St Aloysius’ College plus Teams equals winning formula for Mathematics classes

Male students in the classroom listening to the teacher at the front of the class

St Aloysius’ College in Milsons Point, Sydney is a Catholic school for boys in Years 3-12, established in 1879 with the promise to strive for Human Excellence for its students.

As part of that search for excellence, its current strategic plan notes the need to; “Utilise technology to simplify, liberate and deepen student learning.” For teachers it views technology as a way to; “Redesign the nature of teaching and working”.

School grounds and buildings

It’s a strategy that the Mathematics Department has taken to heart. When the school introduced remote learning in response to the pandemic, staff and students had access to the Canvas learning management system. While useful for curriculum content delivery, it had limitations when it came to teaching Maths according to Ms Stella Robinson, head of Mathematics at St Aloysius’.

She and the other 11 teachers in the Mathematics Department already used Microsoft Teams to connect, communicate and collaborate. An idea formed – couldn’t Teams also be used to teach Maths? To test her hypothesis Stella Robinson and one of her colleagues trialled Teams for teaching Maths in the final term of 2020. It worked so well that by the start of 2021 all fifteen Mathematics courses offered to boys from Year 7 to Year 12 were being taught using Teams.

Robinson describes it as a “groundbreaking” initiative with no pushback from staff and “unbelievable collaboration with the boys.”

Microsoft caught up with Stella Robinson and Michael Smith, Head of IT, to learn more.

Microsoft (MS): What was the impetus to test Microsoft Teams as a Maths learning platform?

Stella Robinson (SR): We felt that for Maths we need the boys to interact with us and we need to interact with them. These formulas mean Maths is a very different language to other subjects. We set up a trial class – once they realised they could post to me, I could post to them and they could post to each other it just exploded.

MS: What does a Maths class look like now?

SR: In every lesson Teams is automatically open on their and my computer.  I will teach the first lesson on the board – and a few nominated boys know when there is boardwork they pick up their phone, click and upload in an instant. We still do the formal instruction – there is still a place for traditional teaching – but we’re not going back to photocopying or emailing.

MS: What other practical impacts is Teams having?

SR: If a boy has to stay at home he can see what is happening, we put boardwork up, put homework up there and the other boys interact with him. It’s as though the boy is in the classroom. If the boy is sick he can jump on Teams and see what has happened and not miss any explanation, boardwork or homework.

Also, Year 12 boys study at the most ridiculous hours. As much as we don’t like it that’s when they are doing their Maths homework – but now they have other students with them. It’s a really good thing for their mental health – we are providing them with a platform that supports them when we are all sound asleep

MS: Presumably you’re not online late at night though?

SR: If they put in @stellarobinson and it dings on my computer, it is my choice to respond. If it’s a reasonable hour and I can answer a question that puts three or four boys’ minds at ease rather than spend 20 minutes in class that is taking away from my content delivery I’m quite happy. It’s a real time-saver the following lesson – I’ve got more class time to work with the bigger issues.

MS: Was it hard to convince your colleagues to adopt Teams?

SR:  I’m fortunate – if I model something and give a valid reason, they are all open to ideas. They were a little sceptical at first – I had staff that I used as champions – once they saw one of us do it and how easy it was and given a reason as to why it was important, they were very much on board.

MS: What has the impact been on the boys’ learning?

SR: We are getting a bit of feedback from parents – they seem to love it because they know what their kids are doing in class. We feel that collaboration in Maths is the way to success – anecdotally we can see big improvements, but we’ll have to wait until the end of the year to see the results.

MS: How widely has St Aloysius’ deployed Microsoft technologies?

Michael Smith (MSm): Through COVID we were using Canvas as the main curriculum content delivery platform – but we did enable Teams for all the subject areas and faculties and each class had its own Microsoft Team for in class discussion and collaboration. Every staff member has an Office 365 account and we recently migrated all of them to OneDrive.

We are in the midst of a larger project to migrate every department to Teams and provide file space to use as a department to support assessment development, scope and sequencing and all that behind-the-scenes administration.

Students are on a legacy Google suite platform, but our current strategy is to move everyone to Microsoft Teams and use Office 365 as our main platform – we are aiming to complete this by the end of this year.

MS: Are other departments keen to follow the lead from Mathematics and start teaching with Teams?

MSm:  Stella has been a real champion. She sits on the Heads of Department team and been a champion to use Teams to deliver effective collaboration and that has piqued people’s interest. There are probably six or seven on Teams now – I expect another ten to twelve by the end of the year.

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