Teachers work together to make elementary math more exciting while overcoming technology jitters.
By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: courtesy of michael leonard, oct
THE CHALLENGE: Get Grade 4 to 6 students excited about math. Help teachers integrate technology into the classroom.
THE SOLUTION: Connect robots, computer coding and 3D printing to the math curriculum. Teach students and teachers together in a co-learning environment.
LESSONS LEARNED: It didn't take long for Justyna Knopinska, OCT, and Michael Leonard, OCT, to see they needed a different approach to math in their Grade 4 classrooms at St. Augustine Catholic Elementary School in Cambridge, Ont., and St. John Catholic Elementary School in Kitchener, Ont., respectively. They were new to Grade 4 in 2017–18, and looking to link math with students' interests and hobbies.
The teachers also found students were highly interested in high-tech: computers, robots and 3D printers. Meanwhile, they knew other teachers were keen to integrate technology into their classrooms, but were nervous about being relatively inexperienced with coding and programming.
So Knopinska and Leonard got a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) grant for 2018–19 to take classes throughout the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) on a journey of tech discovery — coding computers, robots and 3D printers — while bolstering math concepts. They travelled around the board co-teaching through workshops with both students and teachers, They taught things like how to code and program a micro:bit computer to work as a step counter, how to get a Sphero robot to make it through a maze and how to 3D-print crosses and prayer beads. Units of measurement, shape characteristics and problem-solving all came into play.
OBSERVATIONS: The students certainly were interested in the activities, making them more engaged with math. But it wasn't just that the lessons were exciting — it was also that the structure of them put them in charge. "Both teachers and students participated in the activities, therefore giving students the opportunities to be leaders or 'go-to' people when other students or teachers required support," says Knopinska, who is now a Grade 4 teacher at St. Paul Catholic Elementary School in Kitchener. "This model took pressure off the teacher, and allowed students to shine, grow in their confidence and develop new leadership skills."
That reduced pressure also made the whole integration-of-technology goal less nerve-wracking for teachers who were learning along with students. "It's very timely because with coding now part of the curriculum, I'm seeing an uptick in educators contacting me saying, 'I'd really like to learn about coding and how to integrate technology,'" says Leonard, who is now a WCDSB experiential learning and innovation lead. "It's funny how we were doing this just to get the ball rolling and now it's really taking off."
Although the TLLP is well over, Knopinska and Leonard find that teachers across the board still use the activities the pair developed initially for Grades 4 to 6 to kick-start math with technology at all levels from K to 8.
The College's professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media — Updated (oct-oeeo.ca/ecomm) guides members' professional judgment in the use of technology.