This week the Quizlet team did a really fun class visit at The Berkeley School, and then went out for pizza. The visit was part of a new wave of visits we're doing to schools in the Bay Area to see students and teachers in action using Quizlet (want us to come to your school?). The pizza stop - at the famous Cheese Board, in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto - was because we were in such a good mood after watching kids who were almost as into Quizlet as we are. It was a fun afternoon, and we learned a ton.
The Berkeley School is not your typical middle school. For one, it's a Montessori school, which practices an approach developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori, emphasizing independence, freedom within limits, respect for students' natural psychological development, and technological advancements in society. There are about 30,000 Montessori schools worldwide.
This was also an affluent private school, we realized immediately, with a beautiful campus, very low student to teacher ratios (10 to 1 in the class we visited), and the resources to have the latest technology (in this case Chromebooks for each student). The average U.S. public secondary school class, by comparison, has over 20 students (according to the Dept. of Education), and many have even more.
In any case, the fun started as soon as we arrived. The folks who greeted us from the principal's office seemed to know about Quizlet and be excited about our visit (several teachers use Quizlet at this school it turns out). We went into Tanya's Spanish classroom early and chatted with her a bit before her students arrived. She's been teaching at the school eight years and using Quizlet since last year. She likes it because her kids have so much fun with it, and because she thinks fun works wonders for "taking the anxiety out of language learning."
When the kids came in, they immediately started giving us all kinds of great feedback about Quizlet and our new flashcards mode preview. They alternated between talking one at a time and a cacophony of Quizlet feedback. They use it at home, in school, and on their phones (and paper printouts) in between, and had a lot of strong opinions. And they all seemed really, really smart!
While we get lots of great feedback online from the almost one million Quizlet visitors every day, there's nothing like getting feedback in person from real students you can have a back-and-forth with. Some take-aways for us were (big and small, no particular order):
- Syncing scores between web and phone is important
- There's one power Quizlet user in every Quizlet classroom, who can answer the most arcane questions almost better than we can (e.g. how to type accents and special characters from Chromebooks)
- Kids do in fact want auto-play with audio so they can listen to the material to review it without pressing keys
- Kids want more competitive study modes... one student suggested a head-to-head version of our new flashcards mode
- The ability to generate a sample sentence with blanks to fill in key words/concepts you're trying to learn would be a good addition to Quizlet... help students move from "word banking" to more conceptual learning
- Quizlet study modes reinforce each other and kids use them in combination (Speller and Scatter, Learn and Test); but each kid seemed to have one or two favorites
- Logging in to Quizlet is not as easy as it should be (several kids forgot their password, thus making it hard to get straight to their study sets)
- When you get a group of kids together using Quizlet, it's a loud activity!
- Smartboards, if not adjusted well, do not show contrast very well
- Students don't experience Quizlet from just one device but many (their iphone, a parent's iPad, a family computer, a school chrome book, a class smart board)
- Paper is still useful sometimes and our printing options get used
- With all the technology out there, students and teachers need a central place to find all the different apps they use (Tanya's blog in this case)
- Kids can make a game out of anything if they're with a friend (the two girls playing flashcards together)
- Students don't notice ads as much as you might think
- Chromebooks really do boot up quickly
- Typing accents in space race is an issue because of the speed needed without the shortcuts you have on Macs
- Students often don't notice whether they're signed in or not
- Playing the audio for the English slows down the process of going through a set but can be useful when you're learning it for the first time
- Computers in school get a lot of use and break quickly (They used to have macs but those all broke and now they have chromebooks which will break soon too).
- Teachers really want to understand a new technology completely before using it rather than jumping in and trying it out (which a student would do easily)
- Our audio helps with pronunciation but giving the students the ability to speak and be recorded or corrected would be even more powerful
- Students figure out that they can use Quizlet in other classes too and bring it with them
- Quizlet tshirts are a hot commodity
- Students and Teachers still use SMART boards as projectors rather than interactive tools
- The fact that we named Speller Speller means that students immediately associate it with Spelling only rather than a way to learn new material
Anyway, thanks to Tanya and the folks at The Berkeley School for letting us visit (and most of all the kids). We had a great time, and as usual left charged up to work hard to make Quizlet better and better!