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Phil Robson

A few weeks into Milton’s remote-learning program, math teacher Phil Robson started getting headaches—if the additional time on video calls, email, and creating online instruction plans was affecting him, he figured, students may feel the same way.

To offset the added screen time, Robson instituted “no-screen math” in his precalculus and statistics courses. He offers students a game or activity they can complete entirely off-line.

“There are math games and puzzles they can work on with their parents and siblings, or by themselves,” he said. “I give them different options; they’re not all mandatory, they’re fun.”

Robson has given students trigonometry-based word searches and crosswords—inspiring some students to create their own math crosswords—in addition to games. One of the no-screen activities was the mathematical strategy game Nim, a deceptively simple exercise with ancient origins that can be played with anything from pebbles to computer code. 

“One of the kids pretty much figured it out, which is impressive because it’s something I have never taught,” Robson said. “He wanted to learn more, so we ended up in a very long email conversation about it. He’s got it proved.”

The switch to remote instruction, which has not been without challenges, has provided Robson with more opportunities to share feedback with students. Breakout sessions during live online class meetings allow the students to discuss topics in smaller groups, and Robson suggests groupings for assignments. In place of the instant feedback that occurs in a classroom, Robson has dedicated more time to emailing each student at least twice a week.

In addition to the screen-free exercises, Robson has been using Kahoot! and Desmos, online educational games that allow him to gauge students’ understanding of concepts.

“I’m trying to keep it structured,” he said. “It’s varied, but not unpredictable. I want the experience to feel like my regular classes, but to be flexible enough to meet students where they are. My goal is to make things manageable, engaging, and creative.”