Connecting Virtual Rural Classrooms with PearDeck

In our southern Alberta rural school district we have many very small schools. Sometimes there are only three or four, or even one or two students in a grade level. In primary and elementary levels the solution is triple graded classrooms, however, this is less practical or realistic once students hit junior high. One solution that our district has employed is the development of a robust video conferencing network, supported by reliable technology.

While our division has been connecting classrooms via video conferencing for over a dozen years, the supporting technology has changed and sometimes outpaced the technology that our teachers are using. In the early days of video conferencing teacher assistants would fax and/or email student assignments back-and-forth to the teacher to be marked. Of course, this was time-consuming, and the time it took to digitize these paper products added to the length of time students waited for projects and assignments to be marked and returned. As technology has become more 1 to 1 it is important that our teachers shift from the fax and email mentality to using the many tools that are now available to not only make accessing work easier, but also more engaging.

Our ninth grade video conference math teacher is located in one of our larger centres but teaches math to four different school sites, each with 1 to 5 students.

Math 9 via Video Conference

5 sites are joined via video conference for Math 9

Each group of students is assisted by an Education Assistant (EA) who helps with the content on site, as well as the logistics of getting materials back-and-forth. Despite the support, it is still a challenge to keep students on task and to help them as much as they need. To alleviate this, we have been working together to come up with solutions for this teacher and one of the very best has been in the form of Pear Deck.

The Video Conferencing Pear Deck Revolution

The teacher pushes her Google Slides lesson out to the students and they join the Pear Deck session on an iPad. As they work through the lessons, she can watch in real time as students respond to questions.

Pear Deck real time

The video conference teacher using Pear Deck can see thumbnails as each student answers questions in real time – from 5 different sites.

Unlike some other platforms of this nature, students do not have to press submit to send their work. This is very important in this situation because the teacher can see who is stalling, off task, or struggling. After the modelling portion of the lesson, the teacher turns the lesson setting to “student-paced” so students are able to work through remaining questions/slides at their own pace, while the teacher can move between slides to support individual students.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher publishes “student take-aways” – a premium feature – which automatically puts a Google Doc copy of all notes/slides and a copy of the student responses into a Pear Deck folder in each student’s Google Drive, organized by lesson date and title. The teacher also has a copy of this document for each student so she can use portions of it for individual assessment if desired.

Other video conference classes in our district have also been using Pear Deck, but since they are humanities-based, students can type many of their responses on Chromebooks. Trying to have students type Math just to use Pear Deck would be a deal breaker, so we have found enough iPads (sometimes old ones) to allow each student to use a stylus + iPad to “write” their math. This has taken some getting used to, but it is becoming more normal. We have solved the issue of “not enough writing space” by increasing the custom slide length in Google Slides – this allows the students to scroll down to continue their answer, something they can’t do when the lesson is on a standard-sized slide.

Of course, there will be ‘bad internet days’ when a cloud-based technology like Pear Deck just doesn’t work.  Fortunately, there is always pencil and paper as a backup!


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