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Workshop on 20 March 2018 – “Working with compass & triangle”

By including the next group of the teachers, the mathematics teachers, into the “teach-the-teacher-” program, the project has entered in its next stage. My job was to work with those mathematics teachers, Mr Noy, Ms Toukham, and Ms Chanpen. This meant to observe and talk with them about their lessons in order to improve them methodologically. During this work I found that most of the pupils were having a difficult time using a compass or a triangle correctly. In our preparation sessions, we therefore talked about this issue and then developed a booklet that can be used in class to practise. This booklet contains a set of excercises to practise the different aspects of working with a triangle and compass.

In order for the teachers to use this booklet correctly and get the best outcome in the end, I decided to offer a workshop in which we would work with the booklet to identify and address possible issues and questions. I could not very well guess in advance all by myself, i.e. from a Western teaching perspective, in which cases or places a Lao learner might get stuck.

Since not all mathematics teachers are also part of the English program, I wanted to have the material in the Lao language as well as in English. Ms Nalee, my tandem-computer-science-teacher, kindly helped me with the translation and the typing, for which I was very grateful. Incidentally, the Lao keyboard is fascinating with all the Lao letters plus the Latin alphabet:

When the material was ready, I invited all mathematics teachers from secondary school to the workshop, for Tuesday, March 20th 2018, at 4 p.m. Six of the seven teachers were able to attend, which I was very happy about.

The workshop consisted of three parts: Introduction of myself, the reason for the workshop, and the booklet itself. The main part consisted of a practical phase of work, in which the teachers became the students and we worked through the booklet together. In the final part I showed them some “waking up activities” they could use in class to stir up the classroom. (The lessons are long and the climate is hot.)

I started by introducing the booklet and explaining my motivation for its creation. On the first page there are general instructions on how to use the compass to draw a circle. I made sure that everybody understood this.

Then we turned to page two and went right to work. Each teacher had a booklet, a triangle as well as a compass to work with. After the introduction page, the booklet shows how to train the handling of the triangle, the compass, and then both together to construct forms.
The triangle exercises start easy, for example: “Draw a square with a = 4 cm.” They fulfill two goals: To test basic mathematical knowledge while training the proper use of the triangle. While working the teachers through those exercises, I found that some of them could also use an update on some of their skills. Therefore I dedicated some time to show the correct use of the angle scale and the parallel lines.

After the short introductory exercises, we went on to the more complex ones. Here it is important to read carefully to get the correct answer. These exercises test logical thinking and accuracy in working. The results were mixed. Only one teacher could solve this without a hint.

The next part in the booklet was about the compass. On this page there are patterns that have to be copied only by using the compass. This kind of exercise trains motor skills as well as the use of the compass.

Here are some more videos of our afternoon in the “geometry jungle”:

After the hard working part I had a little treat for the teachers. I signaled to everybody to stand up and we did some entertaining activities together. Those activities are a quick and fun way to energize the pupils.
It is important for the teacher to be able to “read the classroom”. This means that if half the pupils do anything but follow the lesson, the teacher needs to win their attention back. Watch us do the “snap n’ clap” rhythm and other activities in this video:

For this activity, I felt that the teachers had to step out of their “comfort zone”, but once they did, they had a lot of fun. Those activities concluded my workshop.

I am aware that after one workshop of two hours and some practice for the teachers, the usual way of teaching and (not) interacting with the pupils is not just going to change overnight. But a lot of thoughts were set in motion that afternoon, and an awareness of how to manage classes also developed by my showing a different way of approaching and preparing topics for lessons. In and outside the workshop, we had great moments of learning and fun together. I do hope to have enhanced their work with their pupils by demonstrating how to become “facilitators” (rather than being “instructors”) of new knowledge.

Kop chai lai lai (thank you very much) to all mathematics teachers who attended and to Ms Nalee as well as Ms Saysamone, who helped me to prepare and carry out this workshop. I could not have done it without you.

Text by F.Stober

Photos & videos by F. Stober

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