Nicole Nishimura teaches AP and Honors biology at Gateway Science Academy in St. Louis. When she wanted to find a way to stay in touch with her students and keep the conversation rolling outside of class, she turned to Chalkup to keep everyone on the same page.
Today, her class is rocking the discussion threads and tackling weekly reading assignments together. They’ve even submitted feedback to us on how to make Chalkup more awesome (so - what can we say - big fans of Nicole’s students over here).
We chatted with Nicole about how she and her students approach technology and how they have been using digital tools to learn together.
Our interview was edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your classroom and your classroom technology.
I teach two advanced classes and I needed more time each day to interact with my students.The AP students are on a block schedule, so I don’t see them every day. I won’t see them for two days, actually.
I’m a teacher who values student’s input, so I put a couple different options [for digital systems] up on the board and asked for instant reactions. What has a good clean platform? Both classes went with Chalkup as the platform that they thought was the most user-friendly for them.
The primary thing - what I try to follow up on Chalkup - is that any verbal instructions get followed up with due dates online. In some ways I’m using it like I would a teacher website, but students can interact with it, which is much more valuable to me.
It’s really taken off. I ended up having students doing and sharing independent research to help their classmates better understand something. And it's given me a way to watch them become digital learners. And given me a way to identify big problems - things that were confusing; things that I can respond to.
With our block scheduling - when I don’t seem them for two days in a row - that’s time for them to forget or sit with something that is or was confusing to them. This way, I can nip misconceptions in the bud. Students can fire off questions into this space and get a response.
What’s one thing teachers who are looking to implement new digital systems should keep in mind?
Understand that it takes a trial and error period, and second, be transparent with your students. I let [my students] know that I’m not an expert - if you have an idea on how to use this better, then let me know so we can come up with a better solution. Letting them know that I’ve never done this - letting them know that Chalkup was new - was really useful.
My students had a question about Chalkup and I actually urged them to use the feedback option to get in touch with the Chalkup team and find an answer. And they did, and they thought it was so cool when they heard back.
Where do you see technology taking classes in the future? What’s your vision?
There’s an incredible power to having the ability to have tech reach outside those two 42-minute block windows I have with my students.
I have two visions - because I see there are so many amazing tech pieces, software or hardware or websites and tools - so many things out there. The biggest hurdle for me is being able to tie them together. I know there are online versions of my textbook - how can I integrate that into something I can use smoothly with other tech out there? A huge time sink for me is coordinating all of the things. Part of where I see the future going is making it easier to evaluate what’s out there and figure out how to weave it all into something coherent and effective.
Also, being able to effectively do things on a mobile platform. When it comes to low socioeconomic families, I can’t have something be mandatory if it only reaches 25%-75% of students. I’m tied to a paper-based system for my students until it’s 100% guaranteed everyone has access. But families find money for smartphones. It’s a thing of high social value. My vision is having something fluid between a smartphone and iPad or Chromebook or whatever. Something that moves well between devices.