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Bridging the generation gap

February 24, 2015 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

Grade 4 teacher Mark Martin explains current teaching practices to a group of residents at River Ridge Retirement Residence in St. Albert on Feb. 10.

Seniors intrigued by classroom changes

Being retired from the classroom doesn’t mean losing interest in education.

That principle was in evidence recently at the River Ridge Retirement Residence in St. Albert, during a talk by Mark Martin, a Grade 4 teacher at St. John Bosco School in Edmonton. During an informal, hour-long presentation to about a dozen residents, several of whom were retired teachers, Martin explained various aspects of the modern classroom experience.

Photos of his classroom showed that desks have been replaced with tables arranged in pods (a school-wide change that occurred a few years ago). He demonstrated the class website he set up and explained his extensive use of Smartboards. He said he uses humour and regularly takes lessons outside the classroom in an effort to engage students and hold their interest.

“The kids have so much stimulation outside of school, we have to compete,” Martin told seniors.

Martin explained that his students can post their opinions on the class website, which helps them work on their writing, spelling and grammar, while also allowing them to practice their “digital footprint,” meaning they’re getting used to the idea of having their thoughts posted for others to see.

“There’s a lot more than just curriculum that you have to help these kids learn,” he said.

The presentation came at the request of family friend Barb Howell, a facilitator at the residence. She explained that residents have regular visits with a Grade 5 class from nearby Bertha Kennedy school as part of an adopt-a-grandparent program.

“When the kids are around and they’re talking about Smartboards and laptops and the use of iPads in the classroom, it’s hard for our residents to fathom what’s going on in the classrooms these days, so we thought it would be good to bring in somebody to explain and demonstrate,” she said.

Interesting advances

After the presentation, seniors had questions about the feasibility of using tables instead of desks and were interested in the collaborative aspect of education, Martin said.

“It felt good to bridge a gap … and show progression from 30 years ago, because I truly believe education has significantly progressed,” he said.

“These kids, we complain that they don’t know basic facts, that they don’t get this and they don’t get that, but in other ways — spatially and critical thinking wise — these kids are so much further than I was in Grade 4.”

For retired teacher Margaret Davison, 85, one standout detail from Martin’s talk was his policy of limiting daily homework to 10 minutes per grade (i.e. Grade 4 students get no more than 40 minutes worth of homework per day). This differs greatly from her own practice when she taught.


Margaret Davison, retired teacher

“Whatever was left over at the end of the day, they’d better get it done,” she said.

She also took an interest in the increased level of parental involvement with homework and students’ learning in general. She made note of the level of collaboration that takes place in class and the current trend toward fostering understanding rather than memorization.

“There was a lot of rote memory in our day versus the understanding,” she said. “I went for the understanding any chance I had. That’s what I thought was important because then you can apply it in everyday life.”

Davison was fascinated with the ways in which digital technology is used.

“I enjoyed when I taught, the way I taught, because we made the most of what we had, but if I were to do it today, I’d be right up on my computer stuff,” she said.

When asked why she is still interested in education after being retired for the better part of two decades, she didn’t hesitate.

“Because I love education. I think it’s so important and it can be such fun.” ❚

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