Interviews – Elementary (Grade 5/6) and Secondary (Senior Sciences)

I conducted two interviews, as I was interested to see the differences between the uses of digital technology in elementary and secondary classrooms.

Key words: accommodation, accountability, communication, collaboration, engagement.

Abstract for Interview #1 (Teacher T, Secondary, Senior Sciences):

Interview #1 (Interview length: 21 minutes 12 seconds): Teacher T is a teacher in a small town in northwestern British Columbia (population between 5500-6000). The interview with Teacher T took place in the afternoon, after students had been dismissed, in Teacher T’s classroom. Teacher T is a secondary science teacher who is teaching Biology 11&12, Chemistry 11&12, and Science 10 this school year. Teacher T has been teaching for twenty-five years and considers herself seven years away from retirement. Teacher T did not review the interview questions ahead of time.

In the interview with Teacher T, three significant themes emerged: The ability to accommodate learners who lead lives that include travel (i.e., extracurricular sports, vacations) or who are ill and are unable to attend class, and at the same time increase accountability in her learners; the importance of decreasing anxiety and providing review for students outside the classroom; and the opportunity digital technology provides for the teacher to move more freely around the classroom in order to assess learning, as well as misconceptions, during class time, rather than waiting for a submitted work assignment or test.

Teacher T began using technology when some of her students, who were on the school wrestling team, were going to be absent in the week leading up to a provincial exam, and would be “missing some crucial lessons.” In order to provide the students with the lessons, the teacher recorded and uploaded the lessons, sending them via a link to enable the students to prepare for their exam during their absence. From there, Teacher T’s use of technology to provide recorded lessons for students to access away from the classroom has grown to include the Camtasia program, Moodle and YouTube platforms, a class set of iPads (through a $10,000 grant), and lessons delivered in a Flipped Classroom style. With the posting of lessons online, Teacher T is able to accommodate learners during absences. In addition to this, Teacher T points out, “it keeps them accountable because often they’ll say, “Well, I wasn’t here” but the lesson was loaded…So that’s not really an excuse anymore and for those kids, you know, that are doing those extracurriculars…they don’t get quite as stressed because they know the lesson’s there.” Today, Teacher T records most lessons and uploads them to YouTube, then posts the link on her class Moodle site for students to access. The addition of a YouTube link allows students to access lessons using their phones from anywhere with internet service. Students without internet access can download lessons to a stick (using KeepVid) prior to leaving school, so accommodations are made for students without internet access.

As Teacher T teaches primarily senior science classes, many students deal with stress and anxiety around learning concepts, or being absent and getting behind quickly. However, with the lessons posted online, students are able to access the information needed from the day’s class. “Kids will come back after being sick and they’ve already watched the lesson, so I don’t have to reteach; I just get to help them with it.” Teacher T has also developed Moodle lessons which provide practice questions online that students can watch and pause, as they work through the questions and answers, step-by-step, outside the classroom “…they’re hearing me, and they’re hearing what I want, they’re hearing what I want to see.” Students receive the review they need, and class expectations are reinforced as well. As Teacher T pointed out, “the kids enjoy it. They don’t panic as much when they’re missing classes. They rewatch them too. Especially those who are really anxious students.” Teacher T has also integrated a Flipped Classroom approach into some of her more difficult lessons, allowing students more time to prepare for classes dealing with challenging concepts. For example, students might be given three to four days to prepare at home by watching lessons and taking notes before a lesson on a particularly difficult concept, “Because it’s a difficult concept, so they’ve had time to look at the words and be familiar with them and then have a major discussion.”

