Using edtech to enhance creative learning

Stacey Roshan

Stacey Roshan is Upper School technology coordinator and Maths teacher at Bullis School. She has a keen interest in discovering innovative tools to engage students and personalise instruction. She has spent a lot of time working to flip the Mathematics classroom in an effort to shift the culture to a more participatory learning space. Her work on the flipped classroom has been featured in major newspapers such as USA Today, CNN, and The Washington Post, and television on PBS Newshour.

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Image courtesy of author. Image courtesy of author.

I am entering into my 11th year teaching. Looking back on my journey, it is clear to me that my fascination with technology and its role in the classroom has been the most transformative element of my teaching career. Embracing new tech tools and dreaming up ways to effectively implement them in the classroom has been a truly creative outlet for me, and one that has pushed me to be innovative, thoughtful, and intentional in all that I do and create.

My journey into edtech started in 2010 when I had this “not enough time” problem in teaching AP Calculus AB. I simply did not have the time to address students’ needs as individuals, and my classroom was not the “Peer-to-peer teaching allows for powerful learning moments.”calm, inspired space I had envisioned. I began offloading my AP Calculus lectures to video in the fall of 2010. Flipping my classroom transformed the dynamic of my classroom -- allowing me to make class time about student needs instead of being driven by the content that I needed to get through. By sending the teacher-directed portion of lessons home, I was able to free up class time for the real work: delving deeper into topics, discussion, and collaborative problem-solving.

A Welcome to My Flipped Classroom:

YouTube link

Since that time, my flipped classroom model has evolved to better utilise tech tools to personalise instruction by collecting data on understandings before students even walk into the classroom. I use EDpuzzle to embed quiz questions into the video lessons I assign and to track analytics, such as areas of the video a student skipped or had to rewind multiple times. Equipped with this data, I can zone in on both how the class is doing as a whole and how individual students are doing to customize instruction for the day.

This past school year, I taught a purely online section of my AP Calculus class. One of my biggest goals, as a teacher, is to build strong relationships within the classroom. Ensuring this sense of a connected, class community in a purely online environment was one of my biggest priorities in developing the course. Peer-to-peer teaching allows for powerful learning moments - explaining a solution helps solidify concepts and deepen understandings - and preserving these conversations, even in an online environment, was essential in my mind. Not to mention, I love hearing my students chat things out loud so that I can listen to their thought process. It is in these moments that I get the best understanding of my students’ strengths and weaknesses, where I can ways to help them build confidence and maximise success.

So I got a bit creative in deciding how I was going to create this strong sense of community into my online course. I looked at what was trending among start-ups: Slack. This real-time messaging platform, available on all devices, seemed like the perfect solution. On the phone, it feels very much like you are text messaging a friend for help, which makes it simple to use and I knew would appeal to high school students. Additionally, it is a powerful application that allows for integrations, archiving, and searching. Slack was a total hit with my online students - in their end of year evaluations, nearly all students mentioned loving Slack, in fact. Throughout the year, we used Slack to problem-solve collaboratively and as a Q&A forum. Students would also direct message me with individual questions, and I was able to send them private feedback.

A Peek Intro Our Online Class:

YouTube link

In addition to the asynchronous solution that Slack provided, we did twice-weekly videos chats: one teacher-led, full class video chat, and one student-led, small group video chat. Hands-down, one of the components of the course that I am most grateful for having set up was the recorded, small group video discussion requirement. The exact expectations were:

“Small Group Google Hangout: Each week, you must independently coordinate a Google Hangout with two other classmates. You will record your Hangout via YouTube Live. This session should last about 30 minutes. In your session, you should focus on helping one another work through problems as you would do if you were tasked with completing a worksheet in class. The name of the game is collaboration, and this is what I’ll be looking for! You should be guiding one another to gaining stronger understandings of the material.”

Collaboration and peer-to-peer learning are the name of the game in this activity! As I mentioned above, there is tremendous power in peer-to-peer learning. And for me, as the teacher, I was able to gain so much insight into individual and class needs by reviewing these videos. Because I was not actually part of their video session, students were empowered to lead the discussion and were less hesitant to suggest their own ideas than if they knew I was there for backup. There is tremendous power in hearing students problem-solve together and chat out problem spots with their peers. This recorded, small group video hangout requirement was one more way that I was able to hear my students’ voice, reasoning, approach, and thought process. Not only did this activity foster a greater sense of class community, but it also required students to set up and lead these meetings - a skill that will certainly be essential in their real-world lives.

Opportunities for students to verbally ‘chat things out’ and process information orally are critically important. Discussion boards and instant messaging are awesome, but there is something about hearing students talk that helps me feel more connected to them. It also helps with differentiation, as some students are stronger verbally than in writing. So I decided to build in another forum for this type of work mid-way through the year.

I turned to another edtech tool: Flipgrid. In playing around with the Flipgrid app on my iPhone, I thought to myself -- what better way to have students informally reason their way through a Maths solution than by using a device they all have in their pockets? For the first activity, I asked my students to pick a problem from homework they at first felt challenged by but now felt more confident about.

After neatly writing this solution on a piece of paper, I asked them to open the Flipgrid app on their phone. They were to alternate between the front and rear-facing cameras to first record their “Reaching beyond what was possible without the technology is essential.”lovely face introducing the problem, and then flip to the back camera to point at their handwritten work and to voiceover their process in moving from step to step in the solution. Using this method, I was able to hear how students were analysing the problem. When students hand in a worksheet, I am able to see the series of steps they followed, but I am not able to hear their approach or the justification for the process they chose. In addition to helping me target individual needs and see the deeper connections my students were making, this activity helped my students solidify their understanding of problems since no step could be glossed over.

In conclusion, I think it’s important to acknowledge that technology is ever-growing and rapidly changing. I truly believe that edtech can personalise the classroom and engage students in phenomenal ways. However, being creative in coming up with new solutions and reaching beyond what was possible without the technology is essential. If we simply take old lessons and slap some technology on them, we are missing out. For me, coming up with each of the solutions I have talked about above has been an iterative process of creativity, trial, reflection, and refinement. I believe that has been a key element to successful implementation for me, and is something I remind myself of constantly: to slow down, be deliberate, and follow a design process that will ensure I achieve the goals I initially set out for myself.

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