4 million Australian students and their teachers are now on the other side of one of Education’s most unprecedented times — remote learning during COVID-19.
It’s a period we will all look back on and remember. For all of the challenges, stress, learnings and rewarding moments that it brought.
With so much of the last 3 months spent adapting to the ‘new normal’ of teaching, we haven’t had much time to reflect on the experience and learn how other schools fared in a remote environment.
We were keen to find out, so we reached out to the Maths Pathway teacher community and asked them to share their experiences.
When the interviews were finished, it was clear that there were many similarities between teachers and schools using Maths Pathway. More than we thought.
In this blog post, we explore what it was like to teach and learn with Maths Pathway remotely — from the transition online to differentiating when you’re not in the same room as your students.
The teachers that we spoke to found the transition to remote learning fairly smooth with Maths Pathway. For most, this was because many of the components of the model were able to be run in the same way at home as in the classroom.
“I found that students loved the consistency between what they were doing at school and learning from home” said maths teacher Amanda Leyshan from Coburg High School.
“Majority of students found it so similar to ‘normal’ class, that helped make remote learning that little bit easier for them, and less of a shock.”
At Assumption College, mathematics teacher Vanessa Carew agreed that the continuity of the program was valuable.
“Many maths staff commented that it was an easier subject to teach remotely because access to the program didn’t change and the routines didn’t change. The calendar format remained as normal, so students were well aware when a test was coming up.”
Director of Learning Culture at St Francis Xavier College Officer Campus, Tim O’Meara, also said the routines of the model made the transition in and out of remote learning smooth.
“Students are used to working within the routine of the 2 week cycle, and this continued when we moved to remote learning. That continuity gave students one less thing to deal with.”
“We also knew about 2 weeks in advance that shutdowns were likely to happen. So we spent time making sure students were familiar with the platforms they’d have to use while learning remotely, like video conferencing systems. By the time school closed, students were set up and familiar with what they had to do in maths.”
Head of Mathematics and Numeracy at Brighton Secondary College, Emma Holmes also spent time preparing for the transition.
“One thing that really helped us transition was getting ahead by talking with our School Improvement Consultant, Liam and planning for how remote delivery would work. Having time to plan meant I had clear, consistent protocols and processes in place around the Maths Pathway model, as well as the model itself. That’s what made the transition easier for us”
“Overall, we were very happy that we could continue teaching and learning uninterrupted. We didn’t have to redesign our program. We didn’t have to create new activities for the new environment. Everything went quite smoothly.”
It wasn’t just teachers who had to adapt for school shutdowns — Maths Pathway had to as well.
As soon as we knew of the possible closures, our teams got to work identifying what teachers were going to need from the model in a new teaching environment.
“From the adaptation that came early — the videos, templates and new features — it was clear it wasn’t going to be a matter of fitting a square peg into a round hole. Maths Pathway was adapting the model to fit the new circumstances we were in” explained Tim.
“The updates were terrific and made really early. As soon as we were closed, the solution was ready for us to use. And we didn’t see any platform challenges. No slowing down, or crumbling under all the teachers using it. No bugs — just business as usual.”
Almost every teacher interviewed commented that one of the best things about having Maths Pathway, was that they didn’t need to create content for remote lessons. It was a huge weight lifted that meant they could continue to focus on working with individual students, rather than spending all their time rewriting lessons or recording videos.
“It made teaching maths so much easier during remote learning. I think of my Year 8 and 9 Maths Pathway maths classes compared to my Year 10 ‘old school’ maths class. The Maths Pathway classes were more independent and happier to complete modules compared to the Year 10’s that required me to create videos of examples, more differentiation of work, and generally more hand holding” said Amanda.
“I seriously don’t know how I would have coped without Maths Pathway. The workload on the students and teachers would have tripled! Preparation and assessment would have been harder.”
Tim at St Francis Xavier felt the same.
“Creating content would have been a massive challenge for us. Not to mention figuring out how to deliver it.”
“We knew that the content our students were accessing was right for them, and we didn’t have to worry about creating anything new.”
Many Maths Pathway teachers saw firsthand the struggles that colleagues had moving to remote. Tony Lahy is a Learning Specialist - Mathematics at Blackburn College and part of a regional group of schools who shared experiences during shutdowns.
“Those who had some form of online delivery were much more comfortable moving to remote learning than those teaching from a textbook” said Tony. Something he saw in his own school as well.
“Maths was easier to go remote than other faculties. We were really confident going into it. We knew we’d be fine. Whereas some colleagues initially struggled with what to do”
“Maths had it right. We could use data to see where students were at. We knew what students were working on and what content they’d be delivered next. The Maths Pathway model allowed that.”
