Caption: Meet Science teacher, Mike Parsons. In a four-part weekly series to celebrate Ed Tech, Grand Erie is featuring dynamic Digital Lead Learners to share their stories and to see the impact on student learning.
Paris District High School chemistry teacher Mike Parsons has learned through experience that one of the best ways to teach is to leave students feeling truly engaged.
Nowhere is this more evident than through the Grand Erie District School Board’s Educational Technology (Ed Tech) initiative, which incorporates computer technology into everyday classroom activities.
Parsons is one of Grand Erie’s Digital Lead Learners, with teachers regularly visiting his classroom to watch how he uses computers to facilitate his chemistry lessons.
Part of Parsons role as a Digital Lead Learner is to act as a one of several Demonstration Class Teachers, where fellow teachers from other Grand Erie schools are invited to observe Parsons and his class to see 21st Century education in action.
The experience gives teachers the opportunity to witness how the use of technology in the classroom can lead to authentic, collaborative learning. “It’s important that teachers realize that the technology is not the focus,” Parsons says. “The focus is learning.”
Visiting teachers will, for example, see students using educational applications for interactive question-and-answer sessions. “They get points for their answers so it leads to engagement,” Parsons says. “If the kids are interested and having fun, they’re going to learn.”
Especially valuable is that the interactive nature of many educational applications offers teachers and the students themselves a window to accurately view their progress. “I can quickly see what the students know and don’t know,” Parsons says.
Savana Sarkisian, a Grade 12 student, says she appreciates applications which allow her to quiz herself to objectively assess how she’s doing and determine areas she needs to work on.
Some of the applications Parsons uses promote discussion. “We get to feed off each other and learn as a group,” Savana says. “That’s beneficial because I’m going to university next year and that’s how we’ll be doing things.”
Of course, technology alone doesn’t prepare a student for whatever path might follow. Approach is key. “He (Parsons) encourages self-learning,” Savana says, describing an assignment where she worked with a small group of her peers to embed informational graphics into a report on organic chemistry. “He gives us the tools to learn and expects us to engage and solve things on our own.”
Bernadette Holmes, also in Grade 12, says she finds the approach motivating. “It’s better than just being handed a worksheet. You’re working with other people in your class and interacting with your teacher. I’m more willing to do something if it’s fun rather than just copying notes off the board.”
Holmes adds that embedding technology into everyday classroom activity helps enhance communications and computer skills. “When our generation gets into the workforce, technology will be a big part of our job, so being introduced to it while we're younger is more efficient than learning it when we get into our job.”
For Parsons, the benefits are wide-ranging. When a class uses applications that are interactive, Parsons can see pretty quickly if students are on track or if he needs to emphasize certain points or even modify his approach.
Because the students can measure their own success, sometimes they’ll ask Parsons to review a particular topic or offer a deeper explanation. “You think you might have covered something and maybe you really haven’t,” Parsons says. “The class gets really busy and you get through points A to E, and you miss F. Or maybe they didn’t get it the first time around and we need to go back and redo it.”
What the interactivity offers, Parsons says, is an opportunity to fully engage students. “If the kids are interested and having fun, they’re going to learn better, and I can have more direct communication with them to know what they know and don’t know.”
Tina Baker, vice-principal at PDHS, says she’s watched students and teachers work together as a team, building on each others’ thoughts, and behaving like partners and collaborators rather than competitors.
“The kids who truly hate school for every reason possible seem to migrate to Mike,” Baker says. “He’s open, welcoming and teaches to the kids’ strengths. They want to be here and do the activities because he makes it fun and relevant to what they’re doing every day.”