User Research Interviews

Since my app was based around increasing student engagement and integrating student interest into the classroom, I chose to ask the following questions to my interviewees:

  1. How and where do you see the interests students bring to their classrooms?
  2. In what ways do you see teachers connecting these interests to academics pursuits and curricular goals?
  3. How do you mostly use your phone? To connect with people? To create something new? To play?

The first person interviewed was a high school student, and we met in person.

Q1:  I don’t really see many interests in my classes.  I think that people have different learning types, and since we have such large classrooms, its hard to get really personalized interests into the class.  I think it would be more valuable if interests were used in class.

Q2:  I don’t know, I think the big problem is just that classes are so big, that its hard to individualize things, maybe if there were fewer students or more teachers.  (after I mentioned that choice is a way to incorporate interests)  I guess in English, we have choices on which book to read sometimes.

Q3:  I mostly use my phone to keep up with friends, mostly on Instagram or Snapchat.

The second person interviewed was a current high school teacher, which also took place in person.

Q1:  I notice that they like to do things that are more collaborative, and that integrates technology.  They really like any activities we do that are technology centered.  They talk about the games and apps that they recommend I download.  I also pick up on their interests just from hearing them talk with each other.

Q2:  Teachers try to utilize these interests by integrating technology a lot.  There are more activities that touch on diverse learning styles, as opposed to lecturing.  This approach acknowledges that there is more than one way to teach the same information.  So your interest can be beyond just the content, but in how a subject is taught can influence your motivation to ‘buy-in’.

Q3:  To connect mostly, I use social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat help me keep in touch with people I know.

The final person interviewed was also a current high school teacher, and this interview was completed over the phone.

Q1:  I think student interest is not seen very much in classrooms.  Curriculum is driven so much by state standards and testing that there isn’t as much wiggle room as there should be. I think the most common way student interest is seen is when students volunteer information to the class, but that can be very hit or miss.

Q2:  I do think teachers try to connect in any way they can.  Especially in subjects like history, there are more opportunities to connect to areas of interest.  As a math teacher, I don’t see nearly as many opportunities, since curriculum can be rigid.  The ‘real life’ examples in math class can come across a little forced, so I really pick my spots. Whenever I create a test or quiz, I try to incorporate names and places the students know, so I guess that can count.

Q3:  I use my phone for calls and email.  I play scrabble with my brother-in-law from time to time, but not too much more than that.

Based on these answers, it seems that the most useful app would be one that is social media based, since most people are using similar apps already.  I think the familiarity is key in creating new products when there are so many different options available.  I think that my app might fill a need for the student I interviewed, as well as one of the teachers I spoke to, since they both mentioned different ways time and energy are finite resources in classrooms.  Using the app would be unobtrusive to the current curriculum, but could provide a spark of inspiration for teachers and students.  I really like how the second interviewee mentioned the power of ‘buy-in’ from students, as this was a motivating force for my app.


User Research Interviews

Search 7 Sunday: Honoring Interests

  • I really liked the idea of examining the double meaning of ‘interests’ this week, both the curiosity kind, and the more political kind.  In that vein, I found this story from the blog of Fred Klonsky.  It concerns the efforts of students who are protesting and agitating for better funding for Illinois Public Schools.  I think the image of students fighting for their own interests is very powerful.
  • Similarly, allowing students to take the lead on parent-teacher conferences are a great way to build-up student confidence and self-advocacy.  I think it is a very interesting way for students to think about their own education and understand their own agency in the process.  Its a thoughtful way to give students a chance to voice their beliefs and interests in school.
  • This idea of empowerment is echoed in this article, which focuses on teachers and their own professional development.  Two key quotes that teachers can apply to their own classrooms: “It’s easy to talk about what we want to see in classrooms and how schools should function differently but it’s an entirely different idea to be at the forefront of those decisions” and from a tweet from @MrChase: “If you want people to feel empowered, give them power. That’s it. Do that.
  • Like Holly at the PhillyGirlBlog, I found this week to be a little challenging, since I don’t have my own classroom of students just yet.  I really like her idea (#2) of creating a student list of human rights.  Its a powerful idea, and one that allows students to think about bigger ideas in the world.  I think its such a great framing device for talking about so many things in the humanities.
  • One other idea I’ve been struggling with are ways to integrate student interest into a math classroom.  I can’t say for certain, but I feel as though math classes are among the most tightly regimented in a high school, and as such, leave little opportunity to integrate student interest.  Over the last few weeks, during my pre-student teaching work, I’ve been seeing Anchor Activities used on a regular basis.  I think this may be the easiest way to sneak in some math material that student find more interesting, whether it is a long term project, or a supplementary activity.  Anchor activities, since they are ongoing and used as needed, could provide an opportunity for a wide range of differentiated content.
  • I found this primer on integrating student interest into lesson for students with dyslexia interesting and informative.  Its a very succinct and compelling case that honoring student interests is a need in the classroom for students of all types, but especially for those with different abilities.  “By taking time to get to know your student’s interests and strengths, you build rapport and convey that you believe in him. You will also have a fuller picture of the student by knowing not only areas of difficulty, but also areas where he excels.”
  • Finally, I found this Q and A with a group of teachers to be an interesting read.  I really find that hearing from teachers, as opposed to only academics, is an important part of examining new ideas in teaching.  I think a blend of theory and practice is the best way for a future teacher like me to understand what’s in store in the future.  I like this quote in particular:Ever ponder this? If a student is bad a math, one of the first things we do is put them in more math classes at the expense of classes they might both enjoy and be good at. And yet, NFL football players were not pulled off their high school football field and forced to spend more time on the tennis court. Interesting.”
Search 7 Sunday: Honoring Interests

