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Put pedagogy before tech

By Stacey Roshan
January 19, 2017
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Technology provides a powerful way to engage students, inform individual and group instruction, differentiate instruction, document work and empower students to direct their own learning. But if you want technology to be a transformative force in your classroom, school or district, you have to start with “why?” 

At Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, we strive to use and implement cutting-edge technology, but we fully realize that while technology can be a solution to many of our problems, we must start with the pedagogy.

As both a teacher and technology coordinator, I know the importance of finding simple solutions that keep the focus on the learning. One way to ensure we start the conversation with the pedagogy is to identify go-to tools that teachers can learn and know well.

Maintaining a small suite of tools also helps our students become comfortable and fluent with tools that will boost their learning and productivity and serve them well in the long run.

One of our big aims at Bullis — or the “why” behind the tool — has been finding ways to personalize the learning experience using analytics to inform class and individual needs. Two tools that I heavily rely on for this are Pear Deck and EDpuzzle.

EDpuzzle is a site that allows users to select a video and customize it by editing, cropping, recording audio and adding questions to make an engaging and interactive lesson. Students can watch the video at home, and teachers can access details such as when the student watched, areas a student skipped or had to rewind, and responses to the free-response and multiple-choice questions the teacher has embedded.

When I review the analytics dashboard in EDpuzzle, I am looking for both how the class is doing as a whole (in the Questions tab), and how individual students are doing (in the Students tab). This gives me a sense of how to customize instruction before students even walk into the room, and I can determine who needs individualized attention and who might be able to lead a small-group discussion.

Pear Deck allows teachers to ask questions within a presentation and display the responses of the class on the board anonymously. Teachers can create a guided activity in Pear Deck to ramp students up to thinking about and answering bigger picture questions.

They can also gauge the tone of the classroom, see where students are leaning on a debate topic or just run a quick warm-up activity to identify where students are at on any particular day.

Pear Deck requires each student to engage and respond, but allows them to do so anonymously, ensuring that students feel comfortable and safe from ridicule or judgment.

In a traditional class discussion, students must raise their hands to respond and might be conscious of what their peers think of their answer. Pear Deck removes this barrier by displaying responses without names (teachers can go back later to a separate dashboard to review by individual). Thus, the teacher can talk about and analyze the incorrect answers without calling any individual student out.

Here are the primary reasons Pear Deck and EDPuzzle are go-to tools in my school:

They provide each student in the classroom an equal voice. In a traditional classroom discussion, students are called on or raise their hands to respond. As a result, teachers often repeatedly hear from the same students. In contrast, Pear Deck and EDpuzzle provide each student an opportunity to respond individually.

They engage each student in the room. With these tools, each student is required to actively participate and respond to each question, form an opinion, and submit an answer.

They create a safe space for each student to honestly respond and make mistakes. Answers are anonymous to the group so students don’t have to worry about how their peers might perceive their answers or worry about answering incorrectly.

They allow educators to efficiently and effectively target class and individual student needs. The analytics provided show class trends and also provide indicators of individual students who are struggling.

They differentiate how students can respond to questions. While some students are wonderful with oral discussion and on-the-spot responses, other students are best when they have time to process, collect their thoughts and type an answer.

Something I value most about working at Bullis is how our technology training is integrated into a big-picture discussion about learning and teaching. Therefore, our training goes beyond how to set up activities in EDpuzzle and Pear Deck. We focus on how to use the analytics to inform class and individual instruction.

This is an ongoing process. We started the school year with some training on both tech tools, focused just on getting everyone familiar with the teacher and student experience in each of these platforms.

From there, we talked about possible classroom applications, from doing a quick warm up to assessing the classroom climate to creating an advanced fully interactive presentation with opportunities for revision and reflection.

Our next step will be professional development focused on what formative assessment means. We will infuse the tech training into our discussion so that teachers can practice using Pear Deck to gather real-time analytics by applying the best teaching practices shared in the discussion about formative assessment. I look forward to moving to this next step and seeing where our discussion will carry us!

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Stacey Roshan is Upper School technology coordinator and math teacher at Bullis School. She has a keen interest in discovering and bringing innovative tools into the classroom to engage students. She can be found tweeting @buddyxo and blogging at