Clutching an iPad, sixth grader Kaleb Depluzer looks up at a group of grown-ups and instructs them to grab a device from the middle of the table.
“My name is Kaleb, and today I’m going to be teaching you how to use Keynote,” he said. “Everybody press ‘presentation.’ It’s all the way at the top left.”
This is app speed dating at Depluzer’s school, National Teachers Academy, and it’s essentially student-led professional development.
“App speed dating is when teachers go around and view kids doing different types of apps so we can teach the teachers how to use it,” Depluzer explained.
Today, it’s not just teachers. Other adults are here as part of a Chicago Ideas Week event.
“It’s much more dynamic to have the student sharing and hearing it from their voices. It’s also a lot less threatening as a teacher to come in and hear from a 9-year-old how this app works. They’re not talking down to you. They’re nine,” Jennie Magiera said.
Magiera is the digital learning coordinator at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, the organization that runs National Teachers Academy.
She says there are a couple of different schools of thought when it comes to technology in the classroom.
“You’ve got your non-believers who think that technology is just fluff, that it’s distracting from the actual goal of the classroom, which is teaching and learning,” Magiera said. “Then there’s the folks who believe it’s worthwhile, but for many different reasons.”
Magiera is part of the latter group, and she’s about as techie as they come. She runs a blog called Teaching like it’s 2999 and stays connected to other technology teachers and coordinators around the country.
The idea behind letting kids do the training is to get and keep them excited about school. Depluzer is a perfect example.
“Before I created the student innovation team, he was in my math class,” Magiera said. That was two years ago, when she tells me Depluzer used to fake fevers to get out of school.
Magiera, who frequently had her students try out different educational apps she found, asked Depluzer and a few other students to test an app called “Explain Everything.”
“I came in on Monday morning and I thought it was going to blow all my students away,” Magiera said. “Kaleb uses it with his student peers and they hated it. They used a lot of very strong, fourth-grade appropriate language to say it was the worse app they’ve ever seen.”
Depluzer and his friends wrote a blog post about it and within hours, the app developer emailed Magiera.
The developer, Reshan Richards, set up a Skype appointment with Depluzer and the other students to allow them to explain everything they thought was wrong with the app.
“(They were) brutally honest,” Richards said. “Brutally honest. It was just things like saying, I didn’t like this. This doesn’t work properly. I didn’t understand why when I drew on the page and then moved the page the annotation didn’t move with the page. Little things like that, but he was very, very clear I remember.”
After that – Magiera says Depluzer was a totally different student.
“He was like, ‘I’m going to come to school every day. I want to be app developer. Oh my God I got to tell an adult what to do and they didn’t yell at me, they listened to me,’” Magiera said.
Sitting at his station teaching the Keynote app to a rotating crop of adults last Thursday, Depluzer hardly seemed like the kind of kid who would play sick to stay home.
He actually sounded a lot like a teacher.
“When you please leave, can you not exit out [of the app] because yesterday, I was deal with that and people, I had wasted time when people kept on exiting it out,” Depluzer instructed.
Becky Vevea is a producer for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.