Search 7 Sunday

Throughout the semester, I am investigating different ways we can use connected learning to mitigate the inequities students face that are rooted in resource and financial inequality.  This week, I tried to focus on some different resources that can be used in and out of the classroom to minimize an inequitable division of school resources.

  • I spend a huge percentage of my ‘online time’ using Twitter, so it was the first tool I thought of when discussing openly networked learning tools.  I think it’s a relatively meritocratic platform, since people can share ideas and respond to others so easily with no ‘gatekeeper’.  Everyone gets 140 characters.  I loved the idea of a Do Now, which integrates Twitter (and other platforms) into a classroom community.
  • A slightly less open network (but still very valuable) that I’ve used before is Edmodo (although Lana beat me to the punch).  The way I think of Edmodo is a classroom-sized Facebook, where students can track their assignments and communicate directly with teachers.  Parents are also able to use Edmodo as a tool to easily stay in the loop with their children’s teachers.
  • One tool I’ve seen used in other education classes is a Flipped Classroom.  A flipped classroom is one where students view a lecture as homework, and then do the more hands-on and collaborative work in the classroom, rather than at home by themselves.  Using free tools like Youtube, its easy for a teacher to create a 5-10 minute video that students can then watch on their own.
  • When I was an undergraduate, I took a class on the history of food in America, and every few weeks, our assignment was to update a Wikipedia page on a topic we were studying, complete with proper citation.  I think using online Wiki’s as a learning tool is a great way for students to do work that reaches a larger audience (or network) outside of the classroom.
  • One tool I haven’t used, but that I learned about this week was QR codes.  The linked piece walks through a couple different features and extensions, like gathering data or linking to social media.  If you haven’t seen or used QR codes, they are these boxes (below) that you can scan using a phone, which will complete an action associated with the code.  If you want to try it out, you can get a free code scanner app and try it out.  This code is linked to a world famous blog (I created the code using this site).  Again this is a free tool that integrates student involvement and technology into the classroom.


  • I also came across this interview that I really wanted to share.  Its not explicitly connected to openly networked learning, but it is related to issues of race, education and reform, specifically focused on Teach for America and diversity.  I think the “magic bullet” education reform idea was on my mind this week after reading about AltSchool (here).
  • And finally, I came across this piece from the New Yorker, which takes a closer look at AltSchool, which we read about this week .  Personally, I find this type of approach to schooling to be very narrow and even more limited than what the founders call “standardized” public schools.  While many in the business and tech world see big data as a solution to all of life’s problems, I have a healthy skepticism of a for-profit school founded by people with no formal education background.



