Online teacher training in Mathematics Teaching: Maker Education and STEM Approach to Promoting Active Learning

This personal report is related to the context of Brazilian schools, but I believe that some of the issues I will raise in this text dialogue with other realities.

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At the end of this year’s first semester, I was invited to organize teacher training[1] workshops for Mathematics teachers from public schools in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. These workshops were held in September 2021, and were given online.

The course lasted two weeks and I chose the topics that would be covered.

I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about Maker Education and STEM Approach (STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)  to promote the teaching of mathematics. Although I had already given some hands-on courses for Math teachers, the opportunity to carry out this type of activity, virtually, made me very excited.

But I asked myself:

Would it be effective to promote teacher training, in maker activities, in a virtual way?

However, it was very encouraging to have the opportunity to present these educators different methodologies for teaching Mathematics, so that in this moment, of going back to face to face classes, they could organize less expository and more meaningful classes!

Why are active activities in Mathematics teaching important?

In 2013, American educator Salman Khan, creator of the Mathematics teaching platform Khan Academy[2] , released a book entitled “The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined”.

Khan (2013) highlights that the traditional classroom does not meet the needs of a changing society, and highlights that the simple expository class is a form of passive learning, while the world requires increasingly active initiatives.

Salman Khan has become a reference of how innovative actions, through creativity combined with new technologies, are important to reach current generations of students.

Khan was one of the pioneers in the use of video classes for teaching Mathematics, managing to contemplate countless students who identified with this new way of learning (Cariacás, 2013).

Considering this context, currently school-age children and teenagers are digital natives, who were born in the era of connectivity. This new reality, very different from that of the last century, has caused among students a lack of interest in traditional, expository classes, unrelated to their reality.

Thus, the school has been faced with the need to reinvent itself. This reinvention goes beyond equipment for classes to dialogue with the real world.

Teacher training is the teacher’s tool and the best investment in education

In fact, material resources are important, but nothing is more important to education than a well-prepared teacher.

According to Brazilian mathematician Marcelo Viana (director of the Brazillian National Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics – IMPA[3] ), training is the Achilles’ heel of Math teachers in Brazil (SBM, 2017).

Giraldo (2018) states that university education can have an essentially innocuous effect on teacher education. In Brazil, undergraduate courses in Mathematics Licentiate favor academic Mathematics, without paying attention to school Mathematics, nor to the methodologies for the teaching process of the discipline (Giraldo, 2018).

Thus, the classroom reference for educators who graduate from higher education, and start working in basic education, are the experiences they had, as students, during their school life (Cabreira, 2016). This practice leads to a cycle of actions in the educational process, which has the student as a passive spectator in the classroom.

The importance of non-governmental initiatives to promote teacher training

In fact, to change this situation, actions that promote the ongoing education of teachers are important for the teaching of Mathematics to take new paths. (Santos, 2017).

It was for this purpose that I was invited to conduct online teacher training workshops, in an initiative called Rio de Mãos Dadas[4], organized by the institution SescRJ[5], which proposes actions with support from the public and private sectors.

In a partnership with Polo Educacional Sesc[6], the high school where I work, in September we offered a course for teachers in the area of Mathematics. This course was part of a ongoing education project for teachers in the discipline, which seeks to bring new perspectives on the teaching of Mathematics to public school educators.

STEM approach through Maker Education

The modules I proposed and taught were “Collaborative and Hands-On Math” and “STEM: a new way of looking at Math“.

These modules were attended by 18 (eighteen)  K-12 educators, and aimed to propose different approaches to teaching the discipline.

The course included studies related to Maker Education and the STEM Approach, as active methodologies for a meaningful learning process.

According to Gavassa (2020), Maker Education privileges student protagonism, learning through discoveries and places the student at the center of their learning. Likewise, by promoting the development of multidisciplinary practices, the STEM approach encompasses the understanding of scientific concepts and phenomena by learners while engaging in design and engineering practices (Bevan, 2017), using Mathematics as a symbolic language to represent reality.

In the module “Collaborative and Hands-On Math” I proposed a reflection on the importance of the student`s role at school, and how disruptive educational actions can contribute to the meaningful learning of Mathematics concepts.

In this sense, the potential of hands-on activities to provide an environment of innovation, collaboration and creativity was discussed, allowing the student to leave the role of content consumer to become co-author of their educational process.

Finally, I presented cases of implementation of Maker Education through different resources, that is, starting from paper and glue to the new possibilities available in Makerspaces.

The specific objectives of the “Collaborative and Hands-On Math” course were:

  • Understanding the roots of the maker movement and its connection to maker education;
  • Recognition of the importance of maker education to develop competences in the Mathematics discipline;
  • Prototyping a Learning Object with recyclable resources.

The “STEM: a new way of looking at Math” module, on the other hand, aimed to provide a reflection on education for the 21st century, taking into account that basic education students are digital natives and that they have information, in real time, in the palm of their hands through their smartphones. In this module I highlighted the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as a means of providing meaningful education through real-world problem solving.

The specific objectives of the course “STEM: a new way of looking at Math”, were:

  • Presenting implementations of the STEM approach for teaching Mathematics in the Brazilian reality;
  • Recognizing the possibilities for hands-on classes involving recyclable resources;
  • Associating a Learning Object with a STEM proposal for the classroom.

