Jaquan is up early, just like every morning. He can’t complain; it’s only a thirty-five minute bus ride to Research Triangle High School. Some of his neighbors have an even longer bus ride to their base schools, and they don’t have Wi-Fi on their buses like he does. Jaquan catches the Triangle Transit Authority bus from a grocery store parking lot in West Raleigh every day, which arrives right at RTHS with thirty minutes to spare before his first class.
Once on the bus he takes out his tablet and connects to his playlist. His chemistry teacher has suggested a video and a slide deck that two other teachers have produced to help him learn how to draw organic chemical structures. Last night he watched his teacher’s introductory video, commented on it, and tried his homework. Simple straight chains are easy, but he still isn’t confident with functional groups. The video is short, and Jaquan knows that he can always use the drawing utility he has downloaded to try drawing structures. The program can name the structure he draws, and tell him if he drew it correctly. He opens his notebook and the slide deck and listens to another teacher’s lecture. Within a few minutes he is sure he can recognize an Ether molecule, and is able to answer the questions on the practice sheet his teacher handed out at the end of class yesterday. He completes his assignment during the remainder of the bus ride.
A short walk from the bus stop gets Jaquan to school, which is open early every day. There aren’t many other students here yet, so there are plenty of empty chairs in the gallery. He usually spends this time before school finishing homework. It’s great to have that time at school because there is always a teacher in the gallery for help. With chemistry out of the way, his tablet can become his book for English class. His assignment is to post three questions about the reading to the class’ Google document to discuss the next day. He likes this assignment because he gets his questions answered and doesn’t have to worry about volunteering to ask them himself, unless the question is a good one—then he’ll take credit for it.
Off to first period: Civics and Economics. He is part of a small group producing a campaign commercial for a made-up local government candidate. The group members have finished researching the laws concerning campaign ads and are planning their ad. They will shoot the video next week and edit it in time for next Friday’s due date. Part of the assignment is to find and critique four ads on the Internet. Each group member has already found one, and today they are showing them to each other and discussing them. Their teacher spends a few minutes with each group checking and grading their progress. They have checkpoints to meet at certain places in the project’s life cycle as well as a final grade.
Second period is English. Luckily he has finished the reading, as his teacher gives a reading quiz. It isn’t difficult, but just another progress check. The class discussion is lively, and the teacher and his classmates answer his questions about the reading during class.
Third period is Jaquan’s seminar time. Seminar is different at RTHS than at other schools. Rather than quietly sitting at a desk, students migrate to the gallery or to one of several small groups of couches and chairs in corners and hallways all over the school. A teacher is always present at one of the designated study areas (DSA) to take attendance, so students have to find a group with a teacher and check in. The groups stay pretty constant all year as students sit with friends or classmates in similar classes. The teachers are there for help and to keep the period productive, but students are allowed to talk quietly and work together. Students do homework, watch class videos (with ear buds), or read for fun, as long as it’s productive. Gaming and Facebook have to wait until the work is done!
Fourth period is Jaquan’s music class, his favorite class. He is studying music creation. He and his fellow students use sequencing software to compose and produce music during class. Each student sits with headphones on, editing samples and layering tracks. His teacher spends time with each student, jacking his own headset in to hear what students are working on. It is nice not having to lug around a trumpet to make music. Later in the year his class will upload the tracks for release to the Internet as well as putting on a show for parents.
After lunch he still has geometry, Spanish, and chemistry. Chemistry is work in the lab, making esters. It is nice to do something hands-on after so much computer work all day. He doesn’t mind working on his tablet, and it is nice to be able take all of his work with him anywhere he goes. Spanish is language lab practice, which gives him the time to practice speaking with as well as listening to native speakers his class chats with over the web.
By the end of the day, Jaquan has a new set of sources for his playlist and a few more homework assignments, but he knows his teachers will be “going home” with him, virtually, and tomorrow he will be back in front of them with time to practice what he watched and simulated the night before. He and his friends will be chatting and posting tonight as well. With all the help he can get at just about any time, he realizes learning is open to him any and everywhere.