Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Symmetry School: Learning Geometry

At my school, Nexus, we are currently investigating the improved use of apps/software in education, particularly ones which move our use of ICT forwards on the SAMR scale (more on SAMR in another post).

In my past experience, many of the 'educational' apps on both the Android and iOS stores have either been replication of tasks that could easily be done in class, often with engaging characters, animations and music, or replication of desktop apps such as Google Drive, Blogger etc. The first category of apps are, in my experience, often also very limited in terms of use for kids older than 3-4 years old. I might be wrong, but perhaps much of this is down to app/game designers being responsible for the content of these apps, rather than teachers.

So, at Nexus, we have spent the best part of a year now trying to find what we considered to be useful and valid apps to be used in the classroom, and I feel that there are some real gems starting to appear. The first one of these is Symmetry School: Learning Geometry by +SpraoiSchool.

The app

The app is very simple. Drag the coloured counters onto the grid to follow the line of symmetry. If a counter is in the wrong place it instantly resets itself. Each move that is taken adds one to the number of turns (enabling students to challenge themselves to improve). As the game gets harder, the counters change shape (common 2D shapes), the grid changes to have two lines of symmetry and the shapes on the grid have to be rotated to be perfectly symmetrical (the hard level introduces triangles, hexagons etc.)

Today, I trialled the use of this app with some year 2 students (7 year olds), who, by the end of primary school, should (these learning goals are taken from the IPC and UK national curriculum):

"Be able to identify the lines of symmetry of two-dimensional shapes"
"recognise reflective symmetry in familiar 2D shapes and patterns"
 "transform objects...visualise and predict the position of a shape following a rotation, reflection or translation"

The students were given an ipad each with the intention to solve the symmetry tasks generated by the app (with very little or no explanation of reflective symmetry). The only rules we gave them were:

  • Start on the easy level (the reflective symmetry part of the app has 3 levels)
  • Only move on when the teacher tells you OR if you complete the level with the correct number of moves

As with most ipad apps, the students were instantly engaged. However, my experience with many apps is that whilst they are engaged, they may not actually be engaged in any meaningful learning. Noticeably, they were also properly engaged on this app for a long period of time. The difference here was that:

  • They were progressing in their understanding of reflective symmetry - they very quickly understood how to reflect shapes/counters on one axis and move onto 2-dimensional reflections (and some even managed 2-dimensional reflections of multiple shapes and also rotation of those shapes)
  • They could make progress independently - many were at different stages based upon their current understanding
  • They all had 'success'. Each one of the students either moved up at least one level or consistently improved their understanding of reflection by completing a level or beating their personal best
This was a thoroughly enjoyable lesson to be involved in, and showed the power of technology in learning and how, if used properly, technology can make learning personalised, engaging, challenging and fun. 

The classroom teachers noted that this topic is often much harder to introduce in traditional ways and that often many students struggle to grasp an initial understanding. However, it is nothing if the learners don't make useful gains in knowledge, so the next step was to look at their understanding when challenged to recreate their experience on paper and in other tasks.

In practice

After the lesson with Symmetry school, the teachers of the class followed their normal routines of getting the students to draw shapes on a grid and reflect them, and other tasks such as cutting out reflected patterns and matching them. Anecdotally, they both commented that using the app was a better introduction and that the subsequent learning was much better in all learners. The time they had on this app ensured that they had an improved understanding of applying reflective symmetry in practice.

The next steps, to ensure this is utilised a little more effectively next year, would be to ensure that this app is more effectively worked into the scheme of work so it is part of a sequence of learning.