eCLASS Innovator: John Willis of Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (GSMST)

eCLASS Innovator: John Willis of Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (GSMST)

John Willis,
Physics and Engineering Teacher at GSMST
How are you using technology in your lessons to engage student in their learning?  
I believe, above all, that teaching and learning must be student-centered and involve critical thinking. Therefore, all technologies that I integrate into my daily lessons are used with that in mind. For example, I use the flipped model in order to increase the amount of time students spend collaborating with peers and learning with higher levels of cognition.

Traditionally, teachers disseminate information during class which requires only the lowest levels of cognition for the student, then require students to complete homework assignments that typically require the use of higher levels of cognition.

The flipped model has simply changed that approach so that students use low levels of cognition that are required to learn information through dissemination for homework while higher levels of cognitive abilities are used at school where they have an expert, the teacher, readily available to guide the students. As part of this flipped classroom model, I use a variety of technology that enhance pedagogy, such as student autoresponders, silent videos, and student- and teacher-made videos.

What technology tools do you use on a daily basis in your classroom?
On a daily basis or several days each week, I will use student laptops, student autoresponders, dual LCD projectors, student-made or teacher-made videos, and the class website.

Why do you think it is important for teachers to embrace technology in the teaching and learning process?  Teaching and learning without the use of technology will soon be obsolete. Schools should reflect society as we prepare students to make positive contributions in jobs that may not yet exist. Therefore, it is imperative that we provide a technologically innovative classroom environment that prepares students for technologically innovative careers. Additionally, students of this generation, the Y Generation, are passionate about collaborating, sharing, and publishing in a digital environment. This is wonderful for teachers. I would argue that it is easier to have students think at the highest levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy by simply providing students with opportunities to demonstrate new knowledge using a technology platform that they are inherently motivated to use, explore and produce.

Describe one of your most effective uses of technology in your classroom.  If there is one technology that I encourage more than any other it would be the use of student autoresponders (“clickers”). I use student autoresponders to engage students and drive instruction.  For example, physics has many difficult concepts that are counterintuitive. I have to be very careful on how I present material, especially when students have prior knowledge, because the students believe that they have mastered the content when in fact post test scores clearly will show they have not. As a proponent of the flip model, I have to be cautious when to use videos to introduce new material because, again, students will gain a false sense of understanding and retain an even deeper embedded misconception. Therefore, I prefer to introduce difficult concepts with demonstrations or labs using student autoresponders that will clearly uncover misconceptions so the students are cognizant of what their understanding is coming into class compared to their understanding after is has been corrected by the time they leave the class. Here is a video that shows how I use student autoresponders:
In this video, I introduced Newton’s First Law of Motion-- an object in motion stays in motion. This is a concept that all students are very familiar with from middle school. In fact, students do an excellent job defining each of Newton’s three laws but, when I take it a little further, it is clear that students have no depth of understanding of these concepts. In fact, they have deeply embedded misconceptions that can be difficult to overturn. Here is my process:
  1. I start by setting up a demonstration and ask the students to make an individual prediction of the results when I perform the demonstration. The students individually enter their prediction and I show the class results which are completely anonymous. Anonymous mode gives confidence to every student who might not participate otherwise. It also ensures that the teacher gets input from all students not just the same students who call out the answers. 
  2. After I display the class results, which are often incorrect, I will ask students to use think-pair-share strategy and discuss their answer choice and their logic in choosing that answer. I will even encourage students to try and convince their neighbors that their answer choice is correct. After they have had time to discuss their individual answers as well as the class results, I ask them to resubmit their answer.
  3. I will then show the class results again, but this time it was after seeing the initial results and having an opportunity to discuss with their neighbors. These results are often very interesting as the class results begin to shift, although often times in the “wrong direction.”
  4. I will then perform the demonstration and get a lot of "ooh’s and ahhh’s" from the students as the results were not what they expected.  So I have engaged all the students in bringing to the surface their misconception of an important concept and ripped it off like a BAND-AID.
  5. Then, we will discuss the results in order to replace the misconception with new information.
  6. To check their new understanding I will perform a similar demonstration from a slightly different perspective, repeating steps “1-5.”  By the time I get to step “3,” most students begin to understand the concept.

What evidence do you see in your classroom that your use of technology has improved learning or increased student achievement? 
Using two of my most often used strategies-- the flipped classroom model and student autoresponders-- I will briefly discuss evidence.
  • With the flipped classroom model, I have not been able to determine a way to directly correlate student achievement from post-test scores to implementing that strategy. However, I have been able to directly see a huge increase in student engagement.  Here are a few short video clips that show the active engagement of a student-centered class that results from using the flipped classroom model after disseminating basic information at home.
    - Inquiry based learning in lab:
    - Lab  analysis:
    - Whiteboards:
  • Student autoresponders are very robust in terms of data analysis, both in terms of formative and summative assessments.  I use student autoresponders to drive instruction in real-time. The data provided using student autoresponders allows me to make the necessary changes-- whether it is modifying instruction, providing intervention, or providing enrichment. Student autoresponders give me the information necessary to make appropriate decisions as a teacher to increase student achievement. With summative assessments, I am able to look at class results for individual questions, correlate those questions to each AKS, and provide the necessary intervention to prepare students for the final exam. This process has shown significant improvements in student scores.