Professional Development, Transformed

More than just a student engagement platform, Nearpod may be a full-blown teaching movement.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Gura

Back in my days as a staff developer, trying to convince many teachers to take advantage of the extraordinary abundance of student-worthy content available on the web, as well as employ some of the many interactive resources there to give kids feedback, assess their learning, and then course correct their teaching—

—Well, frankly, as powerful and effective as all of that good stuff might be, it turned out that I was asking an awful lot of already overwhelmed colleagues to take on yet another major undertaking. Keeping track of an endless body of resources and their individual navigational quirks, getting them to work with one another, finding ways to present them and integrate them into well-planned lessons, and on and on; for so many teachers, this appeared to be a Mount Everest to climb. And I see their point.

But that day is still here, right? And that uphill struggle between edtech advocate and tech-resistant classroom teacher, even those who might be interested in getting on board with the new digital power tools of instruction, but confronting what seems to be an off-putting, long laundry list of learning curves, is still here! Or is it?

An Unexpected Turn

I recently attended the Nearpod Transform event in Fort Lauderdale. A conference? Yeah, but—not exactly—and definitely more than just that. Unexpectedly this turned out to be something between a high-energy teachers celebration and a gathering of true believers in the transformative power of a “digital solution,” a resource that makes handling and using all of that good stuff described above manageable and, as many pointed out, eventually downright easy after working with it a short while. 

This may, in fact, be that long-sought doorway into the next level of teaching; to a world of confident use of technologies that really ought to be the everyday bread and butter, ‘go to’ tools of classroom teachers everywhere. A portal into true 21st Century teaching—without the tears and hair pulling and the rest of the Dark Side.

I found to my surprise and delight, another, perhaps even deeper and more meaningful focus: the human purpose of connecting to others and how that manifests itself through teaching.

Small wonder the over 300 teachers, educators and administrators in attendance were not only smiling in the Florida sun but literally, dancing and celebrating the act of Teaching in the balloon-decked conference space. The keynotes, workshops, and demonstrations I witnessed all seemed to add up to a well-planned and orchestrated professional development gathering, true. But also, they seemed to be the latest installment in what felt like a certain kind of, well, movement.

An Inside Glimpse

Those professional development breakout sessions were chock full of current instructional issues and approaches and techniques to address them masterfully. Offered were sessions addressing the learning needs of English Language Learners, Differentiated Learning, Project Based Learning, Student Ownership of the Learning Experience, Teaching 21st Century Skills, and a great deal more. This was what I expected and was delighted to find in abundance and of high quality.

Running in the background, however, and woven throughout the experience of Transform I found to my surprise and delight, another, perhaps even deeper and more meaningful focus: the human purpose of connecting to others and how that manifests itself through teaching. I fear that it’s hard to relate this without sounding a bit over the top sentimental, but the community that I found myself surrounded by is living proof that it is authentic, possible, and an active part of their professional lives.

Sitting with Melissa Pelochino (pictured), Director of Professional Development for Nearpod, I was given an inside glimpse into this essential, but rarely sufficiently addressed facet of teaching. As she explained, their PD doesn’t typically focus on content, but on the teachers and their teaching. They’re focused, she said, on “putting the ‘ed’ back into edtech.” What I observed is deep concern for education as a way to positively impact student lives through instruction that holds itself accountable for nourishing more than just the student’s intellect; addressing the needs of the whole student.

And surrounded by the sincere, purposeful, and fully energized conference attendees—it was easy to see her point. My take is that through participation in this community and its PD efforts, and through their teaching success with Nearpod, what they experience is the rediscovery of the joy of teaching and the possibility of meaningfully impacting the lives of their students.

More to the Story 

There’s more to the story, of course, the company is growing by leaps and bounds in its usership, in the size of the company team that supports its expansion, and importantly, in its feature set, its content library and toolbox, and in the new things that partners may bring to the mix: a variety of Virtual Reality and similar experiences, socially conscious bodies of content like that provided by partner iCivics.

The flow of the breakout session I attended titled, “Step into the Captain’s quarters: Q&A with Nearpod founders” was punctuated by remarkable interactions between dedicated users, read that as enthusiastic teachers experienced in using the platform, and the three founders. These were requests and suggestions for additions and modifications to their feature set. What I witnessed was remarkable.

The founders, a trio of young men who are lifelong friends and partners in bringing Nearpod into the world; Guido, Felipe, and Emi (for Emiliano); riding the crest of a powerful wave of rapport between themselves, the resource’s producers and a gathering of its consumers shared ideas as part of what clearly is an ongoing, affectionate dialogue. All three of them shared in their own way that, since the very beginning they have relied on teachers telling them what they need and want to work with their students, to guide them in creating their solution—which appears to be exactly what teachers have requested.

All three related that, after creating this platform for presenting and interacting with content, they weren’t sure where in the world it would resonate strongly enough to provide the momentum to drive its ongoing development and user adoption. They were surprised but delighted that education turned out to be the field in which their idea found a welcoming, appreciative home.

There’s Something Here

Today, these founders appear humbled and deeply appreciative of having found a way to make a deep, positive impact on the world.

Emi explained that when they first began testing their solution in classrooms, they were thunderstruck by how engaged the young students using it were and by the enthusiastic appreciation of their teachers to have an exciting resource for such deep engagement that leads to high-quality learning. All three founders are from Argentina originally by the way, and he shared with the group in an emotional moment that on seeing those first reactions they knew: Acá hay algo! (There’s something here!)

I left the Transform event in full agreement; yes—there’s something here, something important that educators should, at the very least take notice of and wrap their brains around. Let me say it: what I observed was much more than just a very impressive instructional resource and a few hundred dedicated teacher users in party mode. What I saw appears to be something of a movement, the Nearpod movement!

Mark Gura is Editor-at-Large for EdTech Digest and author of ‘The Edtech Advocate’s Guide to Leading Change in Schools‘ as well as, ‘Getting Started With LEGO Robotics’ (both from ISTE). He is a co-author of State of EdTech: The Minds Behind What’s Now and What’s Next. He taught at New York City public schools in East Harlem for two decades. He spent five years as a curriculum developer for the central office and was eventually tapped to be the New York City Department of Education’s director of the Office of Instructional Technology, assisting over 1,700 schools serving 1.1 million students in America’s largest school system. 


WHAT’S NEARPOD? An award-winning edtech company creating engaging classroom experiences—the company, recently named EdTech Digest’s Company of the Year, gives K-12 teachers ready-to-run lessons created in partnership with leading brands like Common Sense Education, PhET and the Pulitzer Center and is actively used by 60 percent of U.S. school districts. It works with any classroom technology from tablets and smartphones to laptops and Chromebooks and helps districts understand trends and meet curriculum goals. Beyond classroom instruction, the company revitalizes teacher development through Teacher Professional Learning content that cultivates classroom-changing strategies for educators. Learn more at nearpod.com


 

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