EdTech on Campus: Art teacher utilizes technology to raise bar for students

Cooper Davis’ students create impressive artwork.

Whether Davis is working with high school freshmen, upperclassmen, or middle school scholars, he helps them produce creative, intentional and often professional work.

Though Davis says the most commonly used piece of technology in his classes is a pencil, he has found a way to blend art and technology to create a world of new possibilities for students.


What are some of the technology tools/apps/resources you use most in your art classes?

Each of my classes has a unique set of technology tools depending on the subject. For my Freshman Humanities classes we work primarily on the iPads using apps such as Stop Motion Movie Maker, Photoshop Express, and Notability. One of the more creative uses for the iPad I have used in all my Brophy and Loyola Academy classes has been its ability to work as a tracing lightbox. By simply using guided access to lock the touch controls the iPad can be used to trace any image available online. For my Graphic Design and Photography classes I love to get students onto the iMac desktops and working in the Adobe Creative Cloud. We mostly use Photoshop and Illustrator to create a wide variety of designs. At the end of the day the most used technology in my classroom is the pencil!

The Adobe Creative Cloud Suite can be really powerful, but also really complex. How do you think you’ve been successful in teaching students how to use the CC apps? Where do students struggle?

As professional grade creative software, Adobe’s suite sometimes can seem outside of the realm of an intro level student. But I believe in order to create high quality work that students should be using high quality supplies regardless of early challenges. My approach generally has been to introduce students to the interface and basic functionalities of the programs so that they can get to work with some degree of confidence despite the innumerable unknowns. Then as we really begin working I prioritize the importance of research, troubleshooting, and collaboration. Often when students start getting creative, complex technical problems arise that I am not sure how to solve, but with a “we are all in this together” attitude we tend to find a solution.

Examples of design work from Cooper Davis’ students.

What sort of opportunities and/or potential has educational technology created for art and the students who produce art?

Technology in the art classroom has really revolutionized not only how my students are creating their art, but also how they research and publish their work on the back end. Quality apps and programs allow students to create stunning videos, photos, and designs that would have required expert levels of skill only a few years ago but the real increase in quality work comes when students are able to see what creative professionals and their classmates are creating. Creating art in a digital community where inspiration can be sought instantly from all over the globe and technical answers can be found at the click of the button has really raised the bar for students across the board. From design to painting I have seen the quality of student work improve vastly.

In what ways are traditional media like paper and pencil still superior to any ed tech resources?

Personally I am old school when it comes to my pre-process. I do all my notetaking, sketching, and rough drafts in my sketchbook using pencils and markers. With a classical training in drawing this is what makes most sense to me. That said I have been continuously impressed with what students with a stylus and a touch screen have been able to create in Notability or similar apps. Sketching digitally allows them to easily change colors, erase perfectly, and make copies of their ideas when they are in the ideation stage of their projects.

A campus display of posters designed by Cooper Davis’ students.

What are the one or two mobile apps an artist has to have?

Photoshop Express and Spark Post. Clearly I am an Adobe fan boy so I love these apps for doing quick edits from pictures off my phone so I can create a polished looking post for Facebook, Instagram, or Behance in a matter of minutes. PS Express allows me to go beyond the editing capacity built into my phone and help transform quick phone camera snapshots to quality photographs by increasing contrast, manipulating colors, and utilizing effects. Spark Post is an awesome app for making lightning fast typographic and graphic element pairings with quality photos. Based on templates it is super easy to use and always yields good looking results.

What is next on the ed tech horizon for you and your students? What do imagine your class looks like 5 years down the road?

This past year I attended the Adobe Max creativity conference and saw some of the biggest creative tech companies strut their stuff. Some of the coolest things I saw that I can imagine being amazing resources in the classroom were collaborative touch workspaces and virtual reality. Currently my students often work in groups on iMac Desktops, but the experience is limited as students have to share a mouse and most software only allows one user at once. I had the opportunity to experiment on a large tabletop touch computer and the ability to collaborate and produce stunning digital art was immediately apparent. Inking on these devices goes well beyond the finger painting of an iPad and the ability to group around the screen and not share a mouse gets more students involved in the creative process.

Virtual Reality has really grown in the past few years and it will be incredibly interesting to see where the technology takes society. In the art classroom it could become a compelling tool for the creation of unique and stunning works. At High Tech High in San Diego I visited a classroom where students were programming their own VR worlds, and at Max I had the opportunity to use a device to draw three dimensionally. Both experiences really shattered my doubts about the accessibility of VR and its ability to be more than an entertainment media experience. Brophy continues to be at the forefront of educational technology and seeing what is out there for our students to explore fills me with excitement for what they will be able to create moving forward.

