure at the school, there has been an increase in student-centered learning and more computer devices and software garnered from multiple sources. Individual teachers, some of whom are entrepreneurial in gathering devices also have access to carts of tablets and two computer labs. The school, according to its 2015 Report Card, has about 550 students of whom 48 percent are white, nearly 22 percent are Asian, and 20 percent are Latino. About 12 percent are English Language Learners and about the same percentage are eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a poverty measure). Just under five percent are identified as disabled.

The lesson began after recess at 10:30. The room has desks clustered in groups of four with laptops, desktops, and an interactive white board on one wall. A schedule of assignments, tasks to do each day adorn one wall.

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Mona Ricard directs the 32 students to get their iPads from a cart in the corner of the room. After students return to their tables, Ricard says to class that in this lesson “we are working on a “Book Creator” app to practice creating a book for our social studies unit that we have been working on (see photo of calendar for “State Report”). For this morning, I want you to go through the Book Creator Tutorial independently for the next 10 minutes to learn how to create an iBook/e-pub.” Students go to “Book Creator” in their apps and began going through tutorial as Ricard, holding her iPad, walks around the room responding to questions.

One student asks” “Can I access Google drive to get my work for Book Creator?” Teacher replies: “Log into Google drive.” She walks around with iPad in hand offering help when students are stuck.

Another student asks, “What if we are done with tutorial?” Teacher replies: “you can create a few slides about an animal you can tell me about it, what it does, and include some photos.”

Another student: “Can I work on my report at home?” Ricard responds: “Of course, you can but since I give you lots of class time I would like you to spend the time in class working on it.

One student blurts out: “We can make a comic book! ” Some students say “YES.”

Yet another student asks: “How do we make a cover?” Teacher stops class and shows how to make a cover by using her iPad display and then flashes the display onto the interactive white board.

Then teacher then excitedly says: “Ooh! I am going to put a photo on my cover.” She goes to the back of the room where a stuffed alligator about five feet long rests under a table. It is the class mascot and students call it “Allie.” She takes a photo of it, uploads the photo immediately to her cover that is now displayed on the interactive white board and then types in a title.

One student asks: “I have a story on my flash drive on my computer at home, can I put it on my iPad?” Ricard says “yes, you can do it by uploading it to your Google drive.”

More than 20 minutes have passed. In scanning the room, we see that every one is in groups and engaged in making their practice book. Some are doing Internet searches for photos of animals and backgrounds that would fit their choice, and reading articles about their animal. Students move about freely helping one another, showing each other what their photos and text looks like. Teacher continues walking around helping students and responding to their questions, often adding comments of praise and encouragement. Also four of the students–three boys and one girl–are the class’s “Mouse Squad” circulating in the room to help students with questions as well and assist with the cover.

About 10 minutes later before students return iPads to the cart which is scheduled for another teacher who had signed up for it, Ricard says: “1-2-3 all eyes on me.” Most students stop what they are doing and repeat chant. Then teacher tells class how to save their practice report on animals. The interactive white board displays the actions students have to take to “save” their report. As she does this, some students who already know how to save their report are showing classmates photos on their covers while other students continue writing text for their report.

One of the observers hears a student talking to table-mate, “What are you doing yours on?” Student replies: “I am talking about giraffes.” she shows class-mate her iPad. Then she asks, “Can I see yours?” The class-mate shows  her cover with a picture of Justin Beiber (a young singer favored by the pre-teen and teen age groups) next  to a Pug dog. She moves through slides showing the fifth grader who asked question and pauses over one with the title: “Pugs can have style like Justin Beiber.”

At this point the lesson is drawing to a close, and Ricard says “1-2-3 eyes on me.” She gets the class’s attention and then she asks the entire class to stand up–they will be moving to another teacher’s room shortly. They do. She asks every student to line up and return the iPads. It is now 11:15 and she then directs students to do “silent reading.” She tells students that later in day, they will get the cart of iPads back and they can continue working on their practice report on animals. It is the end of the lesson and Dickenson and I thank Ricard and leave.


