Pump up the volume! More talking in class, please!

[This Hechinger Report brings up a critical issue – how do we engage students in social conversation to deepen or clarify understanding, while using a personalized learning process? The answer is given by explaining how two different apps give teachers tools to pause online learning and discuss the issues by making student responses anonymous. In my work with Classroom Salon,  a Carnegie Mellon tool, I witnessed how powerful it was to have students talk about their answers.]

Math teacher Heather Kohn prompts a discussion of algebraic functions using the new “Classroom Conversation Toolset.” It allows Kohn to use a class-wide pause feature, then project student answers to a tricky problem, but only after using the app’s “anonymizer” to swap student names with those of famous mathematicians. Photo: Chris Berdik

Math teacher Heather Kohn prompts a discussion of algebraic functions using the new “Classroom Conversation Toolset.” It allows Kohn to use a class-wide pause feature, then project student answers to a tricky problem, but only after using the app’s “anonymizer” to swap student names with those of famous mathematicians. Photo: Chris Berdik

Last year, an ed tech startup called Desmos faced a curious conundrum –classrooms using its math app grew quiet, too quiet.

Teachers use the Desmos “Activity Builder” tool to create a series of self-paced math challenges using an online graphing calculator. There was just one problem, said Dan Meyer, Desmos’s chief academic officer: With each student deeply engaged in a different part of the lesson, “teachers were having trouble starting class discussions.”

The hush was troubling, because students learn a lot from debating ideas, sharing feedback and collectively exploring big questions. So, this fall, the company added three new features, dubbed the “Classroom Conversation Toolset,” to let teachers pause the app classroom-wide, snap every computer to a particular screen, and cloak student identity to anonymously share answers with the entire class. In doing so, Desmos joined a handful of other startups using tech to boost student interaction and class discussion, so that in the rush to personalize learning we don’t lose the benefits of learning together.

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