Cooper Davis teaches Humanities, Graphic Design, Digital Photography and a middle school art program. He graduated from Brophy in 2010 and is the school’s Quidditch coach.

EdTech on Campus: SmartMusic fosters rehearsal success, students see skills increase


For Brophy Band Director Leo Werner, students regularly rehearsing outside of class is a key for their performance success.

Using SmartMusic, which boasts that it “changes music practice forever,” students are able to see exactly how they are playing in real time, and then continue to work on the piece as many times as it takes to get it just right.

In his end of the semester evaluations, Mr. Werner’s students noted their individual and ensemble performances improved because of their rehearsal work.

Can you describe what SmartMusic is and how you use it in your classroom?

SmartMusic is a web-based app/practice tool for musicians that provides immediate feedback in the areas of pitch, rhythm, and tempo.

It can be used in large group rehearsals to provide reference recordings of music being studied, and also to provide visual and aural cues (by projecting the notation/sheet music on screen, and by playing a click track that is synced to the recording of that music).

Students also use SmartMusic in their individual practice outside of class. SmartMusic can isolate/play individual parts for students to hear and match. And immediately after playing a particular passage, SmartMusic shows correct and incorrect notes and rhythms directly on the onscreen sheet music.

In assessment mode, students can record as many “takes” of their part as they like—then students can submit a selected take through the SmartMusic platform. I receive a recording of the take, along with a view of the onscreen correct/incorrect notes and rhythms, and the computer score of the assessment. I listen to the recordings and adjust the scores if needed, and can provide comments back to the student, if needed.

How do you think SmartMusic has changed how students learn? What have you seen as evidence that SmartMusic is beneficial?

When I arrived here, students identified a lack of individual practice outside of class as room for growth for the band. The regularly required SmartMusic assessments have significantly increased not only the amount of individual practice, but also the quality of that practice. In-person, student-by-student testing of individual parts for one piece of music during class, could consume several class periods—and would not allow much (if any) time for re-takes. Using SmartMusic for testing outside of class allows the students as many attempts as they’d like, and allows us to continue using class time for rehearsal.

How have students responded to using SmartMusic? Are there challenges that have come from using it?

Initially students can be frustrated by the somewhat unforgiving nature of the software: students must perform rhythms with great accuracy—or even correct pitches will be marked wrong, due to timing errors. However, the student perception surveys at the end of each semester reflect a growing appreciation for SmartMusic and an acknowledgement that individual and group playing skills are increasing through the use of the app.

What is next on the technology/curriculum horizon for you and your students?

SmartMusic will continue to be an important tool for us in the band classes. And over the next few years, we hope to expand our use of the app to include the features/modules we do not currently use such as: sight-reading exercises, scales/modes, and play-by-ear exercises.

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EdTech on Campus: Flashcards evolve with Quizlet as student learning jumps


Spanish teacher Ian Munro knows the value of vocabulary reinforcement when it comes to learning a new language.

He also knows that technology has the ability to streamline and enhance old techniques and raise achievement to new levels.

Using Quizlet as a regular tool in class, Mr. Munro’s students increased their vocab assessment average scores by a full letter grade.

Can you describe what Quizlet is and how you use it in your classroom?

Quizlet is a free website that provides learning tools, such as, flashcards, study modes and games for students.  Quizlet was originally created by a high school student to have an easier way to memorize French vocabulary.  The thought process was to find a way to implement technology to reinforce the memorization techniques used with flashcards.

I use Quizlet in my classroom to introduce vocabulary, reinforce the vocabulary learning, teach student accountability, and provide a competitive element to the classroom.  The great thing about Quizlet is that there are many features within the website, which does not allow it to become stagnant to the students.  If a student is starting to feel bored with the digital flashcards, they can switch to a game to review the same vocabulary set that they were studying.  

In Brophy Spanish classes, students are introduced to the chapter vocabulary by being provided a link in the Quizlet class that they enrolled in at the beginning of the year.  Each class section is unique to the level of the course and ensures that the students are all studying the same material.  In my classes, within Quizlet, students are required to review their vocabulary and complete a mode called “Learn.”  “Learn” is a mode that gives the student a word in English, and then they have to give the Spanish translation.  If they provide the correct response multiple times, they have successfully learned the word, if not, the mode recycles the missed word and they would have to review it again.  The Learn mode successfully simulates vocabulary assessments and allows students to prepare more thoroughly  At the end of each chapter, which is about every 2-3 weeks, the students are tested on the vocabulary that they have been studying.

