In this One Thing You Might Try . . . post, STEM integration coach, NCCE (Northwestern Council for Computer Education) Learning Specialist, and technology consultant, Victoria Thompson, shares a great technology tool that will invite your learners to share authentically—whether you’re teaching remotely, face-to-face or in a hybrid setting.
If you’re like me, you’re still trying to survive in the throes of virtual and remote learning. My district recently just announced that they were going hybrid, but for a maximum (at the moment) of 30 percent of their learners. This means that, largely, the return to school is still up in the air, at least until the beginning of next school year. This also means that a majority of our learners—and our teachers—are going to remain at home for the time being.
So, one thing you might try is a collection of strategies for facilitating discussions during remote and hybrid learning. This can be a bit difficult given that you may be working with students miles away from where you are, but thankfully there are some educational technology tools that can help. You can do this using one of my favorite educational technology tools of all time—Pear Deck!
What is Pear Deck?
Pear Deck is an add-on for Google Slides, as well as a feature in Microsoft PowerPoint (you can download slides and decks on PowerPoint). The best way that I can describe Pear Deck is that it is an interactive presentation tool. Students can respond in live time to your slides or respond asynchronously, which is great for hybrid schooling! You can also leave audio instructions, descriptions, or examples for your students to hear while they read the prompts and respond to Interactive Questions in your Pear Deck Slides presentations.
To get started with Pear Deck, I recommend checking out their article here. There’s also a great video on getting started here as well. Once you get more accustomed to Pear Deck and are ready to explore more of their features, you’ll be able to check out their various templates and engagement strategies.
Pear Deck is initially free, but also operates on a “freemium” model on both Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint where you can upgrade to a premium service which offers more features such as:
- Drawing and Draggable question slides
- Google Classroom integration
- Session Dashboard for educators to use throughout the course of the lesson, which helps to track student progress
- Session Review at the end of the lesson or slide deck
- Student Takeaways at the end of the lesson or slide deck
- Unlimited PDF and Google Slide imports
For around four years, I operated with a free account on Pear Deck and absolutely loved it; I used it daily in my classroom and had no issues with just using the free version. I do have a premium account now, however, and definitely see the merits in the additional features if you want to use them, especially the integration with Google Classroom and the Session Dashboard. If you’re interested in starting out, definitely check out (and use!) the free version—I doubt you’ll be disappointed!
How can you use Pear Deck?
Personally, I have used Pear Deck synchronously and asynchronously with students and educators as close as one block down the street (I live in a neighborhood with a lot of my colleagues and students) and with students as far away as China (I used to work at an international school). I can’t stress how wonderful it was to be able to communicate with and engage students from thousands of miles (literally) away—it was like we were all in the classroom together again, even though we were all in different time zones. I’ve used it synchronously for lessons and check-ins, and also asynchronously for homework assignments and assessments.
Once you get used to Pear Deck you’ll be amazed by just the ease of usability of it all. At times, it’s really difficult for me to wrap my head around some presentation platforms because they can be a bit difficult. However, Pear Deck’s menu options are accessible and customizable based on what you want to do and what you want to teach. Depending on your subscription, you can add animations (via the Pear Deck Power Up feature in Google Slides), review a session dashboard at the end of the lesson, and incorporate “on the go” engagement slides for your students or participants.
My favorite feature in Pear Deck by far are the critical thinking slides which can be applied to nearly any subject or age range; these aim to take students outside of the box of academic content and put them in the space of being a digital learner. Prompts such as “make connections” and “consider different viewpoints” give students the opportunity to think critically about their work. I used them consistently as a math educator and use them now as an instructional coach.
Examples of questions I’ve been able to ask people on Pear Deck include:
- What is wellness, and why is it important to take care of ourselves?
By using this tool, learning communities are able to engage in healthy discussion with plenty of room for authentic, anonymous responses from students. Using live facilitation tools such as Pear Deck has changed my instruction for the better, and I highly recommend that you try it out—whether your district is considering going hybrid, you’re already hybrid, or even if you’re teaching face-to-face and you’d like a student engagement tool.
About the author
Victoria Thompson is a STEM Integration Transformation Coach at Technology Access Foundation—a nonprofit leader redefining STEM education in public schools—a consultant for Ignite EdTech, and a learning specialist for NCCE. She has been in education for five years and began her journey teaching fifth and sixth grade math and science in Summerville, SC. After completing her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction she moved to the Seattle, WA area in 2018, where her career has pivoted to focusing on STEM integration in schools, K–12 mathematics instruction with research on decolonizing mathematics curriculum for teachers and learners, creating inclusive math environments, and using technology to bridge equity gaps in math education. She has presented at ISTE, ImpactEducation, CUE, and DigCitSummit on topics such as creating inclusive math classrooms, culturally responsive STEM education, and equity in educational technology.