Written by Dawn Martesi, Coach at Armstrong Middle School

For teachers, using new technology–especially apps that are often used for texting or chatting–can be intimidating. Taking a risk and letting students explore on their own is nerve-racking, but as this story from Armstrong Middle School illustrates, taking risks can often lead to huge victories in the classroom and greater student engagement.

Just as teacher tension started to rise with the chat feature of Google Hangouts (a video communication platform), two seventh graders asked their teacher, Mrs. Volpe, if they could video chat with an absent group member on a presentation. Initially, the teacher’s gut reaction was no, no video chatting in school… then she paused and said, “You mean that Google Hangout thing on your tablet? Alright, let’s try it!”

The students were able to collaborate and work on their group project even though one of the group members wasn’t able to be in school that day. The student had to leave school early again the following day, but was still able to participate with her group by using Google Hangouts. Mrs. Volpe said it was: “Awesome to have her [the student] call in and still participate with her group. They propped up their tablets so the group could see the student and talk to her as they were working on their presentation.” After this first successful group project, another student from a different class told Mrs. Volpe he was going to be absent and asked if he could use Google Hangouts to work with his group too! Mrs. Volpe has now become a champion of Hangouts. She has shared her successes in our Teacher of Armstrong Google Community and has encouraged other teachers to use Hangouts to increase learning opportunities for students who are absent from school.

This collaboration was entirely student driven – it was completely the students’ idea to use Hangouts to stay connected. Just one instance of this led to other students asking to “be in school” even when they were excused for the day. This is such a great example of these students’ love for learning and commitment to learning together. There’s always a balance with using technology in the classroom, but it’s important for teachers to be open to incorporating different tools and apps. As we’ve learned from Armstrong, taking a risk with the new technologies can lead to major learning breakthroughs!

Check out this video to hear the story from the teacher and students directly:

Produced by Joe Marlow, Storyteller at Armstrong Middle School


About Emily Morris

Emily Morris is a Project Associate with the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools initiative.