Barriere Elementary School teachers Bruce Boulter and Louise Dunston talk about using vertical surfaces such as whiteboards, blackboards and even windows for learning. They were speaking during a school board meeting held at the school on Monday evening, Oct. 2.

New system improves learning

Vertical learning surfaces means the students do their work on whiteboards

Three teachers at Barriere Elementary School began using vertical non-permanent learning surfaces last year. Now seven are using them.

“I went to a presentation by Peter Liljedahl on how to use them,” BES teacher Bruce Boulter told School District 73 trustees during a board meeting held Oct. 2 at the school. “I changed my classroom the next day.”

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Fellow teacher Louise Dunston said she uses vertical learning surfaces to teach not just math but also English.

“It’s amazing to see the change. The students learn how to communicate,” she said.

Vertical learning surfaces means the students do their work on whiteboards that have been mounted on the classroom walls, rather than at their desks.

The approach was developed by Peter Liljedahl, a professor at Simon Fraser University.

Students work in teams of two or three that are chosen randomly and changed regularly, usually every day.

There is only marker per team and the person with the marker can only write down what someone else tells him or her.

Because the markers are non-permanent, the students have a greater willingness to take and stay on task that is measurable

Observed benefits include improved engagement and enthusiasm, and increased communication amongst the students.

The approach encourages struggling learners to collaborate and learn from their peers (no more hiding at their desk), as well as allowing more opportunities for assessment.

Boulter told the story of two boys in one of his math classes – one a high math achiever, the other with much lower skills.

The high achiever appeared dismayed when he found out he was going to be teamed with the other.

Both of them needed to collaborate to solve the problem, however, and so the first one carefully explained what the second needed to know.

All of a sudden the second was shouting out, “Yes, I get it! Yes, I get it! Today, I learned Grade 7 math!”

Boulter thought the breakthrough was so important that the following day he told the second boy’s home-room teacher abut it – only to find he already knew.

The other students in the class had also thought it important and had told the home-room teacher earlier that morning.

The episode greatly helped the self-esteem of both boys, Boulter felt.

Dunston said she sometimes runs out of room on the whiteboards and so uses the windows in her classroom (with non-permanent markers, of course).

The students progress noticeably more quickly through the course material using this system, she said.

“It’s changed how I teach. It’s a good tool,” Dunston said.

School board chair Meghan Wade observed that her daughter is studying mechanical engineering at Queens University.

There, the students need to solve problems in their exams both as a team and as individuals.

Their final score is the average of the two marks – which means that being able to collaborate is just as important as individual learning.

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Shelly Sim (l), school trustee for Clearwater-Blue River, and Rhonda Kershaw, school trustee for Little Fort-Barriere, listen to a presentation on using vertical surfaces for learning during a school board meeting held Oct. 2 in Barriere Elementary School.