A classroom audio system could be what it takes to measure how well your classroom collaborates.
I teach 5th-grade science and social studies, and have been at O.H. Somers Elementary School for 30 years. In the middle part of my career, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Research Center for Educational Technology at Kent State (then named the Ameritech Classroom).
Our classroom traveled to Kent, Ohio, daily for nine weeks, and a plethora of technology was available to us. The most eye-opening technology was the microphone on each of the tables. It was positioned there so that researchers behind a two-way mirror could hear the interactions and learning what took place as students worked together to solve problems and learn the curriculum. Since that time, I have always wanted microphones for my classroom.
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My district, Mogadore Local, uses soundfield technology from Lightspeed Technologies. For the past 10 years, each classroom has been equipped with a speaker and teacher microphones to give every student the opportunity to hear the instruction presented by the teacher.
I currently use the Flexcat system, which includes a wireless microphone and two-way audio pods that allow me to listen and talk to small groups of students. I discovered the Flexcat when a Lightspeed Representative was updating the microphone and speaker for my room. Recalling many of the group discussions I had heard during our stay at the Ameritech Classroom, I longed to have that privilege of being privy to students’ group conversations.
The representative explained what the Flexcat could do, and it brought tears to my eyes! This was the technology I’d been waiting for. He brought one out for demonstration purposes, and I kept it. I was then able to persuade the district to purchase the Flexcat and five pods.
Monitoring and Supporting Collaboration
I use an inquiry approach to help students work through the curriculum, and much of what they do in my classroom involves group collaboration. This includes, but is not limited to, brainstorming activities, group discussions, group project development, and group experiments. As students convene, my ability to monitor their progress, understanding, and group dynamics with the Flexcat allows me to document from a distance.
Students are free to talk amongst themselves, revealing their involvement, understanding, and misunderstandings. I am able to communicate with them without intruding on their “space.” There are times when a teacher’s presence in students’ workplace hinders what they are willing to share. I appreciate that they are free to “call” me and ask questions they may not be willing to ask in a large group. The Flexcat gives their group a sense of autonomy within the classroom.
An Unexpected Benefit
I had an “a-ha” moment when I noticed a difference in the noise level in my room. The students were in discussion, but there was something different about the noise. I realized that the reduction in noise from chairs moving or students walking to my desk or to another table was a very pleasant and unexpected benefit of having a soundfield system.
The “call” feature allows students to remain engaged in their work while being able to request a restroom break, have questions answered, or report any problems within the groups. I can speak directly to individuals to remind them of their role in their group or help groups work through any difficulties they are having.
Alternative Assessments Give Students Ownership of their Learning
Alternative assessments play an integral role in my classroom. They generally involve the use of rubrics, portfolios, paper/pencil tests, conferencing, and products developed by the students. My basic question as an assessor is simple: How do we know what they know? We all know the pitfalls of paper/pencil tests. We get such a limited view of what a student knows depending on the assessment. I could find flaws with each of the assessment measures I use.
Being privy to students’ group conversations is a powerful form of alternative assessment. In class one day, I was listening to a group discussing light. One student remarked that animals don’t give off light. Another student began to explain that there were some living things that are bioluminescent. I took advantage of the opportunity for him to share his knowledge of bioluminescence by utilizing the Flexcat pod’s microphone. He proceeded to the explain to the class, allowing him to become the teacher. These are the moments that give ownership of learning and the classroom to the students.
Every day, I am able to target misconceptions as I hear them, give students the opportunity to share their expertise with their fellow students, and target those students who are not focused on the task.
I have heard students who are somewhat unproductive in a large-group setting, or silent students who may be reluctant to share what they know, expound on topics within their small-group setting. Hearing their small-group sharing enables me to document what they would never share in a conventional setting. Some of them have truly amazed me with their level of understanding.
Dr. Janice Kelly teaches 5th-grade science and social studies at O.H. Somers Elementary in Mogadore, OH.