New math pilot program introduced on South Shore

DreamBox Learning now in four schools

KELSEY POWER PHOTO Chester Area Middle School teachers Robin Jackson and Shelly Gilby demonstrate the work they’re able to do with math applications on the iPads given to their school board through provincial and private funding.

Chester Area Middle School teachers Robin Jackson and Shelly Gilby demonstrate the work they’re able to do with math applications on the iPads given to their school board through provincial and private funding.

Math and technology have become increasingly intertwined in South Shore classrooms, and DreamBox Learning, a digital platform being introduced as a new pilot project in grades 4 to 7, is part of that.

“There’s a constructivist theory behind our math instruction, so we’re teaching for understanding, and it’s not just drilled,” said Jeff Dewolfe, director of programs and student services for the South Shore Regional School Board, who presented the pilot project to the board on March 11. The pilot project will be active for the remainder of the year and involves Chester Area Middle School (CAMS), Bluenose Academy, Hebbville Academy and South Queens.

The program starts with an evaluation of student attitudes towards math and then presents opportunities to solve math problems, analyzes mistakes as a student works through a problem, tracks a student’s progress and provides appropriate questions to build and improve math skills. It will be used in classrooms one and a half hours a week.

“We ask families to partner with us so that they are spending one hour a week at home on this program,” said Mr. DeWolfe.

DreamBox was introduced to the South Shore board by Moncton’s Anglophone East school board, which claims it has seen lots of improvement. “We’ve also learned there are other jurisdictions in Canada that are using it successfully,” said Mr. DeWolfe, who mentioned Surrey, British Columbia, in particular.

Last year, Grade-7 students at CAMS signed up for the Mathematics Engagement Pilot Project (MEEP), which involved four schools across the province including Oxford in Halifax, Central Kings in the Valley and Whitney Pier in Cape Breton. The program put an iPad or other device in the hands of 350 students.

“They were a blend of a rural and urban mixture and they were in various parts of the province,” said Sue Taylor-Foley, the director of learning resources and technology services at the Nova Scotia Department of Education. “They also had varied demographics in their schools.”

MEEP ran from June 2013 until June 2014. Its total cost was just over $1 million, financed in part by private donors, including John Risley, Jim Spatz and other provincial businesses. The province paid the rest of the bill. In total, the Department of Education contributed $513,000.

“Everything we did was coordinated among the four schools. We did everything identically – the same teaching schedule, same process, same maps, same everything,” said Robin Jackson, who taught the students at CAMS along with Shelly Gilby. “The students had access to all kinds of mathematically related iPad applications. They had access to the textbook on-line; they had access to virtual manipulatives. … We could sit here until next week and we could go through the superb aps that we touched on and we continue to use.”

The purpose of the pilot, which was proposed by private donors, was to survey student engagement, achievement and attendance when students had access to a variety of digital resources and technology.

The iPads are still in use in math classrooms at CAMS.

“When we put technology in the classroom in this way we’re not looking for it to be a substitution for something that would have happened without the technology, but we’re looking to leverage those higher-level thinking skills, those opportunities for critical thinking, for problem solving,” said Ms Taylor-Foley.

The results of this program are being evaluated and used to shape the Nova Scotia Action Plan for Education.

“It puts more tools into my tool box that I can use,” said Ms Gilby. “The kids like variety in the classroom so it adds another level of variety to keep them interested and it’s still in progress. We continuously learn.”

DreamBox has a tentative agreement to continue next year.

“We would be doing our kids a disservice if we didn’t prepare them for the technological world that’s awaiting them,” said Mr. Jackson.

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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