Math teachers help students reach new heights with compassion and communication

male student writing in notebook

With a combination of compassion, careful planning, and clear communication, three teachers at the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies are helping students enjoy learning math. 

Ruzanna Alikhanyan, Alma Kasneci and Klejda Nuro are a power trio. At the start of the pandemic, they banded together to share best practices and tech advice and to support each other in efforts to make their online math classes as interesting and interactive as possible. Their efforts paid off with near-perfect attendance rates and engaged and successful students. 

“I felt the joy of learning, and I felt capable of learning math like I never did in my life before,” recent Interior Design Technology graduate Fabiola Pianese said of Alikhanyan. “She became my favourite teacher in what was my worst subject in the past. She embraced us with math.”  

The three teachers promote lifelong learning and teamwork by showing the skills themselves. They continually attend workshops and classes (many hosted by George Brown College’s Teaching and Learning Exchange, or TLX) to improve their virtual teaching skills and online course structures. They also prioritize open and prompt communication and understanding students’ needs. 

“It is very important to establish a relationship with students. I think all of us are good at it and it's one of the reasons why we have such great attendance rates,” Alikhanyan says. "Our classes are also highly interactive. Students feel what they are learning in class is relevant to what they will be doing in the workforce. It's engaging, and they are comfortable asking questions.” 

Tech-savvy Nuro tested a variety of software tools to provide the most interactive experience for students as soon as courses shifted fully online in March 2020 including whiteboard apps and screen mirroring software so she could solve math problems in real-time with her students. She continues to provide tech support to her colleagues. 

“I explored all the tools I could find,” Nuro said, adding that the e-textbook platform she and her colleagues now use, called MindTap, provides great opportunities for interactivity and helps teachers monitor students’ progress. 

Understanding and clear communication 

Alikhanyan, Kasneci and Nuro dedicate a lot of time communicating with students and they all stressed the importance of recognizing students’ academic needs, but also understanding the priorities students have outside the classroom. 

"Students know that we care about them,” Kasneci said. "Every time that they have questions, we stop, and we answer. If they have questions after the class, we stay with them after the class. If they ask for help, we are there for help. I do my best to reply to student emails and messages as quickly as I can.” 

Nuro said creating a sense of community online is very important. 

"We're here and students are being heard. Their academic needs are being met and they’re being empathized with in the sense that we're still in a pandemic. They’re still online, they're still probably taking care of people at home, or maybe they have other things going on, right? That's something huge to keep in mind,” she said. 

"We try to maintain the academic integrity, but I think it's more important to maintain good mental health, a good environment and a good atmosphere.” 

Current Interior Design Technology student Marco Jourbran said the support he received in his math classes helped him earn grades in the mid-90s. 

“If there was any frustration, [Alikhanyan] stopped, addressed the issue, and continued when everyone was on the same page and ready to learn," he said. “She provided the support each student needed during this new experience of online learning, always assuring us that things are okay and to smile or enjoy the sunlight." 

“Having a prof who actively listened to the chat and stopped teaching to address each question with patience made every student feel heard and special in their own way.”