5 Tech Tools for Small Groups and Presentations
Updated: Jul 5
I returned to school today for the first time since March 13th. The school did not have the same energy it usually does, especially for the first day of in-person school. Students excited to say hi to their former teachers, wide-eyed freshman wandering aimlessly around trying to find that one hallway that’s buried in the far corner of the building … it's true .. you really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. All eyes glued to you, trying to figure out who you are, who they’ll be spending the next year with.
I already sort of know my students. They’re seniors, so they already know each other. But this is the year they should discover meaningful friendships, friendships with depth, friendships that lead to really good, long conversations. If you’re as old as me (we’ll call us the mix tape generation), you’ll remember that in high school, the phone was all we had to connect with our friends, and we used it to talk all night. The conversations went in a million different directions – we slowly discovered who we were, and we just … listened. School is a serious, academic place with high expectations and will help find cures and solve the world’s problems. But it’s also a place where kids can be kids and do the most important thing in life ... develop great relationships.
Under normal circumstances, we try to steer kids away from socializing so they can stay on task and so that we can give our assessments and enter grades and check all the boxes. This year, I’m going to try to let kids be kids and focus on small group learning. I recently surveyed my classes for recommendations and for the first time, they all said they want the same thing: small groups. They’re dying to be kids. Here are my favorite tools for small group work and presentations:
1. Live and Recorded Zoom/Google Hangouts/Microsoft Teams
I’m grateful for this odd virtual reality that will hopefully allow my students to have experiences that will serve as the foundation of their education. For that reason, I actually like Zoom, just Zoom, the best. You can annotate poems and passages and allow students to answer a question by recording their breakout room.
Zoom has an echo cancellation feature that allows you to plug in speakers to your computer so students in class can hear the students online when they speak. Open a meeting in the app, click on the arrow next to the microphone icon in the bottom left hand corner, click on "Audio Settings" then click on "Advanced" and then under "Echo Cancellation" switch from "Auto" to "Aggressive". With live meetings, I love how we can pretend that a virtual classroom is real and sort of funny.
I asked a student to talk about their weekend and then I asked everyone if they could hear the story about the massive pumpkin someone found. In another class, I asked if they could hear a student talking and one student chimed in “unfortunately I could hear everything”. They are friends so we had a good laugh. I told another student to clean out their fish tank because it looked green and gross. She laughed and said she was protesting that the tank became her responsibility to clean after her brother left for college. We NEED these moments.
Ask your district to subscribe to Padlet. It’s free but only for a little while. I embedded the code into the rich text editor in Canvas which allows students to post text, images, audio, links, or video in one place without having to click anywhere or subscribe. Teachers can make a padlet for each group, or students can create their own. I think this will be my go-to virtual blackboard this year.
3. Google Slides/Drawings
In Google Slides, you can ask students to upload audio or video recordings to their slide so they can talk about a quote instead of typing their interpretation. I did that myself for a lecture in a Microsoft PowerPoint (you can export as a movie file and then upload it to Google Drive if it’s long or YouTube if it’s short) and I had some students say they liked the slower pace and that they could go back to rewatch a slide if they didn’t understand.
In Google Drawings or Google Jamboard, you can have students create a graphic organizer together by sharing the link with the people in the group. They can then share the link in a public discussion so the rest of the class can see their work.
4. Mote and Audio Commentary
With the Mote Chrome extension, teachers and students can highlight text in a Google Doc or Google Slide, insert a comment and then record an audio comment instead of writing text. After they discuss a poem or passage, they can then formalize their ideas with audio instead of text. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask students to type out responses to questions, so this provides another opportunity for them to do what they do in class. After a group discussion, we can also ask students to record their voices and upload the file to a public discussion on our LMS. Students really appreciate the extra time outside a fast-paced classroom to respond to a question on their own time. I find students will often record 5-10 minute responses instead of the quick 30 second responses we get in class. Our students can also listen to these responses on their own time. This will also get them ready for a more formal podcast assignment on a topic of choice.
Curveball! Don’t forget that good old-fashioned notebook. They can draw pictures and graphic organizers, take notes, or write a thesis statement in it. I’m not going to be afraid to ask them to take notes during their small group conversation and submit it to the LMS by uploading a picture of what they wrote. It will force them to listen and take them away from the screen which is so important. Whiteboards are just as good as notebooks since they can take a picture and preserve what they wrote.
Good luck, and don’t forget to laugh at the hiccups! This year, I’m trying to tune out the noise and just go with the flow. Here’s another great cliché for this year: it is what it is!