Kyle Pearce is a secondary school mathematics teacher at Tecumseh Vista School in Tecumseh, Ontario. He uses social media to promote the great things that he’s doing with his students and also to provide insights into innovative ways to teach Mathematics. I think the title of his blog “Tap Into Teen Minds” speaks volumes about his philosophy as an educator.
Doug: Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed, Kyle. I’m sure that you’ve got some great ideas that can be appreciated by the readers.
Kyle: Thanks for having me for this interview, Doug. I really enjoy making connections with other educators in mathematics and across the curriculum to find great strategies to make learning more enjoyable for students.
Doug: Tell the readers where we first met. What were your first impressions of me?
Kyle: The first time we met was back at the University of Windsor in the Faculty of Education. It must have been in or around 2006. I remember you being very approachable and down-to-earth when it came to introducing effective teaching practices. I enjoyed the experience thoroughly!
Doug: The Faculty of Education class where we met was the Computer Studies teachable. Are you able to use any of that course in your present environment as a teacher of mathematics?
Kyle: The Computer Studies teachable course was a great experience because it allowed me to see some of the huge differences that exist when comparing the way a mathematics course is delivered and a computer science course. When I was at the Faculty, most math classes were traditional with a teacher writing a note on the board, students copying, and then 20 minutes at the end for students to start their practice. Your course allowed me to see a more project-based approach to teaching. I am still trying to move more to that side of the spectrum and I know that your course gave me the insight to try making that shift in mathematics. That being said, I feel that I left a lot of knowledge, experience, and opportunity on the table at the Faculty because I just didn’t have the same passion for education as I do now. That’s one regret I am not so proud of.
Doug: Your school is a Pre-K to 12 school, and was designed to be so from its opening a few years ago. What’s it like to teach secondary school in such an environment?
Kyle: I think it is an excellent platform for education. Cost savings aside, why wouldn’t we want to have a huge chunk of our family of schools right in the same building? There were some growing pains that caused conflict due to some having a difficult time accepting change, but overall I think it provides great opportunities for student leadership and improving education from K-12 through professional learning communities.
Doug: Do your students have recess envy?
Kyle: Ha! Something I have never asked my students, but should! Some of the secondary students in the first year had an issue that they needed to get over in regards to whether they were in high school or still in elementary. Now, after 3 years, I think the original pessimists have finally realized that the model is solid.
Doug: Related to that, do you have any sense as to what it feels like to be an elementary school teacher in a K-12 school?
Kyle: There was a bit of hesitation on both sides between staff members in the first year, but I think that has passed. I’m not too sure as to what the cause was, but we have professional learning communities such as the Middle Years Collaborative Inquiry where 7-10 teachers are together multiple times a year and I can see some great things happening there. Making an effort to take a walk down there when you can to say “hello” can go a long way and I have built some strong friendships because of it. Our grade 8 teacher, Craig Guthrie and I are picking each other’s brains all the time to try and better align our grade 8 and 9 math courses. Our collaboration has even led to a TLLP project for this year that brought iPads into his classroom.
Doug: You’ll now be taking in Grade 9 students that are accustomed to that school. Do you find that they transition differently? Better? Worse?
Kyle: I’d like to think that the students moving from grade 8 to 9 in our school feel more comfortable with their surroundings, but I haven’t visibly noticed a difference. We still have one other school, AV Graham that feeds our school and students making a switch from the separate and public systems that still allows students the opportunity to expand their circle of friends.
Doug: You’ve been a huge fan of iPads in the Mathematics classroom. If I was a fly on the wall of your classroom, what would I see on a regular day?
Kyle: I work hard to maximize the use of the class set of iPads that are housed in my classroom. When I first began, this was done to eliminate the amount of paper we were using through the TIPS4RM and 3-Part Lesson approach that Mike Smith and Dave Bracken from my previous school found to be so successful for students taking applied level math. Originally substituting what I was doing with a SMART Board and paper resources with a class set of iPads, I began finding ways to augment the learning by allowing students to instantly share their work via Apple TV, receive instant feedback and share their work with me and their parents daily. Trying to modify and redefine what it means to learn math in a 1:1 classroom is still a work in progress, but individual student math blogs is my current focus.
Doug: How does this differ from teaching without them?
Kyle: Going digital with 1:1 iPads has allowed me to cut out the stuff that doesn’t matter and add photos, video and interactivity on a daily basis. The 75 minutes that used to seem like forever has now turned into a snap. Until I can find funding to support a take-home 1:1 iPad project, I don’t think I will be able to fully maximize the potential of the iPad in the classroom.
Doug: How did you manage to get such a terrific environment for your students? Can others replicate it?
Kyle: Back in 2010, I had submitted a proposal for a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program grant from the Ministry of Education and the Ontario Teachers Federation. This grant is made available each year and is typically due by mid-November, assuming the funding continues. It is a great opportunity for teachers to apply to fund an idea they think will improve the learning in their classroom. Definitely worth the time and effort!
Doug: Tell us about some of the applications that you use with your class. How did you decide which ones to use?
Kyle: Our “home-base” is an app called GoodNotes. Since math does require that students gain an ability to write using algebra and complete solutions, I typically create a PDF file called a Math Task Template in order to give students a way to organize their thoughts throughout the lesson. However, most days involves a bunch of App-Smashing (i.e.: using multiple apps to complete tasks) in order to get the job done. This is our first year using Google Drive as our cloud storage option since students are also posting work to Google’s Blogger blogging platform. Improving student communication often times involves screencasting apps such as Explain Everything or Doceri, while clicker-replacement apps include Socrative, eClicker or Naiku. Other great app suggestions for productivity include Evernote, iMovie and BaiBoard, while math specific apps that deserve a look are Dragonbox, King of Math, OhNoFractions, Free Graphing Calculator and Algebra Touch.
