A Tool is Only a Tool Until it is Part of a Solution #edtechchat #edchat @PearDeck @SocraticOrg

So what’s your favorite tech tool of the moment? Show me all of the tech tools that you know! Oh, have you heard of this tech tool?

I hear so much of the above, but this is missing the point! A tool is only a tool until it is part of a solution. What curricular goal are you trying to achieve? What student learning goal? What personal goal?

I have gotten a bit tired of PD and meetings where we are simply exposed to a lot of tools. Don’t get me wrong, these meetings/conferences are usually exhilarating and exciting! But too many times you leave in a whirlwind, a bit overwhelmed, and feeling slammed with more information than you can possibly process. And you have lists of notes that you are going to get to, one day…

At the end of conferences like this, I try and disconnect from the tool and go back to what my classroom looks like. I ask myself: what is going well, what areas could use improvement, what do I wish I had more time for, and where are my connections with students lacking? It is after processing and reflecting on these points that I look back at the tools. Lists of tools are great to have on hand, but I really try to start with the reflective process, not just a cool tool. I try and do the same when working with teachers at my school, as technology coordinator.

So my favorite tools of the moment… One of my favorites right now is Pear Deck. (I talk a bit about it in this post.) But when I show the capabilities of Pear Deck to others, I try not to simply stress how to get up and running with Pear Deck. That part is something you can read in a tutorial. What I try to emphasize is *how* I use Pear Deck and what goals it is helping me achieve. I’m using Pear Deck mainly as a warm up activity. The activity gets students going and energized, but it also gives me a quick snapshot of where everyone in the classroom is in terms of understandings. I can collect very personal information on student progress, instantaneously, without having to call on them or being swayed by the most vocal student in the class setting the tone for where all students in the class are with the information. I also give the quiet students in the classroom, the ones that you don’t particularly want to call out in the middle of class for one reason or another, an opportunity to answer and throw valuable contribution into the discussion. As well, by seeing the results of the class, we are able to discuss why there might be confusion around a topic or I might be able to highlight common errors. Having the actual student responses displayed, anonymously, is great value added to our discussion about the question.

So more procedurally, how I handle Pear Deck:
1. I open the “projector view” in one tab
2. I open the “session dashboard” in another tab
3. I turn on my projector in the classroom and have the “projector view” on the screen
4. I ask a question in Pear Deck with student responses off
5. I freeze my projector so the “projector view” stays on the screen
6. I tab to the “session dashboard” so that I can see results as they are coming in
7. I tab back to the “projector view” and unfreeze the screen
8. When time is up, I “lock student responses” so that their attention is turned back to me
9. We review the question as a class; at this point, I “show student responses” from the “projector view”
10. Later, I can go back to the session dashboard to do a closer read of individual student responses

Note: You might also set up your display preferences to use the projector as a second screen, but since I usually use my projector in mirroring mode, this option isn’t easiest for me.

My next goal is to get back to screencasting with students. I haven’t had much of an opportunity to do this year. But again, I like to start with *why* I see student-created screencasting as a value-added activity.

1. There is great power in teaching a topic. By having to verbalize what you are doing in solving a math problem, you need to truly understand the “why” behind your work and how to connect one step to another. As well, by explaining, you learn.
2. In watching a students’ screencast, I get much better insight into how they’re going about the problem than I can by simply reading over their work. This helps me individualize instruction and when we do these activities before a test, prompts me to have a deeper discussion.
3. Students gain a lot by watching their peers solve a problem. I have a whole bank of student created videos to past AP problems that students use to review. They tend to talk the “same language” as they are going through many of the same struggles in understanding and maybe they’ve worked out a way to break down a problem slightly different than my explanation would be.

How I hope to build this on the idea of students helping other students with year year:
In addition to creating screencasts just for our class, I am trying to use Socratic to allow students to do both written answers (detailing their explanation in both words and equations) and to create quick video tutorials to share with the online community. We have started the written responses (see this post for details) and getting some screencasts up will be our next step.

So this post has drifted a bit into my personal goals. But I’m leaving it that way :) The point I was trying to get at in beginning this post is that it’s not about the tool but about how you use that tool and what goals the tool will help address!

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