Managing tests was always going to be one of the most complicated challenges of shutdowns. How do you administer them? How do students submit them? How can we make sure there’s no cheating?
This was one of the first challenges Maths Pathway tried to address. The solution came in the form of the new ‘School shutdown mode’. Once turned on, teachers had more control over each students’ test cycle.
Tim at St Francis Xavier activated school shutdown mode as soon as it was released.
“Tests were going to be a big challenge for us. When we switched to shutdown mode, our teachers used OneNote to deliver tests”
“It was still challenging, but it did allow teachers greater control in managing their students under new conditions.”
Emma at Brighton Secondary had similar concerns and experiences.
“The initial concern was that students would find it challenging to complete written test components and that would exacerbate the time it took to do a normal test cycle”
“It did a bit — but not to the extent that we anticipated and it really depended on the age of the students.”
The most common difficulty teachers faced with tests seemed to be the photos students would send of their written components. For a supposedly tech-savvy generation, it came as a surprise to teachers how hard it was to get clear images that they could use for marking.
Another concern teachers had at the thought of remote learning was keeping track of where students were at. Without students in the classroom, how could teachers see how their students were progressing? Or even if they were doing work at all.
But that’s one of the great things about Maths Pathway. You have visibility over exactly what your students are working on.
“One of the big perks is having all that data right in front of you” said Learning Leader, Mathematics at Emmanuel College, Matilda Myers.
“Students can’t hide. You can use data to intervene when you need to.”
“I was looking at data constantly,” said Tintern Grammar teacher Jenny Steffens.
“I could address any issues that the students were having quickly and adapt my teaching to meet their learning needs.”
Tony found that data helped with parent communications too.
“If there was a cycle where a student hadn’t done a lot of work, you could see that. I could get in touch with the student to discuss why, which parents really valued.”
“Parents could feel confident that we were across what their child was working on and what support they needed even though we weren’t in the classroom with them.”
Differentiating teaching in a traditional classroom is hard, let alone in a remote environment that you've had almost no time to prepare for. But differentiation is the reason many schools partner with Maths Pathway. And for some, having the same level of targeting remotely was essential.
“It was very important for us to still be able to differentiate,” said Jenny.
“We need to be able to meet the individual needs of all of our students. And that didn’t change just because we weren’t physically in the classroom. With Maths Pathway, we could still deliver students exactly the content they were ready for.”
“Before Maths Pathway, I worked really hard to differentiate in my classroom, but now I can see I wasn’t doing it effectively. When we implemented the Maths Pathway model, some of my advanced students started learning Trigonometry. I knew they were ahead, but I didn’t know what they were ready to learn.”
When learning from home, Jenny’s students could continue at their own pace. Even if that meant they were ahead of age-based content.
For Tony at Blackburn High, the ease of differentiation was made obvious by the students who were using Maths Pathway and those who weren’t.
“Trying to teach seniors was challenging because you can’t get those visual cues electronically. You can’t look at their faces and know whether or not they understand what you’re saying. It’s essentially a lecture”
“Maths Pathway gave students what they were ready to learn. So they can access it and go ahead learning. I know that it’s what they’re ready to learn, I don’t have to worry about not seeing them face-to-face. And I’ve got the data I need to intervene if I need to. It was the best possible tool we could have under the circumstances.”
Keeping kids engaged remotely was always going to be difficult. So many students missed the social aspect of the classroom and struggled with learning from home.
Remote learning was never going to suit every student, but overall students have stayed on track using Maths Pathway.
“Some of our students thrived with remote learning, while others struggled. We’ve seen some students smash out modules and achieve high growth rates, but others missed the social interaction and didn’t achieve as much” said Tony.
“In general though, they all kept on track with their learning. A lot of that is to do with the fact that the work delivered was right for them. And that’s so important.”
Tim had similar experiences at St Francis Xavier.
“We’ve found that students have flourished across the board. Students are in a great position to continue learning because they’re able to work where they’re at on the continuum”
“Even remotely, we’ve continued as best we can to deliver mini-lessons and Rich tasks to break it up and make maths interesting.”
At Coburg High School, a lot of the students who previously didn’t like maths have actually benefited from the structure of remote learning with Maths Pathway.
“Many of the less engaged kids in class started to really strive at maths thanks to the independent nature of Maths Pathway” said Amanda.
In the back of many teachers’ minds is the thought that a second outbreak could occur. And if it were to happen, classes would quickly need to switch back to remote.
For Tim, that’s not really something to worry about.
“If schools shut again, we have routines set and ready to go. Students know what they need to do and can continue easily with their learning. At an hour's notice, we could go back online.”
While we hope that doesn’t happen, we were glad to hear that the teachers using our model had positive experiences in the switch to remote learning.