How was the course delivered virtually?

I taught the modules entirely online, for two weeks, through resources available in the virtual learning environment Moodle. In addition, I held two synchronous meetings, with a total duration of four hours.

For each module, all resources were made available before the synchronous meeting, so that participants could know what would be covered during the interaction with the teacher and other course participants.

Among the resources available, I highlight scientific articles, videos, infographics and articles from scientific journals.

In synchronous meetings, given via Google Meet (Figure 1), I sought to provide an environment for exchange and discussion. Participants reported, for example, hands-on experiences they had when they were students in K-12 education, and how this marked their school life. During the presentation of the slides that guided each workshop, checkpoints were defined to discuss the topics presented.


Figure 1 – Discussing with educators the difference between no-tech, low-tech and high-tech resources

I proposed collaborative activities such as the Semantic Panel on the Canva platform and the use of the Padlet tool. The Padlet was used to expose the hands-on challenge, involving the prototyping of a learning object with recyclable materials.

The proposed challenge was the prototyping of a Balloon-Powered Car, which should be carried out with materials available in their homes, and exhibited online in a collaborative way, as it can be seen in Figure 2.

To inspire participants, I made a video tutorial proposing a model of a Balloon-Powered Car, but I advised them that it would be important for the project to be hacked.

The video can be seen on the link Balloon-Powered Car – YouTube.

Figure 2 – Display of learning objects prototyped by some of the course participants

Reaction evaluation was an important strategy to validate the process.

To assess how teacher training was received by the educators who participated in the meetings, I sent forms such as Reaction Evaluation at the end of each meeting. I compiled and present below some answers given by the participants, in the forms I made available for project evaluation.

When asked what most called their attention to the course, they answered:

“- Interactivity between the participants. In addition to clarifying the topic addressed”

“- The possibility of doing the work at the time of class, energy, proposed challenges, teacher’s didactics and exchange between participants”

“- These new ways that the STEM model has to provide the teaching of mathematics”

“- Suggestions of tools we can use in teaching Mathematics”

“- The content, mostly. It was new to me”

In addition, at the end of the course, I performed a dynamic Word cloud creation on the Mentimeter Platform, where educators should present, in just one or two words, what the course meant to them. Figure 3 shows the result of this activity.

Figure 3 – Word cloud

Although each word shows us how the course was important in the professional life of these educators, I highlight the word resignification, which means to give a new meaning to something. In fact, this was one of the main objectives of the course, to provoke a new look at the way to teach Mathematics.

It was possible to promote online teacher training in Maker Education

I realized that having provided a safe environment for dialogue, experimentation and sharing of experiences was essential for the participants to feel contemplated with the project’s objective.

The participants` engagement and the feedbacks collected on the reaction forms pointed to the effectiveness of online training actions, and that discussions about new ways to teach Mathematics can be conducted in virtual environments, reaching educators who wish to expand their repertoire to promote a teaching of Mathematics that dialogues with the reality of an education for the 21st century.

Acknowledgment

I would like to thank FabLearn Fellow Débora Garofalo for kindly guiding me on how to start building an online teacher training. I`d like to thank Gisele Ribeiro too, a co-worker and Math teacher for giving me all the support during the workshops and actively collaborating to make the project work.

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[1] Teacher education or teacher training refers to the policies, procedures, and provision designed to equip teachers with the knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills they require to perform their tasks effectively in the classroom, school, and wider community.

[2] https://pt.khanacademy.org/

[3] https://www.gov.br/mcti/pt-br/composicao/rede-mcti/instituto-nacional-de-matematica-pura-e-aplicada

[4] https://riodemaosdadas.com.br/714-2/

[5] https://www.sescrio.org.br/

[6] http://www.poloeducacionalsesc.com.br/

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References

BEVAN, Bronwyn (2017). The promise and the promises of Making in science education. In: Studies in Science Education. In: <https://www.ecsite.eu/sites/default/files/ bevan_making_sse-min.pdf >. Acessed 10 Oct 2021.

CABREIRA, Maurício Costa (2016). Percepções do professor de Matemática: relação entre formação acadêmica e atuação docente. XX Encontro Brasileiro de Estudantes de Pós-Graduação em Educação Matemática

CARIACÁS, Carlos (2013). Salman Khan e a estética da sensibilidade – convergências para pensar o ensino (à distância). Revista Científica de Educação a Distância

GAVASSA, Regina Célia F.(2020). Educação Maker, muito mais que papel e cola. NIED – Núcleo de informática Aplicada a Educação. Tecnologia, sociedade e conhecimento. Vol. 7, N.2.

GIRALDO, Victor. (2018). Formação de professores de matemática: para uma abordagem problematizada. Ciência e Cultura. 70. 37-42.

KHAN, Salman (2013). Um mundo, uma escola: a educação reinventada. Rio de Janeiro: Intrínseca.

SANTOS, Maria S. (2017) Da formação à prática docente: uma habilidade criativamente inovadora. IV Congresso Nacional de Educação.

SBM (Sociedade Brasileira de Matemática). Formação é calcanhar de Aquiles dos professores de matemática do Brasil. In: <https://www.sbm.org.br/noticias/formacao-e-calcanhar-de-aquiles-dos-professores-de-mate matica-do-brasil>. Acessed 10 Oct 2021.

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