VES came to Bayfield Design with an ambitious request: rapid development of online elementary math courses for Grades 1–8. Two factors stood out in this project:
- Designing and developing eight courses from scratch within 15 months. VES did not have the resources available to produce eight online courses within this timeline.
- Teaching mathematics online to students as young as 6 years old. Designing courses for young learners and learners who are new to reading can be challenging.
Online learning at this age presents opportunities for inspiration and growth but comes with its own unique challenges. How do you teach online when a student is still learning to read? How do you maintain an engaging environment? How do you promote interpersonal skills? We used high-level planning to address each of these concerns.
High-level planning (HLP) is a step in our solution design phase where our team works collaboratively with our client. It was at this stage that together with VES, we made some decisions:
- We needed to include an array of multimedia and ensure screen-reader compatibility to communicate with the young learners.
- We needed themes, interactivity, and relevant real-world content to engage learners.
- We needed character guides, math talks, and "unplugged" activities to promote relationships and communication.
Communicating with Young Learners
- All the content produced for this project was built with accessibility in mind and specifically, screen-reader compatibility to aid in overcoming the hurdle of teaching a learner online who has not yet transitioned to reading to learn.
- In addition to accessible text, VES and Bayfield Design felt it was important to communicate much of the material visually or audibly to students. We used our multimedia studio to produce over 150 animations, 200 videos, 300 audio clips, 1,800 step-by-step photographs, and 10,000 graphics.
Engaging Young Learners
- At the HLP stage, Bayfield Design and VES worked together to determine relevant and engaging themes for each of the units in the courses. These themes were chosen to connect the mathematics content to the learner's everyday life.
- Incorporating multimedia, fun themes, and bright colours can helped to capture learners' attention and keep them engaged. Asking learners to manipulate the page in front of them or objects around them is critical to keeping them excited and curious. The content created with VES required a high level of interactivity, and one way we accomplished this was with a custom suite of interactive games.
Promoting Relationships and Conversation
- In collaboration with VES, we built out a suite of diverse and relatable characters to guide learners through the courses. Each course contained two teacher characters that helped facilitate the learning and two student characters that were used to model important skills. The student characters asked questions, made mistakes and sought help, persevered when challenged, and practiced creative problem-solving.
- An important element of a young learner's development in any subject area is communication. VES felt it was vital that students had the opportunity to not only learn the mathematics skills in these courses, but also the skills to be able to use the vocabulary, talk about what they were learning, and see the application of concepts in the world around them. We accomplished this by implementing a series of math talks and "unplugged" activities that required learners to step away from the computer, interact with their family members or peers, and achieve a goal.
Visit Virtual Elementary School's demo course to see example lessons from all eight mathematics courses.
VES saw the need for a comprehensive online elementary mathematics program but did not have the resources to tackle a project of such a large scale. The multimedia component of an online program is vital to supporting young learners and developing this component required a specialized skill set that VES did not have. Without the ability to create engaging, original content in a reasonable timeline, VES looked outward to expand our course offerings and continue meeting the needs of our current students while also attracting new students. Bayfield Design's professional team provided content of exceptional quality to meet VES's content development goals.Rebecca Merner