Doug: Do you add/remove apps during the school year?
Kyle: Absolutely. It can be a pain if you are not using the Apple Volume Purchasing Program and Apple Configurator, but it is definitely worth it.
Doug: Can the students take the iPads home?
Kyle: Right now, iPads stay at school due to the limited number of them we have in the building. My hope is to apply for funding to research whether students taking applied math would benefit by having an iPad throughout their school day and for completing work at home. Hopefully, we can make that happen sometime soon.
Doug: Do the applications that you’ve chosen change the way that students learn mathematics?
Kyle: I believe so. However, it is really important that decision makers at the board and ministry level understand that technology will yield no gains without the use of effective teaching practices and sufficient professional development in technology. Often times, technology is purchased and sent into schools without adequate training to ensure teachers feel confident and understand how to implement these new tools.
Doug: We’ve all read about the implementation problems that the Los Angeles Unified School District has had with their rollout of iPads. How has yours been?
Kyle: Luckily for me, my class set of iPads were the first in our PC-based board. Since my project was essentially a pilot, I did the research and experimenting to rollout my class set. A ridiculous number of hours later, I was very well-versed in the process and still manage the devices on my own.
Doug: Are the iPads locked down for student use?
Kyle: We have a Bretford PowerSync cart for storing, charging and syncing the devices right in my classroom. The iPads are locked down using Meraki Mobile Device Management to restrict students from installing apps with their personal accounts.
Doug I know that you and I have chatted about the use of Apple TV in your classroom. How do you have it set up? What are the advantages of using Apple TV?
Kyle: The learning experiences that Apple TV brings into a classroom is just amazing. My personal iPad, projector and Apple TV have allowed me to get rid of a SMART Board that I had been using daily for the previous five years. Not only can I mirror the screen of my iPad from anywhere in the classroom, my students can do the same from their desks. In an instant, I can ask a student to mirror their work and the entire class can now see multiple approaches to the same task. Discussions about how the solution might be assessed on a summative or standardized test and what the student can do to improve are discussions that are held multiple times each day.
Doug: You’ve recently become an Apple Distinguished Educator. What does that mean to you? More money? More opportunities? More responsibilities?
Kyle: When I found out I was selected as an Apple Distinguished Educator, I was completely honoured and surprised. Being included in a group of educators such as Dan Meyer is something I still have a hard time believing. While more money would be a great bonus, Apple Distinguished Educators are not paid, but rather rewarded with professional development opportunities. Each year, there is an Apple Distinguished Educator Institute that we are invited to participate in and Apple foots the bill. This past summer, the 5-day 2013 Institute was held in Austin, Texas at the University of Texas and was the best PD experience I’ve ever had. Throughout some of the ADE experiences, I was recently invited to become an Apple Authorized Education Trainer which does provide opportunities to work with other boards (and yes, the compensation ain’t bad either!).
Doug: You’ve also recently made Tecumseh Vista a Google Apps for Education school. What impact does that have in the mathematics classroom?
Kyle: I think Google Apps makes organizing digital education as easy as it gets. Students receive a single Google login for cloud storage, email, blogging, YouTube and any other Google service available. Best of all, the Google Apps administrator has complete control over all accounts and the restrictions set on each. For example, we have Google Plus disabled until we can determine whether we can keep student information confidential.
Doug: You’ve shared a Google Document with me titled “MDM1D Learning Goals & Success Criteria Challenge”. Can you explain what you’re trying to accomplish with this document?
Kyle: Until just recently, I realized that teachers in Ontario are the link between the students and the curriculum. Regardless of how often learning goals and success criteria are promoted through board PD, students may never really understand what the purpose of a lesson is. The Learning Goals and Success Criteria Challenge is one way I’m hoping we can bring Ontario teachers together to develop some student-friendly learning goals and success criteria to improve student success.
Doug: Are your mathematics teaching colleagues on the same page as you with respect to technology?
Kyle: The teachers in my department have been completely open to integrating technology into their classrooms and we continue to learn together as we try to make learning math as relevant and enjoyable as possible. Quite a few math teachers across our board are using SMART Boards and class websites to get digital and make their lessons more engaging. I’m confident that if we ever move towards a 1:1 iPad program in our board, we’d have a significant amount of buy-in from teachers.
Doug: On Twitter, you’re known as “Mathlete Pearce”. You’ve got to explain that handle to our readers.
Kyle: My wife Chantal has always referred to me as “Mathlete” any time I get mathematical in a conversation. I think she heard the term on a movie way back when we were dating in university. Now, I call my students mathletes on a regular basis.
Doug: Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. I know that you’ve had great success to date and I wish you all the best for the future. It’s great to see students from my University of Windsor class get jobs. That’s not easily done these days.
Kyle: I can’t tell you enough how grateful both my wife and I were to find jobs straight out of the faculty. Flattered that you took the time to interview me for your blog as I know that educators still flock to access your educational resources and insight (including myself!). I’m sure we’ll catch each other on Twitter before too long!
Stay in touch with Kyle’s learning by following him on Twitter. You’ll find him as @MathletePearce. Kyle also blogs regularly, sharing his thoughts, ideas, and resources for teaching secondary school mathematics at http://tapintoteenminds.com/.