Teaching Reflection // Mathematics Beyond the Classroom: A Mini-Lesson on Interactive Technology

This post is part of a series written by Live It Learn It’s Experiential Learning Fellows. During their year-long fellowship with LILI, Fellows are planning their own experience-driven mini-units that include both classroom and field components. In these posts, Fellows will reflect on the experience of planning and leading a Live It Learn It-style unit of study.

In today’s post we’re hearing a teaching reflection from Mary Louise Delaney-Soesman on her Mini-Lesson. Ms. Delaney is a 5th grade teacher at Savoy Elementary School in DC’s Ward 8.

When I was accepted into the Live It Learn It Experiential Learning Fellowship, I was extremely excited for the opportunities this would provide for my students.  As part of the program, I had the opportunity to travel to the WISSIT conference, where I felt re-energized and determined to change the entire culture of my classroom by rooting learning in experience and taking an arts-based approach.  Before the school year began, I was given the list of things I had to do during my class blocks, and I started to doubt if my dream classroom culture would become a reality.  As the year began and test scores rolled in, followed ever so swiftly by behaviors and flaws in our education system, I slowly transformed into survival mode Ms. Delaney.  I became a teacher focused on getting through the day, begging the students to grasp any piece of the material they could, and hoping it would get them through the exit ticket before my patience ran out.  I had the Mini-Lesson and trip in the back of my mind, but as the deadline approached I had to pull myself out of the pit of mundane and remember why I wanted this Fellowship, why I wanted to use thinking routines, and why I wanted to teach.

My students had a rough year previously, in which very little of the math content was learned.  They came into fifth grade being expected to be on level, and instead were mostly in the range of second to third grade.  Most of this year’s content has been difficult for them.  It feels like we move from one challenging topic to the next, without a chance to catch our breath and evaluate if we are even ready to move on.  I knew that the students, and myself, were becoming increasingly frustrated with math and if I wanted to change their view, I had to change my own. Instead of succumbing to those frustrations, I decided to teach a unit that applies math in a fun and exciting way beyond the example of money we, as teachers, always revert to in the classroom.

Every single day, I hear a reference to the video game Fortnite in my classroom.  Whether the students are planning when to play together, quoting “this game doo-doo”, or spontaneously dancing to one of the many moves performed in the game, Fortnite is a focus of fifth grade at Savoy Elementary.  Personally, I have never played the game, but it made me think about my students’ interest in gaming systems and how these systems have evolved from when I was their age. I remember begging my parents for a Nintendo 64, but I was never as dedicated to gaming as my students.  One major difference in our experiences is that in order to play Nintendo 64 with a friend, they had to be beside me, whereas in Fortnite they connect virtually on the game from the comfort of their own homes. Another difference I noticed was the responsiveness of the games – Fortnite does not use 3D motion capture, but many students are very knowledgeable of devices such as the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect.  Due to their high level of interest in games and technology, I decided to take them to Artechouse DC where many interactive exhibits were on display.

In preparing for this trip, I was thrilled to offer something new and exciting to my students that would engage them in the virtual world they connect to so often. They have always been able to tell me how to use the technology they race home for, but none of them could explain how it worked, so I decided to base my lesson on how mathematics is used with interactive technology.  Using the Artechouse DC website, I researched the many details of the current exhibit at the time, New Nature by Marpi. In an effort for students to receive a more-in depth experience, I contacted the artist via email to gain better insight into how he used math with responsive technology. Conversing with Marpi allowed me to hone in on the objective of my lesson – allow students to explore and engage with his interactive exhibit using the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine.To begin this simple thinking routine, we watched a video that documented a visitor’s experience to Marpi’s exhibit. After watching it for a second time, students had the opportunity to share their observations, thoughts, and wonderings in whole group. We completed the Pre-Lesson before leaving for our trip so students would be well prepared to learn more at Artechouse DC. (See the entire unit here.)

Walking into the museum, the students were already amazed by what they saw and how the exhibit interacted with them.  While they explored, I documented the joy and awe that came across their faces!  The students were super eager to show me what they discovered, while at the same time, ask me what I thought was going on.  I interviewed several students as they were manipulating the space around them.  They were fascinated with how the technology responded to them: “When all the balls are like that, and I make my hand go up, it makes all the balls go up too … it’s reacting to my hand!”  Another student shared, “I notice the sensor things have to see what is moving first, and everything else then pops up on the wall… when I move my arms, it moves, but when I step here, it moves the other way!”Back at school, I projected all of my photographs and videos for the students to see and we recreated our See, Think, Wonder.  I was surprised to hear the students so interested in the coding and math involved in creating such an exhibit. I thought they would correlate our study on place value and base ten to the changing sizes of the projections, but instead they were more interested in how to create their own design.

Although this was an amazing experience for my class, a few challenges surfaced in preparing for, executing, and wrapping up the unit. My biggest obstacle came from lack of technology in the classroom. For the Post-Lesson, I wanted to use the website Marpi sent me and have students practice creating their own game. However, I was unable to download the correct software on my computer, even when reaching out to our school’s technology coordinator (who was not available).  Another hiccup was not having enough information from the artist on how math was involved; he explained most of his work is computer generated and did not share specifics. If I could do anything differently, I would plan for a longer time frame, as we did not have enough time to wrap up as a whole group and discuss what we were seeing while at the museum. In addition, I would provide my students with their own See, Think, Wonder charts for them to complete while exploring around the exhibit. I believe this would have driven our discussion further in the Post-Lesson.

All in all, I’m so grateful that this experience pulled me out of survival mode and allowed me time to enjoy my students learning how they learn best — exploring new ideas and sparking curiosities with friends.

If you take photos and post them on social media, be sure to tag us @liveitlearnitdc or #LILIpad. We’d love to hear how you connected technology and math in your classroom! 

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