There’s an urban legend in education that says new teachers will begin their careers as “roamers,” or traveling teachers, in overcrowded high schools. I suppose I was an anomaly. I had my own, beautiful classroom for my first year of teaching, but the glory was short lived. I became a “roamer” in my second year. Traveling to five different classrooms — one for each passing period — isn’t exactly thrilling. Needless to say, I was very disappointed to be displaced.
Was I really going to let this little setback ruin my year? Of course not!
Rather than looking at my new situation as a problem, I used this experience as an opportunity to try something brand new; something completely outside the box. I would redefine classroom. I would build a mobile app — a “mobile classroom” to fill the void.
My Classroom Doesn’t Define Me
Why is it important for teachers to have their own room? Is it comfort? Convenience? A classroom of their own is inexplicably linked to the identity of many teachers today. Spending the year without one allowed me to really reflect on my obsessive need to have my own classroom, as well as on the essentials: what I really need and don’t need to be an effective teacher. It’s sort of like going on a mountain hike. You open your hiking bag and take out the things you don’t really need for your journey. Eventually, I reduced my “classroom” to a flash drive dangling around my neck. I avoided pushing around a cart full of supplies since all I really needed was this small data storage unit.
Still, I worried. How would students be able to find me easily before or after school? How would parents find me? After all, I’m in six different rooms throughout the day. I was willing to bet that even the administrators wouldn’t be able to find me in a pinch. There were some things that I wouldn’t be able to do without a classroom.
Then I wondered… what if there was an app for that?
I searched through a long list of apps, some of which were potential candidates, but none of them seemed to fit. So I decided to try it myself. I thought, “Let’s build an app!”
I called it the “Kwon” app, and it’s compatible for both iPhone and Android users. Of course, this app is only used for my students, so it’s practically useless for other teachers. Ideally, I hope that in the near future someone will develop an app that allows all teachers to create their own digital classroom quickly and easily. And I would love to be a part of that team of developers! The idea can certainly revolutionize how teaching and learning happen in the classroom.
To give you an idea how “Kwon” works, I created a simple video of what my app looks like through my phone.
The video above walks through four main uses of the app.
Access To Course Content
I post my homework assignments to the app so that students and parents can access this information at any time. If a student is absent, they can check the app to see what they missed. Students also need a place to collect missed or misplaced resources; Kwon is a great place to post videos I’ve shown in my class, photos, practice quizzes, and more. Similarly, I post exam dates so that students can prepare and anticipate upcoming assessments.
Sharing Student Voice
This feature of the app plays on the “show and tell” concept. Sharing can be either teacher or student directed. There are times I post a question that I want the students to answer. However, this is also a forum for students who may want to share photos, quotations, or even poetry with their classmates.
Kwon also features comments. Students can interact with their classmates by thoughtfully commenting on posts. This is a great way to have discussions with students on interesting topics, and the engagement extends beyond the classroom as well. For example, in a recent statistics unit that really resonated with the class, my students took photos of statistics that they saw on the news, in magazines, or on billboards, and posted them on the app for everyone to see.
Ease of communication is probably the main reason the app was so successful. All it takes is a simple tap and students and parents can quickly write and send an email. Once an email is sent, I get a notification on my phone. It only takes a minute to reply back, so the communication goes both ways. A lot of my students use this feature to ask questions about an assignment and I also got a lot of praise from parents saying how surprised they were by my quick reply! The app also allows me to send a “Push” notification to all users who downloaded the app. I can send them reminders about homework, upcoming exams, or other useful information.
As I write this blog, I’m still unsure if I’ll have my own classroom next year. Whatever the circumstances, I’m going to continue to expand the possibilities of integrating my own classroom app, designed especially for my students. At one point in the year, I even forgot that I didn’t have a room. I was so used to being mobile that I got very comfortable. I guess I really didn’t need my own teacher’s desk after all. Some of us may treat our rooms as our second home; due to the nature of the job, some of us really do stay longer in our rooms than in our own homes. But we have to ask, is the classroom for our benefit or for our students’?
Who does the classroom belong to? A classroom to me is like the “commons.” It’s an equally shared space where students and teachers interact and both have the responsibility of taking care of it. Our job means much more than picking up trash or scraping the gum off from under tables. The classroom is sacred ground, and students should treat it as such. We want to create a safe environment for students to learn and to share their voice.
I’m curious to hear how others define “classroom” for themselves. What does having a classroom mean to you? In what ways do you utilize your classroom to promote student engagement, voice, thinking, and creativity?
Josh Kwon teaches math at Mariner High School in Everett, Washington. He is affiliated with the Martinez Foundation, which provides support programs to teachers of color in underserved public schools. He is devoting his time toward finding innovative ways to teach math that will reach and engage diverse students. Connect with Josh on Twitter: @Jkwon0608.