How did you find Quizlet and first implement it? What helped you decide to implement it as a regular tool in class?

I first came across Quizlet as a college student.  Much like the creator of the website, I was looking for a more streamlined approach to incorporate technology in my learning.  Quizlet is great because it allows you to search for previously created sets or to create your own.  I loved the fact that I could access my virtual flashcards at any time on any device by simply logging into my account.  

When I became a teacher, it was a no-brainer for me to share my own learning method with my students.  I created sets for each chapter of our book and shared that set with my students.  By providing pre-created sets, I eliminated the problem I would encounter in the past, which were students studying the wrong vocabulary, misspelling terms that they were studying, and using different terms to describe the same thing, i.e. “andar” instead of “caminar” to say the action “to walk.”

How do you think Quizlet has changed how students learn? What have you seen as evidence that Quizlet is beneficial? Does it provide useful data for you?

I do think Quizlet has enhanced the way students learn.  I have seen too often in the past that students rely on last minute reviews, which means they are only memorizing terms and forgetting them, or short-term memory.  With Quizlet and the multiple modes within it, they are effectively practicing with repetition, the same method we see a basketball player use to practice free throws and that toddlers use to learn to talk.  This process helps the new terms process from short-term memory to long-term memory, effectively allowing the students to grow their vocabulary to write and communicate better.

When I first started to implement Quizlet, the class average on vocabulary assessments was a 74%. I knew that they could improve because as a Quizlet user myself, I found it to help immensely with my memorization.  I then required certain modes to be completed, more specifically the “Learn” mode that I described earlier.  After making it a requirement, I saw a boost in scores to a mean of 86%.  That’s an entire letter grade improvement, which I know the students were very pleased to see that with some effort, they could do immensely better.

Yes, Quizlet provides data that I find extremely beneficial for my classes and for the individual student.  I am able to see statistics of the most incorrect terms that they are getting wrong for each set, which allows me to adjust my lessons to include additional practice with that particular missed term.  I can also see how often and when students are accessing sets to study.  This provides a wonderful resource to be able to have students see that they need to better manage their time if they are not doing well in the class.

How have students responded to using Quizlet? Are there other challenges that have come from using Quizlet?

Students have responded very well to using Quizlet and have made it a part of their class culture.  There is a competitive element that has also come from within the different game modes in Quizlet.  The two game modes “Scatter/Match” and “Gravity” provide two mini-games to practice with the vocabulary, and also has a leaderboard that compares a student’s score with that of his peers.  This leaderboard has been the source for bragging rights and in-class rewards.  The students get extremely competitive when trying to set the top score for the week.  I suppose that one of the challenges that has come from using Quizlet is to not allow it to overtake the majority of class time.  It has become a never ending quest to be the top score and to remain the top leader.

What is next on the edtech horizon for you and your students? What do imagine your class looks like 5 years down the road?

Having come back from a Google EdtechTeam Summit recently, I am very excited about our future integration with Augmented Reality.  There are applications that are starting to emerge that integrate with Google Maps, and even street view.  It seems to be a close reality that my students will be able to slip on an AR headset, walk around our Brophy campus, and be transported to Guadalajara, Mexico or Madrid, Spain.  The possibilities are endless!  It’s an exciting time to be involved with technology on the educational front.

I imagine my classes to continue to embrace innovative technology that helps support the learning process.  It’s important however to lose sight of what works, and while the engagement and results are still there, I do not see Quizlet losing it’s place on the leaderboard anytime soon.

EdTech on Campus: Membean boosts vocabulary through self-paced, mobile training



Brophy English Department Chair Mr. John Damaso ’97 is not afraid to try new things in his classroom.

Mr. Damaso’s classes can be a laboratory for apps and new educational technology. While some experiments do not pan out, others can make a big impact and bring students—and in the case of Membean, vocabulary—to a whole new level.

Can you describe what Membean is and how you use it in your classroom? How has it been/will it be used across the English department?

Membean is a self-paced, online vocabulary trainer for students. After a brief online diagnostic, students begin learning level-appropriate words that Membean has identified as college preparatory lexical items important to university reading and writing expectations. Students learn the nuance and subtleties of English vocabulary through a “word page” that can display a video, a revelatory image, illustrative examples from quality publications, a “root tree” etymology, a “memory hook” (mnemonic device), sample passage, quiz question, and more. As students train, they see word pages alternated with quiz questions (fill in the blank and forced choice) about the vocabulary words and the root words and affixes. The “adaptive engine” will show more new words to a student making few mistakes and fewer words to a student making more mistakes. The goal for Membean is “durable learning,” not short-term “cramming.”

