Fall 2018

The Math Pod – Learning Mathematics, One Podcast at a Time

In this paper we describe how the Ontario Ministry of Education personnel (most of whom were previously in the leadership and administrative positions in their districts) led the use of technology for the purpose of educators’ professional learning of mathematics.

Building on the ideas of “learning and knowing as situated, social, and distributed” (Putnam & Borko, 2000, p.5) and using advantages of Social Media (e.g., on-line radio program, project Website, and Twitter; Brown, 2012), these instructional leaders created opportunities for Ontario (and beyond) teachers to become accustomed to use technology for learning within a community of peers and experts. The examples we present, utilized online environment and multimedia materials to provide educators with a shared context suitable for the exploration of carefully selected ideas for teaching mathematics. In each round of this work, the facilitators moved closer to addressing the complexity of the learning and teaching mathematics. We found that this experience provided us with working understanding of the potential that these technologies have in organizing ongoing professional learning at distance (Holmes et al., 2013).


In addition to regular professional development programs, social media present a valuable opportunity for independent teacher learning (Jones & Dexter, 2014). The Math Pod was based on a project that began the year before, by the name of, Not a Book Study with Cathy Fosnot. This innovative project was created to support a mathematics leadership and learning network in the Northeast region of Ontario. Partnering with Cathy Fosnot and Stephen Hurley at VoicEd Radio, the educators in the network participated in a group book study using Cathy Fosnot’s Young Mathematicians at Work: Constructing Multiplication and Division, supported by face-to-face sessions as well as a weekly podcast that ran over a 10-week period.

The purpose of this activity was to:

1.Strengthen a constructivist approach to teaching mathematics at the classroom level by providing educators with:

a. Access to high quality self-directed and reflective learning;
b. Differentiated entry into mathematics concepts and tasks.

2. Provide professional learning opportunities to geographically widely scattered educators, that offer:

a. Choice of a learning format (e.g., real time, asynchronous);
b. Choice of platforms for conversations and discussions (e.g., Twitter, blog, vlog).

3. Begin to build a network of educators across the Northeastern region and around Ontario, by:

a. Opening opportunities for online conversations on multiple platforms;
b. Documenting learning shared openly in multiple formats;
c. Providing access to artefacts of learning through a single open access point (project website).

More than 500 educators were registered in Not a Book Study activity and 35 educators answered the call to give feedback to the team. From this feedback, we learned that this activity provided a rich learning experience, mainly based on the reading of Cathy Fosnot’s book, listening to the podcasts, and engaging in the online discussions. The participants were able to deepen their understandings and knowledge regarding mathematical content and pedagogy, especially in the multiplication and division curriculum area. This deeper comprehension of mathematical concepts appeared to be, in part, the result of the online, and sometimes the follow-up, face-to-face discussions with peers in their learning networks. Educators had the opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts and provide diverse perspectives that contributed to further enriching the conversations and, therefore, the learning process.

Regarding the digital skills they learned, the respondents mentioned being new to some features, such as blogging, but because of the intensity of communication and the number of options, they felt intimidated to use these new features. Building on the momentum from the first iteration of this project and taking the lessons learned, Not A Book Study was recreated as “The Math Pod”!

And then…

The Math Pod was a multimodal professional learning opportunity for educators across Ontario which was sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Education in the 2017-2018 school year (all podcasts are available at https://themathpod.ca/podcasts/). Using Twitter, the VoicEd Radio website and our own website supported through blogging and sketchnotes, we were able to gain a significant following with over 800 followers on the website and Twitter. The learning incorporated a podcast, Twitter chats, blog and vlog creation, and a website that connected educators across Ontario, throughout Canada, as well as internationally.

