Q&A Zslot Lavicza
Q&A Zslot Lavicza
What motivated you to get involved in educational technology?
Originally, I was a mathematician; my Ph.D. is in numerical analysis. As I became aware of how mathematics was taught at universities, I tried to see how technology could be used to improve the learning experience. I worked with my friend, Marcus Hohenwarter. We did a lot of research and created GeoGebra. It’s now used by forty million students around the world, primary school to university, to learn mathematics and all different kinds of subjects.
Now I usually work with students of different ages, showing them how we can do experiments and make discoveries in mathematics and STEM subjects. My recent work is about connecting art with mathematics and technologies with art. We build different kinds of structures and connect the physical and virtual worlds. We go from physical to virtual and back to physical. We use a lot of building and a lot of technology to make learning in the school much more interesting.
What innovations are you bringing to teaching in the digital era?
In this new era, we don’t really need to teach in the traditional sense. Students are very proficient at creating and searching for different kinds of resources. The innovation is to create environments that are interesting for the students and motivate them to create or build something digitally. As they build their projects they realize they need, for example, mathematics, or programming, or geometry. So they learn it. We don’t even have to put a name on what they’re learning. We create interesting environments that can compete with the video games and the other things. The students learn without knowing that they are learning specific subjects.
When you are building this methodology, what elements are essential to provide in this new learning environment?
The main element is the teacher. We are used to the teacher speaking about a subject and the students learning it. Now we are changing the perspective. The teacher’s role is to ask good questions and provide resources for good learning environments. This motivates students to take an interest in doing a project, building something or creating online structures. When the teacher provides a good educational environment — one that gets their motivation and interest — the learning starts to happen. This means it’s very important to have very good teachers, well prepared teachers, who can ask good questions and provide motivating challenges for the students.
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How do you create the learning space? What elements do you need?
The learning spaces can all be different and, when you have good teachers, they can decide when to use digital, when to use physical, when to use a combination, when to give instruction, when to just step back and observe the students.
The sensitivity of the teacher in the environment is very important. We are creating different kinds of resources and training the teachers in how to use them. It’s very different from the schooling we have now, where we go step by step through the curriculum. It requires a lot of trust in the teachers, because they’re using a lot of creativity and they’re given a lot of freedom. The outcome of the learning is different from student to student.
You’re saying the teacher follows the student across different curricula?
Ideally yes, but it’s often difficult in practice. Schools have restrictions and guidelines about the subject matter. We made a proposal just last week for transdisciplinary learning, with different kinds of teachers creating environments, resources and new kinds of pedagogies. It would be very good to change the system, but it takes time. Meanwhile, we have to adapt by introducing more of these creative approaches. In the long run, what we need to do — and probably students will demand it, because they just get really board in the schools — is to create environments that compete with Minecraft, for example.
Let’s forget about the restrictions and follow your way of thinking; how would you create the ideal learning environment?
It would be very interesting to have a very good teacher go into the classroom and start to talk with the students about what interests them. After a while, the kids would start coming up with ideas. Some of them want to go to Mars, some of them want to play soccer, some of them want to build a robot. This would lead to student teams working together on different subjects. Then the resources could be provided; many are available on the internet. So, for example, in the project “Let’s go to the Mars” what would the students need? This is where the teacher or a maybe a team of teachers would work together to provide the resources and guide the students.
Because this is a subject the students came up with, they are motivated, they want to learn. Let’s take another example, “Building a Rocket”. For this, you would need knowledge from physics, from art, from mathematics. Launching a rocket requires a lot of mathematics, so the students will demand it. They will either ask the teacher or look on the internet. This is how all the subjects fall into place in the learning environment.
The students could create websites, they could present to each other, build teamwork. In the process, the different groups would teach each other. It’s a long process to create something that’s interesting for the students and have the teacher guide them to the goal. But while they do it, they’re learning mathematics or science – the subjects we have now. They’re not studying because we just tell them to learn the Pythagorean theorem or the parabola. They need it to launch their rocket! And because they need it, they find it. If not, they won’t be able to go Mars. We’re creating a motivating environment. It’s been our experience that students want to do it, and they are getting what they need from whenever they can. It’s a very nice way to approach education.
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