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Distance learning: feedback from the European School of Varese in Italy

As we know, Italy has been particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis. How is the educational life going there? Here is a testimonial and advice from a math teacher.

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As we know, Italy has been particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis. How is the educational life going there? Here is a testimonial and advice from a math teacher. 

by Christophe Alpacca, math teacher in high school

Christophe Alpacca is a mathematics teacher and coordinator at the European School in Varese, Italy. It shares with his testimony on distance education, is an adaptation of the one originally published by Ludomag.

It's been more than 4 years since we set up an iPad project in mathematics and French, my colleague Ms. Benhassine and me. On this occasion, we were able to familiarize ourselves with the tool and especially the applications, in particular Notability. In class, we have been teaching by projecting our iPad onto an interactive whiteboard for almost a year. The Apple Pencil is therefore our chalk and the iPad our board.

Photo: courtesy C. Alpacca

This tool allows a great interaction with the students and a saving of time because the students' work is either taken in photos or sent directly to the teacher by AirDrop, then videoprojected and corrected in front of the class on the teacher's tablet.

In recent weeks, we have been able to reinvest our know-how in distance learning thanks to the Teams application, available free of charge for teachers and students on Office 365. Indeed, by using Teams, it is possible to use the teacher's tablet with screen sharing.

Photo: courtesy C. Alpacca

Thus, the students can attend by video conference a course identical to the one we would do in class. With Teams, we have the possibility of continuing our course as we had accustomed the students. We have seen that there are many platforms with courses already prepared, but they do not necessarily correspond to the program or to our way of teaching. That said, they can occasionally be used.

In any case, videoconferencing makes it possible, regardless of the educational resources used, to take stock once or twice a week with your classes.

Get started with videoconferencing on Teams

After many feedbacks from colleagues overwhelmed by work and by multiple emails and student homework, I realized a explanatory video to allow interested colleagues to get started with videoconferences on Teams easily.

This video is useful for those who have a tablet, but also for those who want to work on a computer. Of course, it is more interesting to make a videoconference on a tablet with a stylus because it allows to complete, to slip comments or to highlight a document prepared beforehand in front of the students. It is an essential tool which makes the teacher's explanations much clearer, less abstract.

This allows the students to follow the speech more easily and the sessions become, according to our students, less tiring than an exchange without screen sharing.

Videoconferencing is essential in my opinion. The pupils need, during this unprecedented period, to hear and see their teacher, to obtain his advice. In addition, it frames them, gives rhythm to their work of the week. And of course, it is very popular compared to the idea of collapsing under multiple emails or sending documents that should be managed independently.

Obviously, the upstream work to achieve a videoconference is essential.

Do not forget that with screen sharing, the slightest movement on the iPad is perceived by the students, so you have to prepare documents and exercises, corrections also if necessary, so as not to get lost. in front of the students. This therefore requires good organization.

In progress, we can stop the projection on the board; in videoconferencing it is more delicate because multiplying the deactivation and the activation of screen sharing risks losing the connection with the students. It should not be forgotten that many users can make videoconferences in this delicate period that we are experiencing, especially as countries are closing their schools one after the other.

Here, teachers have decided to make an average of two videoconferences per week per class. It already requires a lot of effort. The other courses will be done independently, either by exercises created by the teachers themselves, or by exercises drawn from educational sites, for example. I also use the site mathsenligne for years, to discover!

A mode of operation to inspire other teachers

After having surveyed my students, the rhythm imposed by this operation seemed to suit them. We have decided to create, my French colleague Mrs Benhassine and I, a document to offer colleagues a way of operating from which they could, if they wish, draw inspiration. It provides a framework for parents and students so that remote work, during videoconferences, goes as smoothly as possible. We can view this document here. 

Evaluation

Until now, to avoid fraud or consultations between students, I have only assessed occasionally, orally, live, with mics cut off for the other students. But this process does not allow easy assessment of each student. So I ask some, for a better follow-up, to send me their work, which I evaluate. This work can constitute an introduction to the following course and be the subject of a collective correction.

Arts, math and everyday life enhance extra-curricular activities

After 5 weeks of confinement, I decided to promote the extra-curricular activities of the students during confinement, which is not always easy to bear. I presented this idea for the first time in this other Ludomag article

I launched the idea of creating videos related to mental arithmetic from photos of students taken during their confinement. The only rule is that no face, no person must appear in the photo, to respect everyone's image rights. This little challenge allows everyone to express themselves, highlight a passion, an activity, such as cooking, sport, an art, etc. The first name of each student who submitted a photo appears on the video.

Photo: courtesy C. Alpacca

I admired the artistic talents of my students and their families, whether for pastry creations, paintings or artistic photos. The important chapters such as proportionality, fractions, the meaning of the 4 basic operations in calculation, conversions of units of length, volume… have all been discussed in these videos.

In some cases, some answers can be found on the submitted photo; in other cases, the photo is present to illustrate the problem created. Here is an example : 

Photo: courtesy C. Alpacca
Photo: courtesy C. Alpacca

Check out the students' creations! 

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