Finally, the use of digital technology has allowed Teacher T the opportunity to move around the classroom to check students’ comprehension and misconceptions. Because most lessons are recorded and Teacher T now has some backup lessons, there are days that she can have students listen to a pre-recorded lesson (each student or partnership has access to an iPad and headphones) while she goes around to each student individually to discuss their understanding and answer any questions, providing her with valuable one-on-one time with her students. This has also provided her with the opportunity to work with small groups on practice questions, diagrams on whiteboards, and so on, to check and assess learning and comprehension, “So they’re still getting that lesson, but they’re getting more group time…”

Full interview transcript for Interview #1: Interview 1 – Teacher T – interview transcript

 

Abstract for Interview #2 (Teacher A, Elementary, Grade 5/6 split class, French Immersion):

Interview #2 (Interview length: 19 minutes 27 seconds): Teacher A is also a teacher in a small town in northwestern British Columbia (population between 5500-6000). The interview with Teacher A took place during Teacher A’s lunch hour in a learning support room in the school where Teacher A works. Teacher A is in her 30’s and has been teaching for eight years (with some time away in between due to maternity leaves). She originally trained as a secondary science teacher, but has taught in classrooms as young as kindergarten. She is currently employed as a full-time French Immersion teacher in a K-7, dual-track school (French/English), teaching in a grade 5/6 split class. Teacher A requested, and was given, questions ahead of time in order to prepare some notes for the interview.

There were three significant themes that I felt came out in my interview with Teacher A: Enhanced learning experiences for students (which included increased engagement); the opportunity to engage with peers to collaborate in group project environments; and an increased ability to communicate with parents, and to include parents in their child’s learning.

Teacher A began our interview by referencing a quote (uncited) that she had heard, “…about teaching kids nowadays for a future that doesn’t technically exist yet…so you’ve got to teach them the skills to be able to work in a future that doesn’t exist.” In order to do this, Teacher A ensures that her students have access to a variety of technologies and programs, such as iPads, iMovie, Scratch, Plickers, Mr. Naussbaum (math games), math manipulatives games, YouTube, and [Class]Dojo. She also emphasized that she uses her digital projector and document camera daily and considers those two pieces of equipment the “two top technologies” for her classroom. Teacher A pointed out that today, “…education isn’t just about memorizing facts and vocabulary words. It’s about solving complex problems and being able to collaborate with others. So working using that technology as that piece to collaborate with others and how am I going to teach them to use those tools that don’t exist yet.”

To collaborate with others, students are given many options to complete group assignments as assessments of learning. For example, students are currently completing culminating projects for their French verbs, with groups completing iMovies (“How do you teach French verbs to make it fun? You make an iMovie, right?” ~ Teacher A), posters, songs, and so on. Teacher A keeps only six student iPads in her room, which ensures that students learn to share and work collaboratively to complete assignments and projects.

To communicate with parents and increase parents’ ability to connect with her classroom and stay informed about what students are learning, Teacher A uses both Facebook and FreshGrade on an ongoing basis. At the beginning of each week, Teacher A lets parents know what key concepts will be covered, as well as posting spelling words, major school events, and so on. In addition to this, videos of activities or projects taken during the week may be posted as well. Teacher A attempted to create a class blog (first two months of this school year), but found Facebook “…way more accessible for parents because not a lot of people check a blog… Everybody checks Facebook and so it’s just, it’s an easy way to communicate with parents…and students.” While Teacher A admits that FreshGrade is time consuming, she says it has been “a good way to communicate” with parents and has allowed her to see which parents are accessing their children’s work through the system. In addition to this, these platforms have allowed parents to provide comments and feedback regarding class activities and student work.

Full interview transcript for Interview #2: Interview 2 – Teacher A – interview transcript

10 comments

  1. Good Morning Mary,

    I’m happy to see a group of teachers comfortably using technology and the insights that this provides. i am currently working through a synthesis of your interview with Gloria, Anne, and my own. It is interesting that each of these interviews captured a different type of teacher-technology interaction. In your interview we have a late and a mid career teacher who are very comfortable with technology. Anne’s interviews featured early and mid career teachers trying to improve their technology skills. Gloria’s interview featured a technology resistant new teacher and mine was with a moderately skilled early-mid career teacher.

    It seems like your interviewee’s came to an intrinsic motivation with regards to their own technology learning. Your first teacher in particular seems to be a case in “Necessity is the mother of all invention”. This is were a lot of my technology use came from originally but from the angle of an overwhelming number of students and needing to organize and communicate with them all.

    The accountability piece is also a major one for me. It really helps reinforce that you must meet your work commitments both in school and beyond while helping students in diverse situations achieve this.

