Classroom Stories: Interview with Todd Webb, 5th Grade Teacher

Mr. Todd Webb is a teacher in the Tustin Unified School District in California, where he has been teaching fifth grade for 10 years. Prior to that, he has had experience teaching in third grade and in private schools. Todd began using CueThink after his students got excited about the product, and we talked with him about his experiences.



CueThink: Welcome! Now you’re a 5th grade teacher, Todd?

Todd: Fifth grade, I’ve been teaching 5th grade for 10 years now.

CueThink: Excellent, and prior to that? I know you have a lot more experience than just fifth grade, right?

Todd: I’ve been in public school now for fifteen years, prior to fifth grade I did five years in third grade. Before public school I taught in the private schools, mainly for the juvenile halls in the group homes. I have 36 students in my classroom. I was actually born and raised here in Tustin, I actually went to school in the Tustin Unified School District, and then just got lucky and ended up teaching back here.

CueThink: So tell us, Todd, why did you start using CueThink?

Todd: At Tustin we have what’s called these digital TOSAs, they’re digital learning coaches. As part of that, a number of teachers were able to be technology fellows this year, and I got to be one of those. So I have my own digital learning coach who comes once a week, and she introduced me to CueThink. I let my kids play around with it, and it was my kids that convinced me that it was a really good app and to start using it. So I credit Jessica Bodas, my digital learning coach, for introducing me to it. Since then, I’ve introduced three or four other teachers to CueThink who are using it now, and next week I’m actually going to do a training for our entire school about how to use it. So we’re rapidly becoming a CueThink school here.

CueThink: Fabulous. So when you first introduced it into your classroom, you’re saying that students are the ones that are giving you the thumbs up on it, how did you do that?

Todd: We started with a small group, it was a day that my digital learning coach was here, and she took a small group of students and kind of dialed it in for me and them, and got everybody logged on. From there, those groups of students introduced it to the rest of the class. So, we basically trained a small group and then split those kids up into other groups to train the other kids, and while they were doing that I was learning my end of it. I simply assigned a few practice problems just out of your problem bank, and let them explore. When I was able to get on and see all of the students’ work, and when I was able to look at what they were doing, I was sold. We’ve been using it ever since.

CueThink: Did your students take the tour when they were doing that first thing?

Todd: Yes my first group took the tour that was being introduced by my digital learning coach, and then when they introduced it to the other students, when they went home they all looked through the tutorial.

CueThink: Were your students familiar with the problem solving process – with four phases?

Todd: To a point they were. This is a brand new year for many teachers – we have new Common Core standards, we have a new textbook that was adopted this year, we've been trained in new ways to teach math (CGI for example), it’s becoming much more process-based. No longer is it just a teacher asking a question and having the kids shout out “Twelve is the right answer!” It’s really no longer the answer that’s important, it’s the process. And we’ve been working this year to really find what the process should be. And then your CueThink came along and pretty much laid out exactly what we wanted the kids to be going through every time they worked out a problem.

CueThink: How often do you use it, and how do you see that changing?

Todd: Right now, I don’t really use it as a teaching tool, so we don’t really use CueThink to teach a concept. It’s more practice, reinforcement, and then really taking the problem to a deeper level. I know one of your questions that you were going to ask later was “How do you make the concept stick for the students?” and one way to do that is to have a lot of discussion and to have a lot of explanation. I don’t want to see just the final product anymore, I want to see your whole process and I want to hear you explain to me your reasoning and your strategy that you used to come up with it. That’s becoming much more important than just regurgitating an answer or the rote memorization of how to do a problem. We want that deep understanding and the one way to do that is to take kids through that entire process every single time they work a problem.

CueThink: Now are you using this daily?

Todd: I would say that we’re using it two or three times a week. I use it a couple times during the week in class so that I can monitor and make sure that they’re taking their time and doing everything adequately, and then I usually throw it in as a homework assignment as well. And the kids love doing this as homework assignments, it’s so much better than giving them a worksheet with 20 problems on it that they get nothing out of. I would much rather give them one problem that they have to fully explain and fully work through and draw a picture and tell me their strategies and explain it using your video. That is much more valuable to making an ever lasting impression, to making it stick, than just doing a worksheet full of problems.

CueThink: We totally agree. You were telling me earlier a little bit about how your students wanted to use it even more – can you talk about that?

Todd: Oh yeah. That was one of the amazing things, and that was what really sold me finally on the CueThink process. I had introduced it a few times, it was probably my second week of using it, so we hadn’t really used it a whole lot. When we were assigning problem in class, and again it wasn’t a worksheet with 20-30 problems, they had one or two to do on a board that they were discussing with a group, and as I was walking around listening to the groups discuss the problem, I noticed that one group in particular were using all of the strategies they found in CueThink, and I saw one of my students with their iPad out with the CueThink website. They weren’t working on the site, they just wanted it up there as a visual for them to remember all the steps of the process, and they were using it to work the process when I hadn’t assigned it. And that really clicked with me that “okay, my kids are understanding more going through the whole process, and they really want to understand it and use the process.” It was a surprise for me, it was an eye-opener, and really sold me not just on CueThink, but that it’s no longer the answer that’s important, it’s obviously the process that’s working for these students.

CueThink: That’s really great to hear. So do you think you would maybe create “a make your own problem” assignment, and leave that out for your students?

Todd: Oh definitely, yeah. It’s a great idea, especially if they are going to want to use something to learn, how would you even want to stand in the way of that? I just want to make it easier for them.

CueThink: Good to hear. So the next thing I have here is for teachers that need ideas to get going for CueThink, what would be some suggestions? And you also mentioned that you might be sharing this with your whole school building, right?

Todd: Yeah that’s going to happen next Wednesday, we’re going to have a mini in-service, it’s not going to be a 2 hour long process, but I’m going to spend about a half hour introducing the other teachers to it. They’ve already heard me talking about it, every teacher here that I have shown CueThink to have loved it, they’ve all jumped right on it. Again we’re all looking for a way to teach that process. And this is really the best tool that we’ve found so far that’s out there.

CueThink: You mentioned that first day you had your digital learning coach with you. Were there any other tips/suggestions? What about the teacher that’s just introducing this on their own. What would you advise them?

Todd: A lot is going to depend on the grade level. Obviously a  first grade teacher is probably not going to be able to do what I did, which is say to my students “Here’s the site, here’s the app that we’ve got downloaded for you, now I want you guys to explore and figure it out.” My fifth graders can do that, they’re really good at it, they know the iPad, they know how to do apps, it’s their generation. They’re much better at figuring out these apps than I am. They teach me every single day something to do with technology. So I would advise an upper grade teacher to let your kids explore and run with it. You make it really easy by creating a bank of problems. I would just start with the bank, add a couple assignments, and let your kids solve them and work on them. I didn’t check their work for accuracy the first few times they did the CueThink, I just wanted them to go through the process. And then slowly, I get a little more picky with their responses and we go from there. But I would advise teachers: get the app, and then have your kids just start exploring. It’s a very easy app to figure out.