I had the opportunity to talk about how I work with the teachers at my school to not simply integrate technology into the classroom, but to help transform the classroom environment to one where students are at the center and actively engaging with and participating in their learning. I wanted to share that article here.
“Technology is at its best when it does not simply replace an old tool, but transforms the way we approach teaching and learning,” says Roshan, “We need to leverage technology to create a truly engaging classroom.” When you take a step back to see what is now possible that simply was not before, she explains, technology can enable teachers to bring their craft to the next level by changing the way classroom time is used and making it possible to delve into a new level of individualization. “If we empower students with the resources they need and coach them through the process of using these tools, then students can take ownership for their learning. And that’s where the magic happens!” she continues.
Roshan works to facilitate this magic with the help of carefully chosen tech tools including Pear Deck, Flipgrid, and Edpuzzle. The tools allow teachers to see how students are absorbing material, what they’re reviewing, what they’re questioning, and hear what they’ve got cold and what is still shaky. Teachers can get to know how each of their students thinks and learns. So at Bullis, teachers use educational technology (edtech) to reach that next level by asking, “How can I provide students the resources…to discover the material on their own?” Roshan says. “It’s a way to provide individualized education, but less in-your-face differentiation.”
Bullis teachers use the tools to plan student-driven classes and set the stage for progress and discovery. These tools provide a way for teachers to hear from each student at multiple points throughout a lesson or homework.
One of the most effective teaching tools is Pear Deck. With Pear Deck, a teacher asks questions throughout a lesson and can view and/or display the results in real time. Instead of calling on one or two raised hands, every student responds to the prompt. That gives the teacher information about whether students are grasping the material, or whether they need to spend more time on a concept. “While student response systems have been around for a while, what sets Pear Deck apart is that students receive auto-generated take-aways so that they can take their notes, responses and teacher’s material with them at the end of class,” says Jamie Dickie. This tool also enables students who don’t want to participate, for instance, those who feel shy, or those who need a moment to think, to show what they know.
Teachers gain experience with the tools at Bullis meetings. For instance, Upper School Principal Bobby Pollicino sends out a Pear Deck before faculty meetings. Teachers come prepared and administrators have modeled the tool. “We’re not big on tech training. We’re big on modeling,” says Roshan. That approach has resulted in the broad adoption of tech tools across Bullis classrooms. In Maureen Martin’s health classes, students recently launched into a lesson on Stages of Sleep by engaging with a Pear Deck prompting them to wonder, then watch to learn, and reflect to demonstrate their new knowledge. Dr. B’s Anatomy & Physiology students practice making incisions using the drawing tool and pull up the collective responses of the class on the board to review and discuss.
Roshan is an edtech thought leader who pioneered a new way of teaching by flipping her AP Calculus classroom in 2010. That means she recorded lessons and assigned them to students as homework. In class, her students did problem sets. So when someone hit a bump, they were in a room with a teacher and fellow students. She empathizes with those students who engage with their lessons but won’t raise their hand. That was her, she says. By keeping her memory of her own school experiences fresh, Roshan evaluates tools and suggests uses, supporting colleagues’ tech innovation.
Students like that thrive with Flipgrid, an easy-to-use video discussion board that enables students to submit a short video response to a prompt. In Kerry Hosmer’s English classes at Bullis, this has meant giving advice to a book character using analysis of the book and characters. At staff meetings, it has provided a place to report out from icebreaker activities. During club fairs, various clubs have posted promo videos to enable participants to evaluate their interest. Bullis Spanish classes, taught by Maris Hawkins, have branched out to other schools to create a wider, authentic audience for students to practice conversation.
“The beauty of Flipgrid is you hear a different voice from the student,” says Roshan. Rather than calling on a single student, a teacher can ask all the students to record and share an answer to a question.
Edpuzzle allows teachers to share a video with students, and to splice questions, prompts, and space for questions throughout the video. And, like the other two tools, it provides teachers with great analytical data about how the students engaged with the material. “It’s a way to gather data to set the tone for class before students even walk into the classroom. These analytics directly inform what needs attention for the day. Instead of the question being, ‘what content do I need to deliver today, the focus can be, ‘how do I best address the questions that students are actually struggling with?'”
At Bullis, this embrace of technology is in keeping with a widespread willingness among teachers and other school leaders to try anything that might help a student learn better.