    The sharing of devices really mirrored the research Dr. Mishra has done in India with collaborative learning in rural settings. His findings showed large benefits to group learning and mentoring when it came to learning technology over individual use. It seems like this approach would help to alleviate some of the concerns noted in other interviews with insufficient resources. My concern though would be how to pursue individualized education and assessment with device sharing. In our district, the assessment policy requires that assessments of a students learning be strictly and solely their learning and not that of others. In a social constructivist classroom, this seems pretty backwards but it is what it is and it makes group project assessment a real pain. Have you run across any potential solutions to showing individual learning/differentiation while using shared devices that could be helpful?

    Yours is the last interview I need for my synthesis. I will post a link back here once it is complete in case you are interested in the findings.

    – Dan

    1. Hi Dan,

      Your question about pursuing individualized education and assessment with device sharing is an interesting one and one that, I suppose, would have to be addressed on a project-by-project basis. While we do not have the same policy as you in effect, it is equally important for us to be able to assess the learning of individuals as well. I cannot speak for the teacher I interviewed herself, but because I know her outside of the interview and I am familiar with some of her classroom strategies, I can tell you that she does do quite a bit of individual assessment outside of the project work. For example, my guess would be that the French Verbs project is really a way to reinforce learning of the French verbs and the actual assessment of learning will be in writing samples she evaluates later from the students. I know that for subjects like math, she also uses the iPads as a tool for an individual student as part of her math “stations”. Students rotate through four to five math stations, with only one of the stations having the iPads.
      Having said that, I think your question is one that we must all keep in mind as we plan group projects, especially when it is the culminating project for a unit that is ending and will not really be revisited (i.e., many units in science).

      Thank you for your response and reflections!

      Mary

  2. Thank you for sharing your interviews, they left me with many reflections. When considering teacher “T” I began to reflect on online lessons and the flipped classroom model. As I delve deeper into the idea of math/sciences and the incorporation of technology I continue to see various models being used. In terms of the flipped classroom model, I wonder if the teaching method is being altered or if it is remanling as a “lecture” style of teaching. In the online flipped classroom there are many opportunities to change the teaching model, but I wonder if it is usually used to convey information instead of having students investigate, create or have hands-on opportunities. Since I teach in an elelementary setting (grade 2) the flipped classroom is only beginning to be used in our school in the intermediate grades, and in a very limited way. I assume that simulations, videos and project style learning could all be facilitated through the flipped classroom, but again in the sciences the hands-on component seems to be lacking. I do not say this as a negative, just as a thought that I am pondering. Regards.

    1. HI Michelle,

      My understanding from the interview, and from knowing the teacher’s work outside of the interview, is the teacher uses Camtasia to record everything she has done for the lesson on the laptop. She does not like to record her face, as she mentioned in the interview, so she instead can pull up sheets, use her tablet as a writing tool for equations, and so on. I believe that she incorporates many different strategies in her recordings; they are not just her voice. I know that she also uses the “flipped classroom” model only for the very difficult concepts, as a way to allow students to begin to grasp a concept and become familiar with vocabulary before they discuss in class. This means that once they get to the concept in class, they can spend the entire class discussing the concept based on what they already know rather than going into it without any prior knowledge.

      Thank you for your reflections and comments,
      Mary

  3. Hi Everyone,
    After reading Mary’s post and the replies I had a couple of thoughts. First, like Daniel, I felt happy that there seemed to be somewhere using technology for more than games and videos. Of course, it also donned on me that these teachers had access to a lot of technology that many of us may not.
    Janelle Therien, a fellow MET student, who teaches at NorQuest College in Edmonton (a majority of First Nations learners trying to upgrade their education) also found it very helpful to have students work in small groups with tech devices. If she had the students use their phones, she had them form small groups and only use one phone, this helped eliminate the problem of those who did not have a device of their own and aided in collaboration.

    In terms of the flipped classroom, I know the secondary school in our area tried it a few years ago and it basically flopped. Students were not watching the videos at home and therefore the classroom became a place where the teacher stood there watching the students watch the videos of them teaching. Once the students watched the video, then they could begin the activity but time always ran out. I am sure there were ways around this but I know our highschool just threw in the towel. As Michelle asked in her reply my understanding was teachers using the flipped method at the highschool basically stood there and lectured to the camera rather than change the model of their delivery. Perhaps this had something to do with students not engaging with the material at home when there are so many other things competing for their attention.

