Pencils down, time’s up. Flashcards out — and ready, set, go! Capture all multiples of 5 before the timer is up, or game over.
In elementary school, this is how I felt about math. I was always being timed. And I could never finish in time. Tests made me panic, I had to count on my fingers and toes, and my friend was always faster than me when we practiced flashcards. So I didn’t know the material well enough and my friend was smarter, right? That’s what my teacher said. That’s what I thought.
Jo Boaler talks extensively about the need to stop this timed testing madness: Research Suggests Timed Tests Cause Math Anxiety. And I’m so grateful to her for bringing this conversation to the forefront. Timed tests and math anxiety are two topics that hit so close to home for me. (You can read more about why this topic feels so personal here.)
To top this all off, I was a perfectionist. I wanted to raise my hand and participate, but uncertainty, combined with the time-sensitive pressure to be the first to raise my hand to be called on, was often times too much. And so, even though I was always eager to participate, it may not have always seemed this way to my teachers.
Since early in my teaching, reducing anxiety in my classroom has been a huge priority. It’s why I flipped my classroom. A year into flipping my math class, I wrote this post: Teaching with Compassion. Why I ‘Flip’.
In that post, I say:
Let’s rewind to my 2009 AP Calculus class, the year before I started my ‘flipped’ journey. When the bell rang each day, I felt like we all had just stepped off a giant treadmill, running full speed for 45 minutes. I had so much material to get through and a very anxious class; there simply wasn’t enough time to have a calm, excited, inspiring classroom atmosphere. Worst of all, I barely got to hear from students because they were focused on digesting new material. We didn’t have time for the lively, thoughtful discussion that’s necessary to developing higher logic thinking (not to mention where the real fun and ‘secret’ learning happens).
So I asked myself: what’s working, what’s not, and how can I create more time? My solution: eliminate lecture. But how could I pull that off? That summer, I went to a technology conference and learned about Camtasia Studio – a screen capture tool that would allow me to record my screen and audio with rich editing features. I knew this was something that would change my classroom completely, and I haven’t lectured new material in AP Calculus since.
Shifting my classroom dynamic has transformed the relationships I am able to form with my students and has allowed me to bring that compassion back into my teaching, stronger than it ever could have been before. Again, from that same post, I wrote:
To those who say that technology in education feels automated, I would argue the exact opposite. Using technology has brought the compassion back into my classroom, giving me time to hear from my students and to work with them one-on-one, getting to know them better as individuals. It allows me the opportunity to listen to their discussions and see them take ownership for their learning. They’re teaching one another instead of me having to do the majority of instruction, and I am now there to immediately catch a misconception rather than have a student go home and reinforce that mistake.
In the last couple years, I have become really invested in using Pear Deck in my classroom. It gives me a quick snapshot of where everyone in the classroom is in terms of understandings. I can collect very personal information on individual progress, instantaneously, without having to call on students or being swayed by the most vocal person in the class setting the tone for where all students in the class are with the information. It also gives the quiet students, 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 contribution to the discussion. As well, by seeing the results of the class, we are able to discuss why there might be confusion around a topic and I can highlight common errors.
Talking about errors is huge. It’s important not only to show students the correct answer/process, but to also help them identify and explain errors. Pear Deck makes me comfortable having these discussions. When I project answers in Pear Deck, everything is posted anonymously. So if I share a drawing response question where a student has handwritten an answer, we can talk about mistakes without actually identifying who submitted the solution. Multiple choice answers, where a class is split between a correct and incorrect choice, also serves as the basis for powerful discussion. Because Pear Deck gives us an instant breakdown of how the class has responded, we can reason through why there might be confusion.
Note: Of course, my students should not feel ashamed of incorrect responses and I try my best to stress how important mistakes are in the learning process. Still, calling out students when they have an incorrect response in front of the whole class is something I am uncomfortable doing. My hope is that by running class as I do, with that anonymity that Pear Deck provides, will help everyone in my classroom see how many mistakes we all make and hopefully will help them feel less fearful of making errors themselves. I guess it’s just something I wish a teacher would have helped me work through.
Using Pear Deck, not only am I engaging each and every student in the room, but I also am able to provide a safe space for each student to honestly respond. Because projected answers are anonymous, students don’t have to worry about how their peers might perceive their approach to a problem or viewpoint. And let’s go back to that time element. While some students are wonderful with oral discussion and quick, on-the-spot responses, other students need time to process and collect their thoughts. Many of these student benefit from typing an answer and seeing their thoughts written out on the screen. Pear Deck provides this opportunity.
Finally, let me get back to that hand-raising topic I brought up earlier. Even to this day, raising my hand makes my heart beat a bit faster. And I almost immediately become almost incapable of taking in the conversation happening because I get so focused on what I want to say and how I want to say it. Susan Cain talks about hand raising a lot in her research. As teachers, we see it everyday – some students are naturally shy and less likely to raise their hand when they have a question or an answer to provide. Or, if they do raise their hand, they may not raise it high and are probably not vocal, which lessens the probability that I will get over to them as soon as they have a question or that they will be called on first. Additionally, some students process more quickly than others, and students who answer questions more slowly may not always have the time needed to form a response. And boom, I’m back to that time issue!
I’m going to conclude with how I am working on these issues in my classroom. A lot of it boils down to the flipped classroom and using Pear Deck to engage students in discussion. By flipping my class, students watch a video for homework at a pace that best fits them. Students can pause and rewind the video based on how they are processing the lesson. They can look back at old videos as they work to synthesize the material and make connections. In class, instead of standing at the board to deliver what I need to cover for the day, I can sit with individuals and customize class to their needs. I come to class equipped with analytics from the video (students watch the videos in EDpuzzle, where I am able to embed quizzes) so I can pre-identify what needs to be done for the day. Students work on problems in groups, collaboratively, at a pace that suits them. They have plenty of time in class to get problems solved and questions answered. And to chat about their process, reasoning, and thoughts. When I want to engage the class in a full discussion, I usually do this through Pear Deck. This way, I can engage each and every student in the room. No student can be a passive participant, each student must actively engage in the topic at hand. In using Pear Deck, I can give the quiet students and the louder students equal voice. Students have time to process and respond to the question on their own computer screen. They can contribute without needing to raise their hand and we can discuss mistakes without calling any individual student out..
I am thankful to Jo Boaler and Susan Cain for bringing these important topics to the forefront. And I am thankful that technology, such as Pear Deck, can help us address some of these issues in new and exciting ways.