Search 7 Sunday

Search 7 Sunday

  • I thought this piece from The Nation was a good primer on racial inequality in education.  It draws directly from findings from the Department of Education, and makes a very strong case that the time is now for change.  From the piece, “Analysts found that black, Latino and Native American students have less access to advanced math and science courses and are more likely to be taught by first-year instructors than white students. Black and Native American students are also suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates.”
  • While some point to charter schools as a new way forward, new research shows that the policies of racial inequality have made their way into charter schools.  The study focused on the disciplinary actions of charter schools, nationwide, and found some very troubling results, including “a disturbing number are suspending big percentages of their black students and students with disabilities at highly disproportionate rates compared to white and non-disabled students”…”While it would seem self-evident that kids don’t learn if they’re not in school, extensive research has demonstrated that frequently suspending students for even minor infractions predicts lower academic achievement, higher dropout rates and too many kids being pushed onto a pathway to prison.”
  • This article from the National Education Association digs deeper into the similar ideas, focusing on the breadth and complexity of reform, and the many elements that make positive change in schools so difficult. “Educators are well aware of two things. First is that President George W. Bush was fundamentally right when he highlighted massive inequalities in education for minority students. Second was that he was fundamentally wrong in thinking it can be solved by high-stakes testing of children and sanctioning of schools.”
  • In the movement towards reforming education, too often politicians and reformers over-promise and oversell a special, one size-fits-all model that can be transplanted to a number of other under-performing districts.  Diane Ravitch cautions against this type of easy answer.  “My view is that school improvement goes hand in hand with improvement of people’s lives. That is not to argue against school improvement–every school can improve–but to say that we are too quick to grab onto innovations and promote them without giving them a chance to mature and prove themselves.”
  • Rather than providing a blueprint or all-in-one solution, Edutopia provides a framework for teacher and administrators to work within to best help their own schools.  I like this idea, because rather than providing a success story to model, the responsibility is given to those with the most to gain by improving a school: Teachers and administrators at that school.
  • Reform and change, to be most effective and long lasting, should come from the schools and communities, rather than politicians.  Actions like these, from the NAACP in Youngstown, Ohio, seem to be in the right direction.  The quotes from students and parents are very affecting.  A student asks: “Like how do you want us to learn and get all this stuff we need to know for the tests. You want us to pass when we don’t even have the stuff that we need to pass them with?”.  And from a parent: “Our kids are getting cheated. They are. They are getting cheated and we, the Parent Student Union, the NAACP, the Parent Empowerment, we are going to change this”.
  • Even closer to home, in Philadelphia, a number of young people are taking the mantle of civil rights upon themselves.  This type of active engagement in the community reminded me of our work this week on shared purpose.  This type of grassroots effort, based in the community is how real change gets done.
    “We just had a meeting and one of the students, Samara, she said, you know, ‘They keep having all these protests and nothing changes,” principal and founder of the Jubilee School, Karen Falcon, said. “And she said, ‘I think we should have a children’s protest. Maybe they’ll listen to the children’.”
Search 7 Sunday

Seek 6 Saturday: Creativity and Inspiration

  • I’m not the most creative person in the world.  I like to write, but beyond that, my creative output is relatively limited.  The great thing about becoming a teacher these days is that there are tremendous resources available online (and elsewhere) that make being creative easy for everyone.  I really like this tool, EDpuzzle.  EDpuzzle allows you to customize videos for your class, by letting you edit the length and adding questions.  You can also see who in your class got through the video and/or answered any questions.  I think this is a pretty great tool to make videos more useful and better integrated into your lesson plans.
  • My time at Cheltenham High School has exposed me to some pretty cool ways to get creative.  Through the ACE Mentor program, I’ve gotten the chance to meet some very creative professionals and students interested in building and design.  A colleague introduced me to TinkerCad.  This is another online tool that allows you to design 3D projects with a huge amount of options and adaptability.
  • One thing I think about a lot is how to be creative in a math classroom.  At times, it can be hard, since some of the material hasn’t change since Euclid’s day.  This resource has a lot of cool lessons that help make lessons modern and meaningful, often times integrating things like Instagram and video games, which can only make things more interesting for students.  I spent a lot of time on this site, but its probably more valuable for math teachers than others.
  • Generally, when I get creative, I write.  Over the last year, as part of my teaching certification process, I have found a few new ways to get creative.  Last semester, I took a computer science class where I was able to learn the basics of writing code in Java.  I was able to write some simple games, which was a completely new creative outlet.  I really enjoyed the process, and found that the combination of creatively writing a game alongside problem solving was a very relaxing and fun process for me.  There are a million (or so) resources online to learn to code, but this one in particular seemed like it could be used in the classroom.
  • On a related note, I saw an interesting article from The Atlantic about the way we teach coding in schools, and how unintended consequences can arise.  Over the last few years, many students, especially those who are underrepresented in the STEM fields have been pushed towards coding, though without a more in-depth education on computational thinking.  The article investigates some very interesting arguments and asks some hard questions: “Will the emphasis on knowing how to code put students of color on the bottom rung of the tech workforce?”.
  • On a personal note, the most inspirational and motivational forces in my life tend to be my friends and family.  Over the last few weeks, no one has inspired me more than an old friend from college.  Casey Gerald, a football teammate of mine, recently gave a TED talk in Vancouver about the value of doubt and the different role of faith plays in our lives.  My summary is surely not doing Casey justice, and I will share the video of his talk when it becomes available, but for now, please check out his story here.
Seek 6 Saturday: Creativity and Inspiration

