Classroom Stories: Student-centered Learning with CueThink

To give a little background, I have been using the “flipped classroom” model in my classroom for the past two years. This has been a wonderful experience and has transformed the way I view teaching and learning. I am no longer the center of attention and my students not only control the pace of their instruction, but also get to do more problem-solving in class due to the increased face-to-face time the “flipped classroom” creates. Despite this, I was still searching for something more.

I came across the CueThink website a few weeks back without knowing what to really make of it. I saw three words on the home page, “Make Math Social,” and thought this is exactly what I needed to do more of in my classroom. If I know my middle school students, I know they are VERY social. I also know that they are not always social in math class. Even my top students are shy to participate and speak in front of their peers at times. While I often plan to get students communicating and collaborating, it doesn’t always happen with ease. I am fortunate to work in a school district that has a great deal of technology available for teacher and student use. Knowing I had access to iPads and students that get excited at any chance to use them, I clicked “Sign Up” to learn more about CueThink and to give it a try in my classes.  

After downloading the app on the my iPad and registering as a teacher, I had the chance to play around with some features before my students did. The tutorials on the website were very helpful to explaining how the app functioned. I was impressed. I thought that the app had potential and was anxious to roll it out to my classes. Before jumping into the app as a class, I gave some background on basic app functions and that explained that this was their chance to record a video of their math solutions. Students loved this idea since the only videos used in our class were ones that I created for them. I loved the idea that my students were going to create their own videos! The sign-up process was a breeze and students were engaged right away with choosing an avatar and giving their avatar a fun name. We were ready to start using CueThink.

A group of my students working together using CueThink and getting social about math!

A group of my students working together using CueThink and getting social about math!

Traditionally, I encourage my students to underline key parts of a problem before solving and eliminate irrelevant information, but they often don’t take the time to do that. Students were doing this on the app using the highlighter tool and the cross out tool. Students also took time to develop a plan of attack for solving the problem. They chose helpful strategies from a list and even created their own. So often they just rush into doing math without making a plan in advance. They loved the digital scrap paper to practice their math! As a teacher, the “Understand” and “Plan” screens were my favorite. As for my students, the “Solve” and “Review” screens were easily their favorites. They were helping each other, they were social, and more specifically, they were social about math. They recorded their solutions into videos and played them back. CueThink refers to these as “Thinklets.” I watched some students quickly submit thinklets to their class that were rushed and not checked over for quality. I watched some students try and perfect their thinklets because they knew their classmates would watch them. I think student production quality will improve as we use the app for a longer period of time. Students started watching and annotating each others' thinklets in the class gallery and annotated in some cases. It was great to watch them view how others were thinking. I find tremendous value as a teacher in having another means to tell exactly what my students are thinking as they solve a problem as opposed as trying to analyze their work on paper after it was completed. They gave each other some “thumbs ups” and “likes.” Period 8 students got to see what Period 5 students were doing, Period 6 students got to see what Period 8 students were doing, and so on. My individual class sections became one big class instead of three separate ones. This is the classroom community that CueThink has the power to create that goes beyond the physical walls of the classroom.

I truly believe that CueThink can quickly become a teacher’s go-to tool for getting students more engaged in math class. I watched shy students speak up and become OK with recording their own voice on the iPad because they found it fun. I watched a couple students who resisted staying after school for extra help stay after school voluntarily to work on their “thinklets.” I watched students give positive comments to their peers by annotating each others' videos. I watched students think better and work harder. I watched students create something that was their own and something they were proud to share with others. This is the culture I wanted to create in my classroom. I feel good about bringing this school year to a close knowing that my students had an experience they likely won’t forget. If you are a math teacher with access to iPads (and it doesn’t even need to be a 1:1 environment since this app lends itself to partner work and group work), are willing to put the students at the center of the learning process, and want to really see how they think and create, I recommend installing CueThink and giving it a try in your classroom. Your students will love it. Mine sure did!

 

Michael Drezek

Mathematics Teacher

Lake Shore Middle School

Angola, New York