News Archive

Lighter backpacks, smarter learning

For at least a decade, faculty, parents, and even orthopedists have lamented the weight of student backpacks. At the same time, RE and other schools have discussed sustainability and the imperative to reduce paper on campus. And pedagogy has evolved, valuing interactivity and personalized instruction. For those reasons, Ransom Everglades has begun moving away from traditional textbooks and paper notebooks to more digital, portable, and cloud-accessible resources.
We are pleased that many students and faculty have begun taking advantage of the options available to eliminate the need for myriad notebooks and textbooks. Many of our courses come with digital components that allow students to consume much or all of the course materials on any device. With BYOD available in the Upper School, and teachers on both campuses sharing digital resources and receiving work from students online, in many cases, students simply need not bring their notebooks and textbooks to school everyday.

We have adopted several tools to move toward more dynamic, engaging, personalized digital materials. Because of our transition to MBS as our online book distributor, students have more options, including digital, for purchasing textbooks; you will continue to see more choices offered each year. MyCOMPASS has become the primary communication tool among students, faculty and the school community. Faculty members are expanding the ways they use myCOMPASS to post homework and project materials and to provide expanded learning opportunities by curating resources on their class pages. Adriana Sanchez and Claudia Ochatt, for example, have organized extensive collections of materials for their students in the “Topics” pages of their myCOMPASS classpages for their science classes. John King abandoned a textbook in his AP world history class long ago, and instead posts weekly reading assignments that explore topics in depth and appeal to a range of student interests. Many faculty members post online assignments, assign digital discussions, ask for recorded audio (which can be completed on a student’s mobile device), and/or ask students to watch or produce video (that can be done on any device). These type of assignments offer students ways to demonstrate mastery and develop 21st-century skills without paper materials. Many of the resources and assignments in our new Spanish curriculum are online, and a portion of the oral assessments in this program are digital, with students listening to prompts recorded by teachers, recording their own voices, and receiving oral feedback from their teachers in the cloud.

Increasingly, faculty members use the Google Platform and Microsoft Office 365. Many teachers leverage Google for assigning work, collecting written assignments or providing structured ways to share information with students. Work is assessed and feedback provided in the cloud, maintaining a completely digital loop that previously would have been solely on paper. Microsoft Office 365 has given our community Microsoft Teams and OneNote classroom tools that allow students to discuss, share and submit work via a notebook that is private between teacher and student and collaborative with the entire class for group projects or shared outcomes. Additionally, teachers using OneNote classroom can run their entire course from their digital notebook, sharing their notes, assignments, and student work and providing feedback to students in real time.

Examples of faculty and student work in the cloud are impressive. Much of the work in Yuping Yang’s Chinese courses is entirely digital. From assignment to assessment, Ms. Yang uses the Microsoft platform to completely manage her course. She asks students to submit recordings of them speaking the target language, provides oral feedback of her own, and shares material directly in student’s individual digital notebooks. Eryn Robinson increases student engagement in her middle school math courses by using stylus-enabled computing to have students process Wildfire data from NASA, applying concepts of data collection and analysis, estimation, and area through Microsoft Forms. Lindsay Danielson converted her freshman English course to Microsoft Teams and has reduced paper in her course by 95 percent. Jean Duty shares all of her notes and materials for her upper school math classes via OneNote classroom and only uses paper for assessments.  In many classes, students are more engaged with content than ever before. Jenny Carson, Kate Bloomfield and Greg Cooper all require students in their history and social science classes to contribute to online discussions with their classmates. Teachers are using digital (scanned) or online copies of their textbooks to reduce their use of paper resources by sharing them via displays in their classrooms or online via myCOMPASS, Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams.

The imperative of the heavy backpack has all but disappeared, as teaching and learning becomes more iterative and personalized. Even in English classes and others where close reading of the text and annotation skills are crucial components, many students use digital markup tools like OneNote via stylus enabled devices, though some students may still prefer their dogeared paperback books in front of them in class, to share their ideas and reactions to what they have read. We are not trying to eliminate students’ backpacks entirely. We want simply want to allow students to make the bags they carry lighter, and empower students to fill their backpacks with items they truly want and need in order to maximize the effectiveness of learning.
Dr. John A. King, Jr.                        Raymond Stewart
Associate Head of School Chief Technology Officer
Coconut Grove, FL 33133
Middle School2045 South Bayshore DriveTel: 305-250-6850
Upper School3575 Main HighwayTel: 305-460-8800
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The mission of Ransom Everglades School is to provide an educational environment in which the pursuit of honor, academic excellence and intellectual growth is complemented by concern for the physical, cultural and character development of each student. The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.