Feature Friday: Patrick Tolman

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here.

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Patrick Tolman, a high school social studies teacher. Mr. Tolman received his Master’s degree in curriculum design with an emphasis on educational technology, so I took this interviewing opportunity to ask deeper questions about utilizing tech in classrooms. He had some great answers to share with us! 

What is your favorite thing about teaching high school social studies? 

“My favorite part of teaching social studies is having a student’s perspective. These ideas and opinions change from year to year and student to student and they always make the in-class discussions more valuable and allow us to talk about the historical thinking skills that I focus on in my class.”

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom? 

“I love tools that allow students to provide their opinions or responses anonymously so that there are no barriers to student participation. Tools like polleverywhere or padlet that allow students to participate with their favorite device (their cellphone).  I have got some of the best responses from students using these tools that I am fairly certain I would not have received with a traditional question, answer, raise your hand, response type of situation.  I got my Master’s degree in curriculum design and instruction with an emphasis on educational technology and my thesis was about improving the classroom using cell phones so I could go on about what a great opportunity teachers have to help students engage more with these devices.”

What are the benefits you have seen by utilizing technology in your classroom?

“The biggest benefit of using technology in the classroom is that you are giving students more buy-in.  Technology plays such a large role in students’ lives today that by using it in class you are giving the students a king of validation to a part of themselves. Especially if you make use of their cell phones!”  

There are a lot of frustrations that come with using technology, how do you move past this and keep it a positive aspect in your teaching? 

“You have to plan ahead and be ok with some hiccups in using it at first. Just like regular classroom management you have to establish norms for how it is used in class. But…….”

What advice do you have for the educators out there currently using minimal technology, but want to expand and use more? 

“You can’t be afraid to use new things.  We ask the kids to learn new things all the time so we have to be willing to do the same.  Education is a field in which we have to be in the process of continual improvement!  There are so many tools out there you are bound to find something that will make your classroom more engaging and likely make the presentation of information easier!”

What are your best tips for avoiding burnout? 

“Plan ahead.  Put in some extra work in the summer to prepare for the school year so that you aren’t stressed preparing last minute.  If possible do your grading at work and then leave it at work. Don’t take it home with you. When you go home, be home and present for your home life.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“I teach at an alternative high school and some of the responses I get from students are inappropriate and have to be addressed as such, but in general, I try to make sure that even if students give an answer that is not correct that we explore their response and talk about it so that students feel that their voice is heard and matters.  The outcome I see from this is that most students are willing to speak up and answer in class which is great for me as a teacher and great for them to buy into what we are discussing.” 


Thanks, Mr. Tolman, for your great thoughts and for diving deeper into the ever-growing educational technology.

Come back next week for a very special Feature Friday, where our old writer here at Honors Grad U, Mary Wade will be showering us with her wisdom once again!

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