Using Technology to Help Students Show Their Thinking
Mark Hammons, the educational technology coordinator at the Fresno County Office of Education, is a trainer, speaker and former music teacher and percussion director. He devotes much of his professional time to coaching Fresno educators through hands-on learning sessions as well as sharing ideas at ed tech conferences. An Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Teacher, Hammons talks here about the many ways that technology can show what students are thinking.
THE Journal: What’s the goal when you hold coaching sessions within Fresno schools and districts?
Mark Hammons: Our goal is to help teachers, with whatever they have, to provide more opportunities and exposures for kids to use the technology to create something unique. We want the technology to be used in ways that allow students to show their thinking processes throughout a project, as opposed to just showing the end product. In Fresno County, we have also had a big upswing of Google App schools coming on board, so especially this year we’ve been getting teachers familiar with how to design lessons that utilize Google Classroom most efficiently, which saves them time and energy in the long run when it comes to classroom management.
We’re also modeling different learning spaces and trying to encourage changes in the class structure. A lot of teachers are getting technology in the hands of their kids, but are still teaching in an old paradigm where it’s a bunch of rows and a lot of “watch me do this.” We want to create opportunities for kids to learn in a different way, so we’ve been changing some of the setups in classrooms to make them conducive to a more personal learning environment.
THE Journal: What would be an example of a strategy you’ve adopted to allow students to show their thinking process through technology?
Hammons: One way we’re doing this is through screencasting. For example, students will have two minutes to use an online manipulative to explain their thought process. This means that teachers don’t have to take valuable class time having everyone give a miniature presentation, and it allows them to see the individual thought processes of students, particularly those who don’t typically raise their hands in front of class. I’ve had a lot of teachers say they now know their students in a way they couldn’t before when those kids were so closed off in the more public setting.
THE Journal: You’re a big proponent of Classroom, Google’s free learning management system. Why?
Hammons: The biggest headache for a lot of teachers before Classroom was when students would create a doc and share it with you. If you’re a high school math teacher that means you’re getting upwards of 200 e-mails a day with these docs. The ability to create those little silos for each one of your classes and have it automatically manage, share and store that information has been amazing. With just a couple of clicks, teachers can easily use Classroom to pass out information, set a deadline and have [an assignment] automatically turned back in.
THE Journal: Has your background in music given you any particular ideas pertaining to educational technology?
Hammons: Well, for one thing, I’m looking for parallels to something like the Pandora effect, where we expose ourselves to new and exciting things in ed tech and, just like when you hear a cool song on Pandora, you give it a thumbs up and that leads you down the road toward something else.
THE Journal: When were you first drawn to technology?
Hammons: I didn’t have my first computer in the house until I was 12 or so, and used it very minimally. But when I was in college I worked at a computer store, right around the dot-com boom, and I knew this was something I needed to get in to. Here in Fresno as I started working with teachers, training them on the services that we were developing and supporting them in their instruction, I saw what technology could do and decided this was the path I wanted to take for my career. At that point, six or seven years ago, the biggest thing was the power of video and how it could be individualized for students.
THE Journal: What makes you most excited when you look ahead?
Hammons: The merging of the digital with the physical world — for example, these Sphero balls that can be programmed from a wireless device. I see my own kids physically manipulating things with Legos at home, and then when they get to school they’re going to be asked to create something digital. But what’s coming is this merging of the physical and digital worlds to create something unique. I think the disrupter will be these wearable technologies for education.