In Brophy English classes, students generally complete 10-20 minute training sessions a few times per week for a 45-60 minute/week total through the year. Level 1 students may encounter words like dubious, fortification, havoc; Level 3 students see glib, impunity, abject; Level 5 students face dilatory, ennui, internecine. (About a year ago Membean added a Level 6, partially in response to a few Brophy students who had already completed Levels 1 through 5 (~2,000 words). About once per month, students take a personalized quiz through their iPads to check for understanding.  Teachers can glimpse class trends and individual performance to guide students, who are often working through different levels of vocabulary and at different paces. Last year, for example, one sophomore encountered 250 words while another faced 1,200 words.  Students in all freshman, sophomore, and junior English classes in 2016-17 will have full-year licenses for Membean. Some students choose to continue their training in the summers in preparation for PSAT, SAT, and AP exams.

How did you find Membean and first implement it? You have had lots of conversations with Membean developers over the years, correct? What has come from those conversations?

In the summer of 2012, I believe, I was contemplating how to best help Brophy students uncover the polysemous nature of English vocabulary. Often English teachers use flashcards with one-to-one definitions for words (e.g., lugubrious = sad) to help students learn vocabulary, but I felt I was failing to help students internalize the many nuances of a word in context.  I found myself Googling “English vocabulary learning tool” or something like that and stumbled upon a fledgling startup in Portland, OR, called Membean. I contacted the company and requested a pilot account.  English Department Chair Scott Middlemist authorized a semester pilot in my Honors English 2 class in the fall and then a full-pilot with all of my classes in the spring. Polls of student feedback of Membean resulted in overwhelming support.


Along the way, I learned that we were an early adopter of Membean (one of its first five schools, I recall), and as my students and I used Membean and send feedback to the company, we started to create a relationship with CEO Ragav Satish and his small, dedicated staff of developers and content creators. Students would uncover bugs, typos, or erroneous information on word pages, and Membean would correct them, often in the same day.  I appreciated giving the students an opportunity to serve as QA (quality assurance) analysts, and some students like Alex Bhatt ’17 have been publicly recognized by the company.  Anthony Cardellini ’17, for example, discovered a formidable bug in Membean’s quizzing instrument, and for his honesty and incisiveness, was sent a limited edition Membean beanie.

I asked Ragav to reflect on his experience working with Brophy in 2014, and this is what he wrote in an email:

The teachers and students of Brophy, especially John, have been invaluable partners of Membean. Brophy was the 3rd school to use Membean. Three years later we have hundreds of schools using Membean across the world with half a billion word-questions answered. This would have been difficult without initial support from Brophy.

John in particular has been instrumental in brainstorming, suggesting and shaping a number of features of Membean. We’ve exchanged more emails with John than any other teacher across our schools. A number of FAQs on our support site were derived from exchanges with John.

A small sample of features and content that John and his students were directly or indirectly responsible for:

  1. New, simplified reports that allow teachers to quickly check if students met goals.
  2. Variable number of questions on assessments
  3. Keyboard shortcuts for advancing during training
  4. Reducing student stress by disabling question and assessment progress bars
  5. An undo for the “I Know This” option
  6. Make-up tests and retakes.
  7. Disabling iPad dictionary on assessments
  8. John was the first teacher to alert us to sandbagging during training. Since then we’ve put many features in place to detect and report this

In addition, John’s students (unfailingly polite) have suggested many edits and changes to Membean content.

Do you think Membean has changed how students work? How so? What have you seen as evidence that Membean is beneficial?

In this video that students and I made about Membean, Tommy Zachar ’16 noted that the flexibility and portability of Membean allowed him to knock out a training session on his mobile device during those interstitial moments in a student’s day (waiting for a ride, before practice begins, during a FLEX period, at the tail-end of lunch, etc.). Other students note the multi-modal experience of Membean allows them to continue returning to a troublesome word from different vantages — an audio recording of the word in context, an exploration of the word’s origin, a sentence from the Wall Street Journal. Membean, in fact, Membean encourages students to examine different aspects of a word page upon each visit and spend less than a minute each time.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen students doing Membean on iPads in Brophy hallway, on cellphones in the Great Hall, at a picnic table on the front lawn.  During classroom sessions, students are eager to pop in earbuds with their favorite tunes or listen to my Coffitiity app, which plays ambient coffeeshop sounds. In those moments, thirty students are learning English words suited to their particular vocabulary level at a pace of study that matches their individual learning style.  Membean provides etymological podcasts called “rootcasts” that discuss the common derivations across multiple words with the same root (e.g., …).  A relatively new feature will allow teachers to click a single button to see which words ALL students have in common; this way teachers can broaden the conversation and find unifying common ground for students.  Currently, I try to bolster collective vocabulary study with occasional visits to the Oxford English Dictionary online (oed.com), where students can sift through illustrative sentences spanning back as far as each word itself.

