Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series.
When I think back to high school math, I remember feeling scared. Despite my love for the subject (math was always my favorite) and the fact that I had a natural affinity for it, I often dreaded math class. The fast-paced lectures flew over my head, and it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to process my notes at home that the connections would start to snap into place. It was in those moments that math became fun – like the instant a puzzle you’re working on starts to take shape.
But in the classroom, I was constantly scared that I wouldn’t have the right answer. As a student, my mindset was that everything needed to be perfect; anything less was unacceptable. This pursuit of perfection made me feel in a constant state of unease. The fear of not meeting expectations and being put on the spot when called on in class prevented me from fully engaging in my learning and took a toll on my confidence.
“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 and be called on, was oftentimes too much. And so, even though I was always eager to participate, it may not have always seemed this way to my teachers.” –Stacey Roshan, Tech with Heart
On top of this obsession to always have the right answer, I rarely felt like I had enough time to think before being called on or before a classmate would shoot up their hand to answer. So, even though I was good at math, I started feeling like I wasn’t measuring up and wasn’t as smart as those who consistently spoke up first.
Too often, we inadvertently give weight to the ideas of the most vocal and quick-to-respond individuals. When we don’t give everyone time to formulate their responses or share in a format that best fits their style, we miss out on the chance to showcase the diverse range of perspectives and problem-solving approaches present in the room. When we fail to hear from every voice, everyone misses out.
Because of my own struggles as a student, I have made it my mission as a teacher to find ways to shine the spotlight on the unique voices and personalities in my classroom. I strive to find ways to celebrate the diverse approaches that students choose rather than focusing on a singular correct answer. Technology has been instrumental in providing a safe space for all students to contribute and ensuring that all thoughts are acknowledged. With the right tools in hand and well-designed lessons, the last person to respond has the same opportunity for their reply to drive the conversation further as the first.
Using the right technology, I not only discovered a way to hear from students like me—the quieter ones, the processors, and those hesitant to answer first—but I also found a way to hear from every individual in the room. Here are some key strategies that have helped achieve this:
Leveraging Technology for Inclusive and Empowering Classrooms
As a math teacher, I often see students come in with a preconceived notion that, in math class, there is a “right” answer or a “wrong” answer to a problem. If their answer doesn’t match what they see in the back of their textbook or on the last page of the worksheet, they have failed. This type of thinking is what turns so many students off to math. There’s so much more to math than a correct versus incorrect answer.
How can we celebrate and showcase a diversity of thought and problem-solving approaches in the classroom? How can we reward the solution process in our class discussions and grading? I believe that we can incorporate easy-to-use web apps and educational technology tools to address these questions and cultivate deeper compassion in our classrooms.
What’s more, equipped with these tools, we can shift the focus from a "first is best" culture to one that values every student's contribution. Let’s look at some strategies that help teachers see and hear students working in real-time and utilize technology to foster collaboration, build student confidence, and encourage inclusive participation, ultimately creating a classroom where all students can thrive.
Strategies and Tools
How can we leverage simple web apps to establish a safe learning environment where all students feel empowered to share their ideas in a format that is most comfortable to them? By integrating technology intentionally, educators can provide a platform for students to contribute in a style that is optimal for them so that we’re able to build next-level relationships and trust.
Reducing stress and making the most of face-to-face time
Providing videos for students to watch at their own pace for homework or while working on a class activity can be a powerful shift in how class time is used. When I began teaching AP Calculus, I faced the challenge of a packed curriculum that consumed so much of our precious class time each day. This classroom dynamic did not align with my vision. In 2010, I found a solution through screencasting and began shifting the teacher-directed portion of class to video for students to watch before the class period. My initial goal in flipping my classroom was to alleviate student anxiety by reducing the homework burden and freeing up class time for collaborative problem-solving, but the benefits I saw for my students well exceeded my hopes.
Assigning videos as homework shifts the focus from content delivery to addressing students’ specific questions and struggles. Tools like Edpuzzle allow teachers to embed multiple choice questions so that students receive immediate feedback, which helps them build an awareness of their understanding as they’re watching the video. Mixing in short-answer questions alongside these instant learning checks encourages critical thinking and prepares them for meaningful in-class discussions. Through the use of video lessons and ample time for problem-solving with peers in the classroom, students can explore content at their own pace while teachers can coach students on how to improve study skills and develop essential skills to take ownership of their learning.
Used well, flipped and blended learning approaches make face-to-face time more interactive, personalized, and collaborative, giving students more control over their learning while fostering deeper peer-to-peer and student-teacher connections.
In part two, we’ll look at how to celebrate multiple approaches to problem-solving, encourage peer-to-peer learning, and provide more effective feedback.
About the author
Stacey Roshan is an educator, keynote speaker, TED-Ed talker, consultant, and author of Tech with Heart. She is passionate about discovering and sharing ways to leverage technology to cultivate deeper compassion in the classroom and provide each learner with the optimal platform to express their ideas in a format that best fits their style. She aims to equip teachers with ideas and tech tools to create more inclusive, equitable, and empowering classrooms for every student to find their voice, build their confidence, and take ownership of their learning. Her work has been featured in USA Today, The Washington Post, CNN, and PBS Newshour.