Continuous Learning Plan

A teacher's experience - Will Sloop

Will Sloop is a Maths Teacher for students in Grades 9 to 12 (aged from 14 to 18)
Will Sloop

Will Sloop, Upper School Maths Teacher

Will Sloop, Upper School Maths Teacher

This experience has been an amazing learning opportunity – for teachers, as well as students. I guess it’s no great surprise, but the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make online is not being able to see our students’ faces. In class you can look around a room and just know if they have understood – you can see it in their eyes. Without that, you have to be more careful.

We’ve made a lot of adjustments to the technology to ensure we’re getting the best out of it. A lot of my lesson time, whether online or in person, is spent writing and explaining. When we started digital learning, sharing my screen to demonstrate something meant I couldn’t see faces – now I’ve put up an extra screen to my side where I can see everyone at the same time as the presentation. It’s really nice to be able to get a nod or thumbs up to show they’ve understood.

Of course, there have been some teething troubles. We need the students to have their cameras switched on, so initially there were a lot of tops-of-head shots. We also had some issue with mics, but the teacher has overall control and the students work on mute, asking questions through chat – or I can unmute them. It’s the digital equivalent of putting your hand up.

As well as ensuring the technology is working as well as possible, we’ve also focused on using the right technology for the right task. At first – before we’d fine-tuned our technology – we had no clue whether students had understood a homework quiz, say, and that was difficult. Now we can see what’s going on in real time (with Google Forms), it’s really slick.

Video has been key – I must have made and uploaded more than 45 of them so far. Each one is about 10-20 minutes and walks the student through a lesson, using cool tech such as Microsoft Onenote that allows you to make notes on screen as you go. I spend my weekends making videos and setting homework; I have 96 students and I teach six math classes, covering both IB and AP, so I have to stay on top of things. 

We’re also “flipping” the classroom – this is where students do preparation and research outside the classroom, and group time is kept for practice and clarification. Philosophically, I’ve always loved this idea, but when I tried it in the past, students didn’t always put the work in outside lessons. When you are 14-years-old, you don’t always have the incentive. But now, using new technology (Edpuzzle), I can actually see which students have watched a video and whether they’ve skipped any parts. It makes them much more accountable.

The logistics of setting assessments at a distance have been crazy – how to ensure what you see is 100 per cent the student’s own work. How do we know they are not sharing answers? But we’re getting there, and students have learned to use the right technology to submit their work.

When lockdown is over, there are some things I’d like to hang on to – 96 students submitting homework in the same pdf format makes it much easier to manage and give feedback. And I might stick with some parts of the flipped classroom, now we’ve mastered the technology.

It’s nice being able to teach from the comfort of your home environment, but I definitely miss the interaction with students and colleagues – it’s no fun trying to collaborate online. I’m lucky that I have a strong community of friends in the city. But I don’t think a single teacher would ever say they prefer this over interacting directly with students – they are the reason we go to work every day.