January Featured Educator – Tom Williams

Tom WilliamsMassCUE is pleased to announce Tom Williams as our Featured Educator for January 2023!

For Tom Williams, there is no better time than right now to be a teacher. As a history teacher at the Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in Charlton, Williams uses technology to turn lessons from something students HAVE to do, to something they GET to do. He and his students are learning and having a lot of fun in the process.

“I’m going to sound crazy for saying this,” Wiliams says. “But the tools that are available to teachers right now are so amazing; the greatest time to be a teacher is right now.”

Williams acknowledges there are things about today’s educational environment that are difficult for teachers, but when it comes to instruction, the technology that is available to teachers now makes it possible for them to come up with lessons they could have only dreamed about.

“When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, educational technology became what it should be,” says Williams. “It’s a new frontier, but it’s a great one. The only limit is my imagination.”

One example of this is a Criminal Justice unit that used to feature giant packets of paper. Williams transformed it into a live-action, Batman-esque murder mystery with evidence and suspects that really put the students into the role of investigators. Williams worked with representatives from Soundtrap (whom he connected with at the MassCUE Fall Conference) to create a framework and then wrote the lesson himself. Soundtrap loved the idea so much, they have a version of the lesson on their website. Students will work to solve the crime using audio files of “interviews” of the suspects that Williams created in Soundtrap. The lesson includes other pieces of digital “evidence” and students will create their own crime board using a template he made in Canva.

“This lesson is my opus. It’s something I always wanted to do, but never could because these resources just didn’t exist before,” says Williams. “I can’t wait for the students to get started.”

Williams points to Microsoft Teams as a tool that has expanded the possibilities for his classroom with features like Stream, OneDrive and PowerPoint. When it comes to creativity, he and his students are big fans of Canva. And for digital learning assessments, he uses the game-based learning program Gimkit, which he says features game modes of different lengths (from 5 minutes to 45 minutes) that are fun and always changing.

“Gimkit is great because it allows me to really focus on how the students are doing with the content,” Williams says. “We can play a 5 or 7-minute review game and I can see immediately what we need to work on before an exam.”

Gimkit is so popular with the students that some have even asked Williams to create extra games for them so they can level up their characters. They call it the “Gimkit grind.”

In addition to teaching history, Williams serves as an Instructional Technology Coach at Bay Path. He earned the role during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he stepped up to provide professional development to his colleagues on the use of various edtech tools that would help bridge the gap with remote learning. After hearing from a student that they were overwhelmed by all of the different tools and methods teachers were using during the pandemic, he worked with administration and his colleagues to create best practices and enlisted teachers to deliver training.

“I didn’t know that I would be the one to lead this effort until I was,” says Williams. “Any change is difficult, but teachers are incredibly adaptive and genius.”

In the time since then, Williams has evaluated and revamped his own lessons that had a low completion rate among students.

“When I went through my gradebook, the assignments that had the lowest completion rate were all paper-based,” Williams says. “I scrapped anything that didn’t have a 65-75% completion rate and came up with a new way to make those lessons more in alignment with what I am trying to do in the classroom.”

Williams’ advice to colleagues who are using technology in the classroom: be ready to troubleshoot. The more invested you are in edtech, the more things will go wrong.

“You have to be willing to adapt,” says Williams. “You have to have that confidence that you can make it work. Issues will happen, but you can learn from them.”

His other advice to colleagues: you can’t start too small or too big with technology. It’s all about what feels right to you and being open.

“Edtech really is about synthesizing that great energy that you already have in class and amplifying it,” Williams says. “Really creative amazing things can happen but you have to be open to letting them happen.”

Video: One Night in Gotham: A Murder Mystery

Mystery Lesson on Soundtrap Website

View Lesson

Mystery Lesson

Thomas Williams has been a classroom history teacher for 18 years. All of those 18 years have been at Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in Charlton. In addition to being a classroom teacher, Thomas has recently adopted the role of Instructional Technology Coach at the school. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Master’s Degree in Education from Worcester State University.

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