When I review quiz scores, it’s clear that Membean effectively leads to “durable learning,” as their slogan goes. Frequently, students average 90%+ across all classes on Membean quizzes.  In their writing, students are showing adequate to exemplary understanding of lexical nuance.  Sometimes I require Membean words in a writing assignment and other times they seem to organically appear in student compositions.  I’d say the most profound but perhaps hardest to decipher evidence of the product’s effectiveness is the invisible ease by which students navigate a difficult passage of reading because they understand words like bravado, fallacy, gamut, or incommunicado.

I know one of the benefits of Membean is access to lots of data. How has that been helpful for you as a teacher? What are some of the most important/meaningful/impressive numbers you have seen?

The data generated by the adaptive engine provide me with a holistic view of the department’s use of Membean.  I can see if we have relative alignment across sections of the same course. I can see that 76% of Brophy students “leveled up” in an academic year and that the average school-wide quiz score is 94% while the average training accuracy is 76%.  The average Brophy student encountered 365 new words last year.


At a glance, I can see that one student saw .3 questions per minute while another saw nearly 15 times that. This allows me to intervene and have a conversation with a struggling student.  Teachers can quickly view student progress and data are available on demand. Even students themselves can generate reports on their own training. This includes a second-by-second snapshot of each training session.


From the beginning, Membean’s number one metric has been time. As long as a student spends authentic, concentrated time training three times per week for 15 minutes, Membean believes students can master the nuances of 300-350 words in a 36-week school year.  By viewing training data, teachers can help ensure that students are indeed spending quality time with the software.

Has there been pushback from students at all? Are there other challenges that have come from using Membean?

In my experience, no edtech tool has a 100% customer satisfaction rating.  Some students wish they were all studying the exact same words so they could increase the social aspect of vocabulary acquisition.  Membean certainly errs on the side of a personalized education, and at times I lament the loss of in-class discussion of a word that all students are learning.  Some students wish they could be evaluated by the accuracy of their training instead of the number of minutes trained (which is Brophy’s current metric for weekly assessment). I tend to view pushback as a positive challenge.  Membean (and other edtech tools) can only improve with customer pushback. When students have a feature idea, I tell them to request it. Membean’s CEO has credited Brophy feedback for several of its newly implemented features over the life of the product.

As a teacher and chair, one consistent challenge I face is the necessity to ensure the integrity of the software’s use among students.  The Membean Honor Code implores students to do their own work and to avoid undermining the software with cheats or shortcuts.  Any self-paced program can suffer from users “sandbagging” or multi-tasking to avoid authentic learning, but Membean has created reporting tools for teachers, so we have the control to identify problem cases and intervene with students directly. Most students, the overwhelming majority, use Membean the way it was designed.

What is next on the edtech horizon for you and your students? What do imagine your class looks like 5 years down the road?

Having just left the annual International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Denver, I’m enthusiastic about innovations I can employ in my English classroom in the years to come. I can turn any webpage into an interactive reading comprehension exercise with DocentEDU. I imagine English teachers sharing the load of providing writing feedback to students with the help of a distributed network of undergraduate education majors through The Graide Network.  CommonLit gives teachers free supplement fiction and non-fiction texts to integrate into their own thematic literature units.  While Kahoot! has taken classrooms by storm with its addictive, competitive quiz-games, Quizlet Live and Quizizz are providing additional ways to make classes engage in cooperative competition.  I like the tools that are promoting real-time collaboration — from the reliable Google Docs to the online recording studio Soundtrap.

In five years, tools like Grammarly, the Writing Reviser add-on, the Read&Write add-on, and Turnitin.com’s Revision Assistant might put the power of writing improvement exclusively into student hands.  Teachers may then serve more as guides to develop the style, voice, and publication potential of each student.

 Follow Mr. Damaso on Twitter @MrJohnDamaso or read his blog at JohnDamaso.com