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I would like to introduce you to an inspirational teacher.  She teaches in the Bronx in a school commonly known as “The Google School”, because all the teachers use Google Documents, and all the students have access to their own laptop.  This school sits right in the heart of the Bronx, where you regularly hear of drug related incidents or gang related stabbings.  We visited this school on our recent study tour to New York, and from the outside the school looked very drab.  There was barbed wire on the fences around the perimeter, and graffiti on the shop walls next to the school.

You had to present photo identification, walk through a metal detector, and put all your belongings through a screen similar to those you see on the airport, before being allowed in.

Then you entered another world.  Teachers and students collaborating, chatting, and high-fiving when a student achieves something.  Clean walls filled with student work, and classrooms with students being engaged in their learning, most times working on their laptops.  This specific teacher, Rathini Kandavel, teaches English.

On the day we observed her, she had the class split into three groups, each group was working on a different activity.  One group listened to a podcast of a book, while following along (reading) in the book while they listened.  A second group was doing some online test on comprehension, and she could immediately display and give feedback on student results as the students finished the test.  A third group was doing a spelling and listening activity.

We had the opportunity to speak with the teacher afterwards, and she told us that she also uses Google Documents constantly.  She explained that she can correct and leave comments on student work online, while the students can then ask questions and leave further comments on what she has done.  This online collaboration has made it possible for the students to keep contact with the school and keep on studying even when they are home (somewhere in the Bronx…)

I kept in contact with this inspirational teacher, and she sent me this email (and link) to share some of her work:

I thought I’d share this website with you!  It is a project I’ve been working on with my 7th grade students.  It is called the “Bronx Youth Storycorps” website with a collection of short stories and personal narratives that answer the question, “How can my power connect me to the world?”  Although in some stories the question isn’t answered so quickly, but these stories are remarkable and all of them are amazing!  My students and I are very proud of our work!

http://sites.google.com/site/bronxstorycorps/

Let me know, also, if you have any problems accessing any of the documents or files.

Thanks for you time!  Enjoy!
Rathini”

This is just another example of how technology can start breaking down the walls between classes, whether classes refer to those in a school, or those that exist in society.