Turning the tables on learning

Holyrood school uses electronics to make math exciting

Bonnie Belec bbelec@thetelegram.com
Published on September 13, 2014
Austin Turnbull (left) and Lucas Maloney do one of their math lessons on an IPad at Holy Cross Elementary in Holyrood.
— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Some traditional educators may say Jennifer Kendell has flipped her scholarly lid. But the teacher’s novel approach to educating her students at Holy Cross Elementary in Holyrood is being heralded as a progressive way to get children interested in learning.


Kendell has tossed aside her spot at the front of the class and replaced it with hands-on technology, creating a fun and interactive way to teach her promising minds.

With the help and support of the school team, she has taken The Flipped Classroom program, designed in the United States for older students, and tailored it for her Grade 6 math students.

“It’s really popular in the U.S., but a lot of the research has focused on high school and university, so we’re  trying to see how we can work it into the elementary program,” she said.

According to knewton.ca, The Flipped Classroom is a new way of teaching and “inverts traditional teaching methods, delivering instruction online outside of class and moving homework into the classroom.”

This is the second year Holy Cross has used it, which involves Kendell posting her studies on a website for the children to view and work on at their own pace in a virtual classroom setting. When they come to school the next day, after having one-on-one instruction via the Internet, they pair up with classmates and work together on the homework using iPads, computers and educational apps.

Through the website and the responses she receives from her students, Kendell can see who needs extra help and who can move on.

“So instead of learning from me standing up in front of the class and giving a lecture and taking notes, which can be boring for some children, they learn hands on and I can help those who need support and encourage those who already have it,” she said.

This is done through conversation and the sharing of ideas, and phrases such as “be quiet” and “stop talking” have become non-existent in her class of 16.

The more talking the better, she said.

“Sometimes I just stand there and watch,” Kendell said. “It’s so encouraging to keep going when you walk in and see everyone in focus, engaged, doing what they are supposed to be doing. Talking about the activity and problem solving using technological devices. It’s just fantastic.”  

On the day of The Telegram’s visit to her classroom — which faces Holyrood harbour, providing a breathtaking backdrop for learning — sunshine and chatter fill the room. A robotic voice resonates from a stationary computer spewing math problems as children scratch down the equations.

“There is so much interaction and excitement, this is what math class should be like every single day,” Kendell said smiling broadly.

Students Alyssa Crocker, Victoria McGrath, Colby Hawco and Lucas Sheffar take their turns at three active learning work stations. They each question their findings and scribble numbers on iPads using the Show Me app to find the value of large numbers.

Alyssa makes a mistake and erases it with her fingertip.

“We don’t need erasers with the iPads,” the 12-year-old says. “I really like that.”

She and her colleagues agree writing in notepads isn’t as exciting as electronics and they rattle off what they own — Ds’s, tablets, XBox, iPads.

“We use these to learn our education and it’s way better than books because they’re more modern. This is the 21st century,” Alyssa says matter-of-factly.

Lucas and Colby hover over their iPads, chatting about their math problems and agree it’s an exciting way to learn.

“Life wouldn’t be the same without them,” says Lucas.

“You can play games, watch videos and text. Life would not be as much fun without electronics,” said the 11-year-old, adding he only does those things at home.

The mobile devices may be able to do much more than provide educational support, but when the children use them in school, that is all they can use them for.

Principal Robin McGrath draws the line on when and where the devices are used.

When it comes to exercise and playing outside, electronics aren’t permitted.

During classtime that doesn’t allow the technological devices, they aren’t allowed.

“But we do welcome technology under controlled circumstances because there is always the danger it can be used for the wrong things. We teach them to use it responsibly, and they know when it’s OK to take them out, so we’ve had no problems,”  McGrath says of the K-6 school.

However, he does allow the 248 students to use them on the bus on their way to and from school and when they get to class in the morning before instruction begins.

“I encourage it on the bus, absolutely, because they are engaged with each other and there is less idle time. You wouldn’t believe how the number of incidents on the bus has gone down,” he said.

McGrath said students make their way to their classrooms every morning like clockwork and use their devices to review homework or do artwork, and as soon as the bell goes, they are put away.

“They know when they take it out when they’re not supposed to it gets turned in to the teacher for the remainder of the day. But it doesn’t happen because it’s a privilege for them to get to use it and they don’t want to lose it,” he said.

Holy Cross’s decision to incorporate the use of technology in the classroom came last year with the purchase of 20 iPads and the first year of the flipping the classroom program.

After that, he said, parents began to welcome it and have also become involved with their children’s homework.

“The biggest reason we allow it in school is efficiency and communication. The efficiency is just as simple as children taking a picture of their homework. And communication, nothing should ever be a surprise to parents,” he said.

“They need to know what their kids are doing and when a child can come home and show them a picture of an experiment they did in science, well, you know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.”



In Monday’s Telegram, teachers at a high school in St. John’s talks about controlling the distraction of cellphones in the classroom.