*Dickenson (@teacherpreptech) is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose. After reading my blog on integration of technology, a subject she is very interested in and has included in her university courses, Dickenson got in touch with me. She has extensive contacts with teachers and principals through her university courses and teacher workshops in the Bay Area. She proposed that we work together in observing schools and classrooms. She set up this visit to Sequoia with principal David Franklin. For this post, she and I combined our notes and I drafted the post. I sent a draft to Ricard and Dickenson to check for errors and each returned it. Because Dickenson and I combined our notes and she went over the draft. This is a co-authored post.


Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

13 responses to “Teachers Integrating Technology: Fifth Graders at Sequoia School

  1. Alice in PA

    As I read this series, I find myself wanting to know what happens next.
    Have you been able to observe several sequential days in any of these classrooms? That would give an idea how the classes build the concepts, although I know that you are not gathering data on student learning. I may be misrepresenting the data set, but I see ( or remember) what seems to be many intro lessons but few content/middle of the unit lessons.

    • larrycuban

      I believe your observations are correct, Alice. More intro lessons than middle or end-of-unit ones. Also seeing a sequence of lessons would have given a deeper and fuller picture of concepts being developed (or not). Thanks for the comment.

  2. surfer

    What is your evaluation? Story seems meaningless. What’s the take away.

    Are these students going to kick butt in terms of learning more because of having a tray of iPads? Or do worse? Same? Is it an interesting activity or a key thing that is going to advantage them in learning more material? Should we feel deprived that we didn’t have those iPads as kids and that those kids will progress in learning so much better than we did?

    Are the kids learning material better/faster/funner from iPad use or is the whole thing trying to take credit for getting them “using tech” itself. [After all picking up an iPad is not tough like playing the violin or juggling or something. My 75 y.o. mother figured it out just fine.]

    • larrycuban

      Remember this series on teachers integrating technology is not about what and how students learned but what and how teachers taught using devices and software in their lessons. What did you take away from reading the post?

  3. surfer

    Hey, I asked you first. Even if the topic is about teacher efficiency or experience or if it’s more or less work for them than sticking in a film strip, I didn’t notice you giving a “so what” or any inferences.

    I guess I could read the post and try to extract some observations or at least questions. But it is a much better reading experience, if you have them yourself in your post. Also, I think the act of coming up with points probably gets you to think of more relevant parts of the observation.

    Would say this even if you had done a factory tour for a consulting firm or were a fan who had observed a preseason practice of an NFL team.

    Also, not having the student experience/benefit be something we analyze, care about, seems strange.

    • surfer

      OK, I read it a little closer, now.

      *Teacher is an outlier (won an award, tech master)

      *The mouse squad thing is interesting and useful. Get the animals doing some of the work. Good idea.

      *Not sure what to make of the Mousecraft. I had to look it up and evidently it is some sort of creative video game. But then so is SimCity or Facebook farming. Really not sure whether you were tongue in cheek or pro that, or what.

      *The amount of money tied up in all those ipads and monitors around the periphery and the white board, seems pretty large. More than a lot of conference rooms for a business would have.

      *The activity to write a report (“book”) on the computer seems to go well. The children enjoyed it and I guess there was some learning involved. I hope that is not their only activity (projects), but that they learn some words and math and such at times. But some amount of play-like projects is OK. And I guess in a topic like history (“social studies”), project works well.

      *I liked the board with daily assignments. Good visual management for the troops and even for the teacher herself.

      *The Desk Fairy poster seemed cute and useful. It does seem like there is a lot of clutter on the desks, not all the students’ fault. As a student, I would prefer those desks that have the sort of space underneath you: http://image.shutterstock.com/z/stock-photo-vintage-school-desk-isolated-on-white-97059635.jpg But actually, now that I look at it, seems like there is a storage space under the desks.


      I’m not a teacher or a principal (but I was a student once). You probably notice some things and are able to compare/contrast versus your experience, so I still think you should share your takeaways. That doesn’t mean I take it all on faith or that I don’t come up with ideas of my own.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for all of your comments.

  4. surfer

    Minecraft, not Mousecraft. My bad.

  5. surfer

    Actually, now that I think about it, I like the desks with flat surfaces and a little more space more than those old angled thingies. Yeah, there was the little slot for your pencil, but stuff did roll down.

    Seems like a big room with not that many kids, to pack 8 groups of 4 desks. But I haven’t really done an experiment to see what fits better: rows/columns or these clusters. The cluster concept seems useful for project work. Maybe not so great when they take instruction or do drill.

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