Turning Student Cell Phones into Instructional Tools with Nearpod

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Nearpod.com

Heads down on desks. Eyes glued to a cell phone blinking and begging to be tapped for a higher score. Avoiding an assignment because “I don’t have a pencil to write with.” When I see this in my classroom, It’s a sign that student just isn’t engaged.

You know those students. They routinely show up 20 minutes late. When they walk in, they don’t have a backpack, a pencil, or a pass for being late. But luckily, they do have one tool they are highly engaged with: a cell phone.

I work in a diverse public school in Portland. Many of my students have significant outside-of-school stresses, like homelessness or lack of internet access--yet they still own and bring cell phones to school. To engage these students, I began planning a lesson utilizing Nearpod and cell phones as an instructional tool.

What is Nearpod?

Nearpod is a web-based, iPhone/iPad or Android app that allows teachers to customize, create and share interactive presentations with students. Students become engaged participants as they interact with the presentations using cell phones, tablets, or computers. Teachers can share presentations with colleagues and browse other teacher-created presentations for ideas, while students can explore content through polls, text, images, videos, drawing, website-sharing, self-guided quizzes, and more.

This year, my 9th graders have been learning about Apartheid. To make a historical lecture and discussion more interesting, I created a Nearpod presentation as an introduction to protest and resistance movements to Apartheid in South Africa. Here are some tips I gathered along the way:

Tips for Creating: When using Nearpod, add new slides and upload primary source photographs, quotes, and video that is already saved in your Google Drive. Add content slides defining key terms. Develop a pre-assessment quiz or poll to capture current student understandings (with questions like, for example, “What do you know about Apartheid?”) and help students build background with draw-it and open-ended question slides to prompt deeper thinking.

Tips for Sharing Student Responses: Quickly gather and share models of student thinking. Students can submit photographs, drawings or handwritten/typed representations of their thinking. A teacher can push out a model of student work to all users to generate deeper discussion, as a brainstorm, or to support struggling learners. For example, to reinforce the meaning of Apartheid, I asked students to submit a drawing by asking them “What type of things were segregated under Apartheid in South Africa?” Through drawings, students applied the definition and struggling students were able to see the term defined in a new way. Ask students to submit on-demand writing to be used as rough drafts for a larger assignment.

Tips for Using Nearpod Data in the Moment: View answers submitted by students without circulating the room. When reviewing the results of my Nearpod, I found initially half of my students could not define Apartheid. As a quick intervention, I shared out student-provided definitions and engaged all students in a discussion about the term. Teachers can also use pre-assessment polls or quizzes to get a quick grasp of student understanding.

Dealing with Potential Setbacks

Nearpod isn’t perfect; unfortunately, Nearpod presentations can not be downloaded and saved in other formats such as Powerpoint or Google Slides. The free version (there is a free version and a premium version) has limited storage. If you noticed an error or want to make a quick edit, the presentation must first be unpublished which means it can not be corrected during a live projection.

However, some issues have solutions. For example, a student can use a fake name and submit off-topic information. To track student data, require your students to use their name, student ID number, or nickname. When sharing out student models of work, ask for student approval before sharing without warning. Additionally, explain the value of participating in a “nearpod” and how participation is tracked to prevent a student from cellphone multi-tasking.

Extending Nearpod

Following the Nearpod presentation, I knew I was going to have students write creative pieces to resist or protest Apartheid. I was also going to encourage students to create their own forms of protest such as songs, speeches, videos, and protest posters.

As a brainstorm, I asked “How would you have resisted the pass law during Apartheid?” Drawings and creative pieces were submitted. Rusty started working on a film script:

SAPG: You're under arrest! You don't have your pass, which violates the Pass Laws.

PASS-MAN: How can you justify making the whites not need these?

SAPG: Because we need to control every aspect of your lives so we can exploit you, of course! Isn’t it obvious?

Chloe started working on a narrative: On a blistering July day we were walking through the village across an old dirt path, and to our surprise, a police officer stopped us dead in our tracks. The only fear I had running through my mind was that he was going to arrest both of us.

At the end of the day, Nearpod has helped inspire my students. They’ve gained necessary content background to apply their learning. Students were able to describe protest methods to apartheid through drawings, songs, film, and narrative.

Extending Nearpod

After using this tool for the first time in my classroom, one student--Leo--pulled me aside. On his way out the door on a Friday afternoon, he said, “Ms. Kanof, we should use that Nearpod thing again. We really learned today… I mean... everyone was learning.” Of course, there were still absent students and students who were struggling. But Leo was right--many students who were normally unengaged or distracted with cellphones participated.

Nearpod is not a silver bullet to suddenly turn around and engage those puzzling students everyday. But it is a great tool to use for building background knowledge and making presentations, image galleries, or pre-assessments more engaging.

And as long as my 9th graders continue coming into class asking “When are we going to use Nearpod again?” we will continue to use the tool.

Kim is a Social Studies Teacher at Madison High School in Portland, Oregon.

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