Learning Mathematics Together

I’ve had the honor of participating in an amazing project with some amazing educators this year. Today we all met to debrief the project to date. We have three pairs of teachers who are piloting the project before we expand it.

They are co-planning and then co-teaching math classes via video conference. We’re using a variety of tools to support the project including Polycom video conferencing units, adobe connect, Taking IT Global, SMART boards, document cameras, google docs, blogs and wikis. The main purpose of our pilot is to investigate the various situations possible and to look into potentially enhancing our typical demonstration classrooms and co-teaching professional development opportunities with technology.

Pair 1 – two grade 3/4 classes about 80 km apart (one class mostly grade 3’s and the other mostly grade 4’s)
Pair 2 – a grade 4/5 class and a grade 6 class about 70 km apart
Pair 3 – two grade 8 classes about 80 km apart

Here are some of our teams observations from each pairing. Our debriefing team consists of the teachers, numeracy consultant, instructional strategy consultants, ICT consultants and a ministry project manager. We focused a lot on the classroom dynamics piece this time.

Pair 1 (primary) observations –

  • they started their first lesson having the students come up to the camera in groups of 3 and state their name, one thing about themselves (I like hockey, have 2 dogs, etc.) and then pose a challenge question for the other class. These were math questions that the students had created. A group who had the answer in the other classroom would then respond by stepping up to the camera and introducing themselves (name and one thing about themselves). They would then pose their challenge question. This went back and forth quickly and the entire classes were very engaged in solving each problem posed to their class.
  • one class was set up as a horseshoe layout where the camera was at the open end and the students stepped up when they shared their problem
  • students wrote their challenge problem on a whiteboard and then showed it to the camera
  • geoboards were hard to see on the camera with the lighting
  • each classroom had two set ups – one with the polycom and projector, the other with document camera, smart board and projector. This allowed the teachers to be using the same smart notebook file in each classroom. They included timers and challenge instructions on the boards.
  • the teachers had prepared their classes by having the polycom set up for a few days before, allowing students to see themselves on the screen. One also had her class practice asking their questions and she videotaped them. She then played it back for them allowing them to decide what they needed to do better when “live” (speak louder or clearer, step up closer to the camera).
  • the teachers took turns leading the parts of the lesson
  • the lesson included open questions where the students came up with a variety of solutions for each problem. Most of the questions were multiplication and division. They then shared their responses with each class.
  • students were particularly engaged because they wanted to have different solutions than everyone else so that they got a chance to share. Watching these students really stretch their thinking to allow themselves to be the one to share was great.
  • a whole host of manipulatives were used
  • teachers put a tape line on the floor where students should stand to share with the other class
  • one comment from some observers “we felt like we were in the room with the other class”
  • some areas to improve on next time – maybe sticking to one or two manipulatives for a lesson to ease the mangement. Perhaps might have been too ambitious for the first few lessons using multiple manipulatives at a time and then making sure the teachers have determined who is going to lead which part so they can naturally flow back and forth
  • interesting to watch the grade 3’s become engaged in the grade 4’s challenge questions that were multiplication beyond what they had been exposed to before. They really stretched their minds, chose tools to help them and tried to figure these problems out (because they wanted to go up and share). It was amazing to watch.
  • these two teachers co-planned in person

Pair 2 (junior) observations:

  • they started by introducing themselves and then went into a game using link cubes and guessing each others patterns. They asked each class great questions about patterns to determine the other classes pattern.
  • some really interesting non-verbal signals used between these two classes. One class uses some sign language in class (thank you or appreciation is expressed by waiving both hands up and then a demonstration of friendly love is expressed with a hand signal). Another class introduced their yes and know signals (thumbs up and a big X across their chest with forearms). These signals were wonderful via videoconference because they didn’t create distracting noise and the kids picked them up and initiated the signals on a consistent basis.
  • we learned that bins of link cubes make a lot of noise that wouldn’t be a problem in a “normal” class, but when on videoconference can be distracting. We thought maybe having the cubes out without the bins (or using bags) and felt on the desks might help
  • another activity they did was guess my number using hundreds charts. They had a neat discussion about characteristics of numbers and good effective questioning.
  • the classes have continued their collaboration by answering discussions and math challenges on the Taking IT Global ED classroom feature.
  • there was one gentleman in this class that normally does not participate who stepped up and did awesome, answering questions and sharing freely
  • these two teachers
    co-planned via adobe connect
  • they debriefed immediately afterwards via adobe connect with a few consultants. The immediate discussion was invaluable.

Pair 3 (intermediate) observations:

  • a very distinct different between grade 8 and the younger kids. They are much more concerned about what other people think about them and so behaviours changed completely. Some who were outgoing were suddenly shy and some who were shy stepped up. They also wanted to know much more about how the equipment worked and more about the students on the other end of the camera. They had really neat questions to ask.
  • the kids started with an introductory activity where they shared with each other the different topics they had covered in math class so far. It was a really neat summary and intro activity for this age group. The students thought to grab their notebooks and start looking for the “big ideas”.
  • the teachers were intuitive to recognize that with the grade 8’s the activity had to be very student focused and so partnered them all up with groups on each side of the camera and they created and shared challenge questions with each other. Groups were made based on interested indicated in the introduction activity and so many of the kids made really neat math problems based on these areas of interest
  • we did learn that we may have been using the wrong technology for this part of the lesson. Having students come up in small groups to the camera to share with partners while the rest of the class working on their challenges was distracting and noisy. Perhaps a station with headsets and adobe connect would have worked better? We will continue to work on this
  • the groups are continuing on with their math problems using the Taking IT Global ED platform as well
  • the challenge questions created by students for their partners were very high quality
  • grade 8’s dress their best and do their hair on days when they are videoconferencing 🙂

Overall notes:

  • in general student engagement was amazing
  • the teachers of these classes are incredible risk takers and collaborators
  • its NOT about the tools (tech), its about the relationships and collaboration

Resources we used:

* Permission form (adapted by each teacher to fit what they needed)
* Ministry GAINS Classroom Dynamics materials
* Taking IT Global Ed (TIGed)