Mason Road Public School student Vaksan Kugenthiraja, 10, shows his principal Stacey Michener his personalized avatar greeting using Edmodo.com.

English and math class for the 21st century

Children at Mason Road Public School are adapting to a new method of learning.

In a Grade 5 classroom at Scarborough’s Mason Road Public School, something special is happening.

The children are huddled around laptops creating avatars and writing blogs. But most importantly, they are engaged and learning to improve their language skills.

Using an online community called Edmodo.com, which looks very similar to Facebook, their teacher, Lee Wong, introduces lessons and gives them feedback on their performance.

Even when the children are at home, they can go online and ask their teacher and peers questions about their homework.

“There is also a calendar, so if the parents did not get a chance to look at the agenda, then they can use the calendar and see when everything is due,” Wong said. “The kids really enjoy this because it opens up the classroom 24/7.”

Principal Stacey Michener said when she noticed the boys in her school were under-performing in English and math subjects, she knew something needed to be done.

Since research shows boys tend to gravitate towards technology, Michener submitted a proposal to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for her school to participate in the board’s Increasing Access to Technology Project.

Last week, the TDSB sent 30 laptops to Mason Road Public School. Michener’s school is one of 360 schools across the board to participate in the project where 18,000 laptops are delivered to schools across the Greater Toronto Area.

Working with Metafore Technologies Inc., the TDSB’s project includes the leasing of laptops over a three-year period as a cost effective solution to purchasing technology, which is ever changing.

The laptops are sent out at no additional charge to the schools.

Michener said, after three years, the schools have the option of upgrading their software and continuing the use of the laptops.

She said in addition to programs such as Geometer’s Sketchpad which is a mathematics visualization software, the laptops are also equipped with speech recognition software which improves the children’s capacity to monitor and critique their own developments.

“They could do the reading, record it, and then go back afterwards and see what improvements are being made, what their errors are and what they need to work on,” she said. “The possibilities are endless on this.”

While some schools such as Humberwood Downs Junior Middle Academy have implemented all-boys classrooms in order to help their male students improve, Michener said her students are too young to attempt this social experiment.

“The older children get, (Grade 7-8 and high school) the social pressures to conform to a particular role become greater. This school goes from kindergarten to Grade 6, so the pressures aren’t quite there,” she said.

Michener also said there is a greater variety in learning styles among boys than there are among girls and boys combined.

As a personal philosophy, she applies the architectural concept of universal design of accessibility in her school. According to this concept, if you create a building that is accessible to everyone, such as a ramp for people with wheelchairs or parents with strollers, then it will also be accessible to both people without disabilities and people with disabilities.

To that end, she applied this concept in the classrooms.

“If you make the curriculum and the delivery accessible to the most difficult to reach, then by definition, it is going to be accessible to everybody else,” she said. “I believe in universal design in classrooms, so, I prefer to have the boys and girls together and that we teach in a way that everybody can understand.”