Rev Up Your Mobile Learning Lab On a Bus

September 14, 2011

It’s 6:24 a.m. when I look out the front window and see a school bus pass our house.  Isn’t it too early for a school bus?   The bus stops at the corner where a young child is standing under a street lamp.   He boards the bus with his head hanging low.  The whole vision is incredibly lonely and sad.  The bus, Bus 735, rumbles off with Lonely Child.
My own kids are still asleep, and they go to the same school as Lonely Child.  How long does this poor kid have to ride the bus in the morning?  It’s a six minute drive from here.
A few minutes later, I step on the porch and watch Bus 735 rumble by.  Lonely Child stares at me for a moment in those three seconds it takes to pass by.
Later I drop my kids off at 7:10am.  Bus 735 is in the back lot, and Lonely Child marches in with a collection of other students.  That was a 46 minute trip for 735.   What a depressing and wasteful way to start the day.  There has to be a better way.
I have a plan.  Field test tomorrow.

September 15, 2011

6:21 a.m.
Field test day is here after a short night of planning.  I’m turning our car into a mobile learning lab, and I’m going to test it over the next 46 minutes as we follow Bus 735.  I’m not kidding.
I sit in the passenger seat of our Highlander.  My spouse is in the driver’s seat.  My two kids are in the backseat.  They are my test subjects; although, their expressions say their hostages to my field test.  I’m not sure when the Stockholm Syndrome normally kicks in, but I hope it’s in the next three minutes.
6:24 a.m.
Bus 735 passes the house, right on time.  My wife starts the car and pulls to the edge of the driveway.  I tell my kids, who are ages 10 and 12, to check their emails on our iPads.  Here’s what they find:

Good morning, Young Renfros!  Here’s your mission . . . .
Watch this video: up to the 1 minute and 10 second mark.  Repeat back what the teacher says to her classroom out loud to me.  Emphasis on loud!  Wake the neighbors.  Then email me back what your contribution to the world will be.  Wait for further directions.

I’ve secured their basic cooperation through bribes, which is outside the bounds of means testing but this is ad hoc.  They shout, “I matter!  I am a genius!  The world needs my contribution!”
6:29 a.m.
Bus 735 has made its loop through the neighborhood.  My spouse pulls onto the road and follows the bus.
I receive emails from both kids.  Son:  “I’m going to law school and I will become an FBI agent.”  Daughter:  “I’m starting an alternative rock band and will write FBI protest songs.”
Long term goals, check!
6:34 a.m.
Bus 735 picks up four sleeping children.
I send both my kids a follow up email:

Good work!  Way to start the day.  New assignments.  Daughter:  Open the Living Language French app.  Do the Essential Expressions exercise and voicemail me the pronunciations of the expressions.  Son:  Open the Brain Quest 5 app.  Do Math Quest 1.

6:35 a.m.
Bus 735 drives exactly two houses to the next stop and picks up a girl.  There’s a sibling still in the house.  The bus driver waits on the no-show brother.
A boy on the bus throws his breakfast out the window onto somebody’s lawn.  Unfortunately it included a wrapper.  My spouse is the director of the Green Academy at her school where she’s also the science department chair.  This might not end well for the littering kid on the bus.  I remind her of Star Trek’s Prime Directive and our larger mission here.
The bus is moving again.
6:43 a.m. 
My kids are glued to their devices now.  I tell them both to use headphones as the back seat is now a cacophony of conversational French and beeping noises and celebration melodies from Brain Quest.
An apple slice from the bus hits our windshield.
6:46 a.m.
Bus 735 is stopped next to a corn field.  I have no idea where we’re at even though we are just two miles from home.
Me (to Spouse):  “Where are we?”
Spouse:  “Kansas, have you not been paying attention?”
I write in my journal:  The mood is light.
Spouse:  “If children just start appearing out of the corn fields, we’re outta here.”
I laugh and force down a hard swallow.
We see the bus driver is standing in the aisle . . . yelling at the children.  Trouble in paradise.  I’m worried about Lonely Child.  Some much larger kids have boarded the bus.
The bus is moving again.  I close the sunroof.  An apple slice arrives a moment too late.
6:51 a.m.
I receive a voicemail from my daughter.  I have no idea what she’s saying but it sounds beautiful.  Big thumbs up to her.   My son shows me his final Brain Quest score.  100%.  Outstanding!
6:55 a.m.
Each stop is more chaotic.  Students are more and more awake at each stop and are not so much ready to ride as they are ready to occupy.  One more stop and it will be Lord of the Flies.
My kids receive their final assignments.  My son watches a Sal Khan negative numbers lesson, a topic he’s studying in his math class:  My daughter receives a video on the laws of motion: They get to experience the flipped classroom.
7:00 a.m. – 7:10 a.m.
Free gaming and video time for my mobile-learning scholars.
7:10 a.m.
We arrive at school.  My own kids have had 40+ minutes of energized learning.  Lonely Child exits the bus.  He and the others on Bus 735 have learned some things, too, but not what we want them to learn.    I’m definitely worried about Lonely Child.
So how do we turn my two-student mobile learning lab into something bigger?

Solutions and Thoughts

Wire your buses with Wi-Fi and your necessary filters. You can have students BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) or issue devices or have a blended solution. Flex a teaching assistant’s hours to let him or her ride the bus for more directed learning. Pilot a single bus.  See what the outcomes are.  Determine its value.
These students are in your charge while being transported.  Why waste the time?  Extend the learning day on both the front end and back end with a mobile-lab bus.  Give them something to literally focus on, and their behavior will improve greatly.
Does this sound outlandish?  Not to these educators:

 Let’s break it down:

Router:  $200.  Monthly Internet Fee:  $60.  Human Capital:  1 Flexed Assistant (optional).  Saving Lonely Child:  Priceless.

Adam Renfro

Adam was a classroom English teacher for ten years and began teaching online in 1998. He now works for the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the 2nd largest virtual school in the nation. Adam has blogged for Getting Smart since September of 2011.

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Carla Wink

Adam Renfro is incredible. A Genius. Brilliant article. Love the live reference links. Good luck with your future FBI Agent and Alternative Rock Star writing FBI protest songs. :-)

Carla Wink

P.S. Would love to see more from Adam on the "You Matter" campaign!! BRAVO.

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