21st century learning: MSS features multi-platform learning style

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part three of an ongoing series on the future path of education in Manitoulin schools. The series will explore the impact of today’s digital revolution on the education of the 21st century student and will visit schools across Manitoulin to examine unique initiatives.

MANITOULIN—For Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) math and science teacher Heather Theijsmeijer technology in the classroom is vital to helping her students learn. After successfully introducing a ‘bring your own (computer) device’ into her Grade 9 math class last year, Ms. Theijsmeijer expanded the initiative to all her math and science classes, drastically changing how her students learn. She even completed an online survey with the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION) on utilizing technology in the classroom, which led her class to be chosen to receive 30 new tablets from ORION last week.

“Introducing the ‘bring your own device’ to my classes really improved connectivity,” explained Ms. Theijsmeijer. “It has given the students the ability to be more creative, allowed them to collaborate more on projects and connected them to various learning tools.”

Ms. Theijsmeijer explained that the introduction of technology in the classroom changed how she taught and how her students learn for the better.

“It has changed the focus and put more emphasis on them,” continued Ms. Theijsmeijer. “They can choose how they want to learn the material. If they learn better reading, then they can read an article online on the subject we are working on, or read my notes, which I’ve uploaded. If they learn through listening, they can listen to a podcast or a sound clip of me speaking. Or, if they learn through watching, they can watch a video. It makes learning more flexible and allows them to pick the best way for them and learn at their own pace. It also frees me up from traditional teaching and allows more one-on-one time (with the students).”

Ms. Theijsmeijer used the example of math to explain how technology has changed her teaching style.

Instead of leading the students through a textbook on a unit at the front of the classroom, she will provide them with a list of resources to learn from: online games, drills, articles, videos, Ms. Theijsmeijer’s notes and audio and references to pages in the textbook. She also gives mini lectures to the students one-on-one if they request it or require it.

“The textbooks are still present in the classroom, but as a resource, the same as the online and other resources—the students pick how they want to learn the material,” continued Ms. Theijsmeijer. “Once they have learned the material, I give them a list of resources to practice such as online flash cards, worksheets and online and textbook review quizzes. Finally, they show me they learned the material through a learning check.”

Whether it’s online, in the textbook, or a lecture from Ms. Theijsmeijer, she said that it’s all the same context, she just helps the students navigate the material to learn it the best way for them.

Ms. Theijsmeijer’s innovative teaching style is what led to her being selected from 230 teachers across Ontario to receive the tablets from ORION.

“This is a first and only at this point,” explained Elizabeth Moyer, director of business and development and strategic alliances at ORION, of the survey and subsequent tablet donation. “We developed the survey because we wanted to see what some of the challenges teachers were having in the classroom. Students expect technology in the classroom, but how you balance that expectation and the reality are difficult. The initiative for educators filling out the survey was the chance to win a class set of tablets. We were looking for a teacher who was committed to technology in the classroom and already had that engagement piece established.”

“We will be following the class and what they learn,” added Ms. Moyer. “Sometimes a fail of new technology is not following up. Seeing how the students learn with the tablets, especially the challenges in a rural setting, will be a beneficial to the company as well.”

When ORION visited MSS to deliver the tablets they came with a camera crew to film their reactions and interactions with the new devices. Ms. Theijsmeijer’s science class was told at first that they were only finalists for receiving the tablets and that ORION wanted to see how savvy they were at using them.

As the students turned on and began using the tablets, the ORION film crew recorded the moment and Ms. Moyer asked them questions about how they utilize technology in their daily lives and at school.

While the students took selfies and went online, Ms. Moyer told the students that they would be able to keep the tablets and use them in the classroom.

After the excited class calmed down, The Expositor connected with one student to get her take on the new tablets and technology in the classroom.

“I’m lucky because I have my own tablet, but I share with a friend, so it will be nice now that everyone has one in the class and I won’t have to bring mine to school anymore,” said 14-year-old Grace Duncanson. “Having access to technology in the classroom has made it easier for everyone to work at their own pace. She (Ms. Theijsmeijer) posts a lot of links so we can find websites and worksheets. We all took a learning test at the beginning of the year. I found out I learn best reading and listening, so I can listen to lectures or read notes.”

As the students explored the tablets many checked out games, which prompted the question: how does Ms. Theijsmeijer balance the in-class use of technology and productivity?

“Some teachers don’t want technology in the classroom because they see it as a distraction,” responded Ms. Theijsmeijer. “I feel that students need to learn how to be respectful—it’s a balance. I don’t mind if they want to check their email, as long as it’s not a prolonged distraction. It’s all about them learning how to balance.”

After each student became familiar with their new tablet, Ms. Theijsmeijer gave them their first assignment, to pair up and take photos using their tablets of their partner demonstrating safe science lab practices such as wearing goggles, aprons and knowing how to use the eye washing station. After they had completed the task, Mr. Theijsmeijer informed them that they would be uploading their photos onto a science safety website.

“These tablets are going to level the playing field so that everyone in the class has the same access to technology,” concluded Ms. Theijsmeijer. “Introducing technology into the classroom has completely changed the way I teach—it’s changed everything. The class is so much more energized and motivated. Stress is way down for the students because they can learn how want to learn and the pace they need. These tablets have provided the students with an incredible opportunity.”

For the remainder of this year the new tablets will be used by Ms. Theijsmeijer’s Grade 9 science class, remaining in the classroom for in-class use, but next year they could be expanded to be used by multiple classes at MSS.