Lauren DeDieu, Instructor, University of Calgary
Girls Excel in Math (GEM) Calgary is a Saturday enrichment program for grades 6 - 8 girls who are interested in having fun exploring mathematical topics that they would not normally see in the classroom.Topics include voting methods, graph colouring, fractals, and cryptology.
GEM sessions run on Saturday mornings at the University of Calgary. Students are recruited and mentored by excellent teachers at their own schools. Saturday sessions are led by these junior high school teachers, with support from undergraduate math student volunteers.
Wipebook Classroom Versus Non-Wipebook Classroom
Approximately 80 girls from 7 junior high schools attended the first GEM session in April 2019. As I floated from classroom to classroom, I noticed that the energy was quite low. Although the material was designed to be completed in small groups, most students were quietly working independently. I think most girls were having fun, but it wasn’t quite what I had envisioned. This all changed when I walked into Andrea Goulding’s classroom.
Andrea’s classroom was bursting with energy. I was delighted to see groups of girls loudly debating the math problems I created. Some were rushing back and forth from their desk to their group, gathering new information and trying out different ideas. It was amazing to see.
What was the difference between Andrea’s classroom and the others? Andrea was using Wipebook Flipcharts!
Wipebook Flipcharts for everyone!
Since Andrea’s GEM classroom was such a success, I decided to purchase Wipebook Flipcharts for all classrooms in the Fall 2019 GEM program. It worked great! Some classrooms hung the Wipebook Flipcharts on the wall with masking tape like Andrea did; others pushed desks together and laid the Flipcharts down flat. Both methods produced the desired effect - students were collaborating with each other and were actively engaged with the material.
Sample GEM Material: Cryptology
For thousands of years, humans have been interested in keeping their messages confidential. As such, they have developed techniques in order to disguise their messages to prevent their adversaries from reading them. In this session, students explored classical ciphers that were popular before and during the Second World War. For example, students created and cracked transposition ciphers (permuting the letters of a word; e.g. TSAF PLEH DNES) and substitution ciphers (replacing letters with other letters according to a rule; e.g. cryptograms).
Cracking codes involves both theory and trial and error. For example, if R is the most common letter in the ciphertext, then students may make an educated guess that R decrypts to the letter E, since E is the most common letter in the English alphabet. However, it may be the case that R actually corresponds to T, or something else. Wipebooks were an excellent resource for this type of activity, because they gave students the confidence to take risks (it’s easy to erase if you change your mind) and helped to facilitate group work (the entire group could easily see what was being done).
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