Question: When does a middle school become a university?

Answer: When Melissa Middle School played host to Droid University on Aug. 1.

Melissa ISD hosted the first-of-its-kind event, an Android-based education conference centered on the use of the Android operating system in the classrooms, for more than 150 people. As MISD Director of Technology Dr. Brian Brown pointed out, there are plenty of Apple-centric conferences out there in the wild but nothing specifically dedicated to the Android tablets. And with several school districts — notably Melissa and Van Alstyne, locally — opting for the lower-cost Android system the time was right for such a happening. Melissa began handing Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 tablets to teachers in March and has begun the process of putting one in the hands of each of its eighth grade students this Fall with plans to supply seventh graders with a table following the Christmas break. Van Alstyne implemented the dispersal of the tablets last school year, pushing out 225 tablets after Christmas and plan to hand out another 125 to eighth graders when they return to school at the end of August.

DroidU, as the event was dubbed, hosted teachers, administrators and IT personnel from districts across the state. With the proliferation of Android tablets in the classroom now is the time to capitalize on the wealth of possibilities the small but powerful tablets open up to teachers and students. Networking and classroom sessions gave DroidU participants the chance to meet and talk with scores of different people on their usage and ideas regarding the tablets in the classroom, and DroidU sessions featured different presenters from all sectors of the education system.

"The presenters have done a great job. We’ve had a lot of presenters from our district, we’ve had teachers, we’ve had administrators, we had four students actually present and give a student’s perspective on how to use technology in the classroom which has been really interesting," said MISD Superintendent Dr. Jason Smith. "We’ve had at least six to eight technology directors from other districts come. It’s been a very good day."

DroidU was a one-day event with different topics being presented in different classrooms. Topics included, "Flipping the Math Classroom," "Android from a Student’s Perspective," "Utilizing Android OS," and "Capture their Thinking," among others.

In one classroom a panel made up of Smith, Van Alstyne Technology Director Kenneth Daniel, teachers and a student discussed equating tablets to text books, the problems and successes with integrating tablets in the classroom, the realities of the short tech life of e-devices and engaging kids through technology. Audience members took the opportunity to question Daniel specifically on Van Alstyne ISD’s experience with the devices.

"I thought it was great; it’s peaking a lot of interest [and] keeping teachers focused on the Android and how they can use it in class and all the tech people here on how best they can serve the teachers and students," said Daniel. "Android is popular but not as popular as Apple but I think it’s growing. It’s affordable for districts being an open-source OS [operating system.] We want to make sure we keep the teachers informed on how best to use it."

Todd Dickerson, a seventh grade history teacher at Melissa Middle School, also served as a presenter during DroidU as well as an interested attendee. Dickerson was part of the MISD group that got their tablets months earlier, and he said he liked what he saw on this Thursday.

"A couple of us were asked to present our knowledge, what we knew about the Android. We really didn’t know what people were bringing in, but as I go through it it’s been kind of enlightening because you get different aspects from different campuses," stated Dickerson during a break between DroidU classes. "I’m really starting to see the technology use in the classroom, and I’m really trying to start developing that in all aspects.

"You can definitely cut down on a lot of the classroom time used to instruct, get them to do activities, those kinds of things because you can start flipping that classroom, making them do it at home," he added. "Then coming in [to the classroom] you’re geared more toward discussion, actual learning and doing rather than being droned out by a lecture or taking notes. You can come to class and do."

The day was wrapped up with a reflection and networking session in the school gymnasium as teacher, administrators and IT directors sat together at lunch tables to talk about everything they had seen and heard throughout the day.

"Today our first annual DroidU has been a great success," Smith said near the end of the event. "The feedback that I’m getting from everyone has been very energetic, very positive."

Thanks to a solid turnout and good buzz, DroidU just might make another appearance next year.