    Catherine

    1. Hi Catherine,

      One of the teachers I interview has been very lucky as she was awarded a $10,000 grant to support her use of technology in the classroom. I do not know of many others who have applied for and received a grant like this, which would likely make her one of the few with an entire set of class iPads all to herself. This, of course, helps her to integrate technology into her classroom – she knows that everyday she will have her iPads there to use. The other teacher, as mentioned, has simply asked to keep six iPads in her class, which was granted as many classrooms are using the iPads only sporadically. She will sign out the entire class set of iPads (the school has 30 iPads) if she needs them, but this is a rare event she told me and usually six is enough.

      As far as the flipped classroom goes, the teacher I interviewed does not like to show her face on the recordings, so she uses Camtasia to record working through formulas on her tablet, bringing up worksheets and creating equations, in addition to her voice giving the lesson. She will use it to write an equation and then go through the equation step-by-step (writing on the tablet) so that students can work through each question as needed (and see all of the steps in the process). While this might not work for every classroom, it has worked very well for her. In part, this is likely due to the fact that she generally teaches the senior science courses (Biology and Chemistry 11 & 12) and so often has students who are academically inclined to begin with. In another setting, I would agree that this might not work as well, but as you pointed out, we adapt to what works, discarding what doesn’t and trying again!

      Thank you for your response and reflections,
      Mary

  4. Hi Mary!

    I was very impressed in reading that two teachers who were at very different stages in their teaching careers but both had positive attitudes towards using technology in the classroom. To me that suggests, if use of any technology no matter how small can bring about a real difference in student learning, that it should be pursued. It was great to see the flipped model adopted by Teacher T. At Wapaskwa Virtual Collegiate, similar to reasons like students missing classes due to field trips, or sports trips, we are planning and organizing moving away from synchronous live classes to a more flipped/independent class model.

    Although there are many challenges with using technology, it is exciting to see the teachers you interviewed with have taken the necessary steps to overcome these challenges and enhance the learning of their students.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Vibhu

  5. Mary,
    I read that the interviewee, in an effort to address challenging concepts, the teacher has employed a flipped classroom, “allowing students more time to prepare for classes dealing with challenging concepts. For example, students might be given three to four days to prepare at home by watching lessons and taking notes before a lesson on a particularly difficult concept, “Because it’s a difficult concept, so they’ve had time to look at the words and be familiar with them and then have a major discussion.” It’s interesting to contrast this with an interview and study I did some years ago where the teacher thought about how alternative conceptions might develop this way or become further entrenched and advised the students not to read about the topic before class (just know the units and what they mean). Samia

    1. Thank you for your response, Dr. Khan. That is a very interesting comparison and one I did not think to question during my interview with Teacher T. At the time, I thought Teacher T’s “flipped” approach seemed like an excellent way for students to prepare themselves so that they entered the classroom with some prior knowledge and feeling less anxious about a difficult concept. Having read your response, however, I wish I had asked Teacher T about this perspective and how she attempts to address misconceptions within her classroom in relation to the “flipped” model. I know that in general, she does ask the students many, many questions when they ask her for help in an attempt figure out where their misconceptions are (she did tell me this as part of a general discussion we had prior to the interview when I was describing what aspects of this course (in this case, misconceptions in science) stood out for me). Now that I reflect back, reading and developing understandings ahead of time certainly does seem to lend itself to the development of misconceptions when I consider this in relation to the Harvard video and readings we did around the development of misconceptions in science. It is so difficult to know what the “right” approach is! I find it interesting that we are often told as educators that strategies like pre-teaching vocabulary are important for learners who struggle in order to provide them with prior knowledge and a foundation from which to build. However, even the pre-teaching of vocabulary words could easily lead to the creation of misconceptions. So do we pre-teach to lower anxiety and give students a “step-up”? Or do we eliminate the pre-teaching in an attempt to limit the misconceptions that will inevitably develop for a concept?

      Mary

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