Seek 6 Saturday

  • I found this article from EdSurge very interesting, especially for #ED677.  I really liked the discussion of technology and punishment.  I agree with the piece that banning technology is a great way for schools to feel more disconnected from students.  Instead, schools should find ways to use emerging technologies in meaningful ways.  In Mary Jo Madda’s words “I propose that schools ease up on the student technology bans. Simultaneously, I recommend that schools organize student-led digital citizenship instruction.”  The piece goes on to outline the need for teacher development, training and a number of ways to make technology an asset in the classroom.
  • On the more optimistic side of technology in the classroom, Edutopia’s article on viral videos was great. As a tool for project based learning, Matthew Farber “came to the conclusion that the project could be more meaningful if the videos were viral, fitting within the participatory culture of YouTube.”  I really, really like the idea of creating projects that genuinely engage students online.  School projects can be great tools for learning, but when the audience is limited to classmates, I feel like there can be a feeling of “so, what?”.  When students publish their work to a broader, participatory community, I think they can get even more out of their work.
  • My post on inquiry into race and school funding in the United States led me to find this article, focused around the political fallout following the closing of a school in North Carolina.  I know that at times, I’m guilty of thinking about public policy and politics in a disconnected way, but stories like this are reminders that political decisions have real and heartbreaking results.  In the words of one resident, “Upward mobility is being betrayed…The American dream is founded on equality of opportunity.”
  • Also in a political vein, I found this post interesting, which focuses on a call for states to opt out of No Child Left Behind standards and testing mandates.  Although there is much to be figured out with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I do find hope that schools and states will have some say in whether or not to maintain elements of NCLB, like the high stakes testing.
  • I thought this tweet hit at a very troubling double standard in education and charter reform. In the future, I’d like to dig into the motivations behind charter schools, and how they may differ based on school geography and demographics.
  • I found this article/interview from NPR on what it means to be average to be a good read.  I especially liked Todd Rose’s thoughts on schools and testing, and when we group students into levels and readiness for tests based on some idea of ‘average’.  “It feels comforting. But if you take the basic idea of jaggedness, if all kids are multidimensional in their talent, their aptitude, you can’t reduce them to a single score. It gives us a false sense of precision and gives up on pretending to know anything about these kids.”
Seek 6 Saturday

Seek 7 Sunday

  • In light of our discussions on communities, this article from John King Jr., the current Acting Secretary of Education, was interesting.  In the article, King discusses a new initiative, “Stronger Together” , which provides “ grants to support districts with strong voluntary, community-developed plans that increase socioeconomic diversity in their schools.”  My political science work may be shining through, but I always like to connect ideas to the bigger policy discussions going on outside of classrooms.
  • In a similar “big picture” vein was something mentioned it in my blog post for the week, was the Edge of Sports podcast interview with John Angelos, which I found fascinating.  The interview focuses on the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray and the many responses in Baltimore.  I found it to be particularly germane to our discussions as the focus is on inequality and the structural factors that create and maintain those inequalities within communities.
  • I found a new blog this week that I’ve been reading through, called The Intersection, which focuses on culture, society and race in the classroom.  In particular, I found this post really moving.   It is an open letter to students who tend towards shyness and introversion…”I will not mistake your silence, your quiet moments, for apathy. I will do better to not just provide you safe space to learn, but learn to celebrate and nurture you as you are right now.”  Its a really great lesson for teachers (and everyone) who can lose sight of people who are less comfortable speaking out.
  • Last semester, I read this book, Radical Equations, by Robert P. Moses, and wanted to recommend it for anyone looking at community based learning on a large scale.  In the book, Moses talks about the struggles and successes of community based voting reforms he worked on during the 1960’s in the American south, and, using the same community based, grassroots techniques, spread his education initiative, the Algebra Project to cities around the country.
  • I think the ideas of social and emotional learning take up a similar space as community education, in that they are critically important and complicated for education systems to measure and evaluate.  This post from Edutopia makes the case that there are real, tangible ways that Social and Emotional Learning improve performance across a number of areas.  “Research shows that SEL not only improves achievement by an average of 11 percentile points, but it also increases prosocial behaviors (such as kindness, sharing, and empathy), improves student attitudes toward school, and reduces depression and stress among students”
  • I found this personal story from a high school math teacher to be a very interesting read.  The post outlines the constant struggles and misconceptions female math teachers can face.  It remains frustrating that traditional gender roles still play such a big part in how people view careers and areas of interest.  In her words, “I worry that as we fight for greater access for women to male dominated spaces, we’re only fighting half the battle unless we simultaneously begin to value more greatly the work being done by those in traditionally female careers”.
  • On the lighter/satirical side of things, I found this Onion piece equal parts funny and biting.  One way to help improve math scores? “Allow students to take a few integers home with them after school”.  Not to read too much into a satirical news source, but I do believe that humor can shed light on some of the absurdities in our society and obviously our schools as well.
Seek 7 Sunday