(Cross-posted on the Google for Work blog.)

Editor's note: Today’s guest author is Rudy Blanco, Digital Learning Coordinator at The DreamYard Preparatory School, in the Bronx, New York. He is a product of the New York City public school system and spent three years as a special education teacher at DreamYard Prep. In his current role, Rudy focuses on teaching students and other teachers how to learn through the use of technology.

DreamYard Prep is a public high school in the Bronx where arts and scholarship closely overlap. As a Title I public school in an underserved community, we see the unique potential of technology to prepare our students for an increasingly digital world. The culture at DreamYard Prep encourages teachers, students and staff to try innovative approaches. If you have a crazy idea, you try it out, remix it and make it work. Through this experimentation, we’re trying to achieve our ambitious goal of infusing our curriculum with the arts, social justice and digital learning.
For us, technology is a way of showing what we’ve learned, publishing and amplifying it. Before we started using Google Apps for Education three years ago, we had very basic Word Processing and outdated computers. We wanted to introduce technology that would improve gateway skills like research, communication and productivity. So at the start of the 2011 school year, we created Google accounts for all teachers, students and staff. We now have 650 Apps users and 150 devices, including 60 Chromebooks and 15 tablets. This year, we introduced Classroom to 13 classes across grades and subjects.

By using Google Drive and Classroom, science teacher Emily McLaughlin saves over eight hours each month that was previously spent printing, copying, distributing and grading student packets. Now, she simply creates a Google Doc and uses Classroom to share it with her students. Emily and her students work together in Docs, making edits and conversing through comments. A new set-up in Emily’s classroom reflects this collaborative learning — students gather in pods of four rather than facing the front of the class. These pods of students give each other feedback and answer questions together. Even across classes, students work together. Ninth graders in my digital literacy class, for instance, teach their research skills to 10th graders in Emily’s class. We want students to know they have the power to teach not only themselves, but also each other.

With Google Drive, students can edit, store and share everything. They type assignments in Google Docs, create presentations using Slides, and organize their body of work in Drive folders. At any moment, an administrator can click a button to pull up work by all 370 of our students: .jpgs of visual art projects, English papers, lab reports, and videos of peer interviews. The revision history and comments in Docs allow us to see a project’s evolution over time.

We took this archive one step further and kicked off a portfolio program in partnership with Parsons The New School for Design. Each student creates his or her own blog, archive of work from grades 9-12, and a digital portfolio using Google Sites or platform of choice. The program began last year with four teachers and has since doubled. We hope, over the next several years, to expand the portfolio program to all classes at DreamYard Prep and help every student share his or her story with the world.