Converts (to Twitter) include new teachers as well as hardened veterans from affluent private schools, struggling inner-city schools and everywhere in between. …teachers who go out of their way to collaborate online tend to be creative, motivated people with high standards for their own performance — the type who would rather try something new than pull out the yellowed lesson plans they’ve been using for years. (Brown, 2012)

Working with Cathy Fosnot was an incredible honour. Each week she would guide the audience through the pedagogical issues around teaching specific mathematics concepts. The first phase of the Math Pod was organized in October-November 2017 and lasted four weeks. For this round, Cathy focused on conferring with students, inviting educators to choose one of the three selected units of study to guide their learning:

  1. Groceries, Stamps, and Measuring Sticks – Grade 2/3 – transition from addition to multiplication;
  2. The Big Dinner – Grade 4 – emergence of use of a ratio table;
  3. Muffles Truffles’ – Grade 4 – emergence of use of an open array.

Overall, the educators positively evaluated contribution of The Math Pod to their learning, especially to their understanding of how to learn and teach mathematics. On average they agreed with the statement, “I feel that the Math Pod activities made me more ‘intentional’ in my teaching and/or leadership of mathematics.”

When asked to rate how valuable different components of The Math Pod were (evaluating only those in which they played a part), the participants most highly ranked listening podcast recordings of the radio show. Apparently, the option to listen to podcast at a convenient time during the day, was attractive to busy professionals. The respondents spent between 1 and 4 hours per week on The Math Pod activities (on average 2 hours).

The data from the first stage of The Math Pod presents it as a successful professional learning activity. The radio shows proved to be a very efficient and popular self-learning tool for educators. We hoped that such activities would promote the multimedia use by educators, such as sharing of resources over the Twitter, writing blog posts and recording video testimonials.

The Math Pod Cycle 2 with Cathy Fosnot started in January 2018 and lasted four weeks. A couple of days before the live broadcast, the listeners were given a problem on fractions to try it with their classes or on their own. This was a novel feature of The Math Pod 2, as it allowed educators to more easily make connection between online learning and their everyday practice. We added an additional podcast on Sunday nights where we were joined by an expert teacher and math coach in one school board and a relatively new teacher in another board. They would share the instructional experiences they had implementing the learning from the podcast and reflect on how their students responded, including both their learning and discoveries, as well as challenges. This added a deeper component of teacher voice, which we felt was essential, given the feedback from the first cycle whereby teachers wanted to hear from those implementing the work and hear more about the process and decisions they made. Both of these teachers provided insight and guidance for our final cycle which took place in April.

During the four weeks of April 2018, educators participated in the third round/cycle of The Math Pod. Except for the new topic—moving from arithmetic to algebra—the novelty was in educators having the opportunity to register for free onto Cathy Fosnot’s online platform, New Perspectives Online: A Personalized Professional Support SystemTM (P2S2), where they could participate in the online professional learning community and access the resources. On the P2S2, educators could access for free videos of children and teachers, Cathy’s screencasts, and assignments/investigations built into the platform. As a community, they could participate in online discussions.

Reflecting on these online professional learning opportunities, the facilitators were satisfied with the outcomes. The participants’ feedback was positive and each round built upon the previous one, both by extending the mathematical content and by using the lessons learned through the facilitation.

Brown, E. (2012). Teachers take to Twitter to improve craft and commiserate. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/teachers-take-to-twitter-to-improve-craftand-commiserate/2012/01/19/gIQAGv8UGQ_story.html.
Holmes, K., Preston, G., Shaw, K., & Buchanan, R. (2013). ‘Follow’ Me: Networked Professional Learning for Teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(12). Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/ajte/vol38/iss12/4
Jones, W. M. & Dexter, S. (2014). How teachers learn: The roles of formal, informal, and independent learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(3), 367–384.
Putnam, R.T., & Borko, H. (2000). What Do New Views of Knowledge and Thinking Have to Say About Research on Teacher Learning? Educational Researcher, 29(1), 4-15.


Debbie Donsky is an Elementary Principal in the Peel District School Board. She was a Student Achievement Officer at the Ministry of Education, Student Achievement Supports Branch, focused on leveraging social media for professional learning opportunities across our vast province when she coordinated the Math Pod.

Dragana Martinovic is a professor at University of Windsor. As a co-lead of the Mathematics Leadership Community of Practice of the Math Knowledge Network, Dragana supports activities and groups which work towards enhancing educators’ capacity to lead mathematics learning among students and peers.