Robot maths assistants, talking pens and third-grade stochastic visualisations:

The “Digital learning” symposium presents the future of primary education at TU Chemnitz

Guiding the robot assistant through the worksheet (Photographer Marina Ivanova, Materials Peter Mahns)

On the 14th and 15th of March, the TU Chemnitz Weinholdbau greeted numerous researchers, teachers, students and robots for the second symposium “Lernen digital. Fachliche Lernprozesse im Elementar- und Primarbereich anregen” (Digital learning. Encouraging subject-specific learning processes in elementary and primary education). The organisers of the symposium were the Chairs of Primary Education Didactics of Mathematics, Social Studies (“Sachunterricht”) and English of our Centre for Teacher Training and the two-day programme included contributions mainly from these fields.

When I saw the advertisement in our faculty hallway, I was immediately determined to sign up for the event, for as you may remember from my blog post on our TESOL video collaboration, the field of English and American Studies also covers eLearning. The presented studies on the application of technology in early education were insightful, and I would often reflect on my school experience and realise how different teaching methods can be. For instance, nowadays students are often encouraged to cooperate on the so-called ‘learning islands’ or workstations of desks, where students face one another, especially when they are using tablets. Whereas in the 2000-s in Bulgaria, we would mostly work individually, sometimes in pairs, rarely in groups. The only time when we were allowed to use technology was in IT class, where we would sit rather isolated with our backs towards the teacher, facing the wall and our computer screens. A similar issue was also brought up in the symposium with regard to the ban on smartphones in many German schools.

The whole symposium and quite prominently Prof. Dr. Günter Krauthausen’s plenary talk on the requirements of using tablets reasonably emphasised the fact that technology should support and complement the acquisition of the particular subject. To demonstrate how this can be achieved, many of the invited speakers at the symposium had brought examples of software and devices which they use in their research of digital didactics. The talk by Elke Haas and Alexander Pusch was the first time I got to see and test an audio-digital pen, even though they are reportedly quite popular in Germany. The pens “read out” information encoded in the paper so that a student can hear the tasks, get explanations and check their answers. Another fun hands-on activity was trying out the software TinkerPlots, which enables pupils from primary school to age 13 to create their own statistical visualisations and judge the relations between variables. Daniel Frischemeier demonstrated how his students were introduced to stochastics, provided us with a dataset, an instruction manual and a list of tasks, and let us explore the programme. In the age of data science, I can imagine how relevant it would be to get children excited for data descriptions from an early age, and the tasks we worked on quickly got me wishing that I would also have been able to explore stochastics in primary school.

In the final workshop, Peter Mahns brought three different robot maths assistants that we used to do exercises on angles. We got to control the robots through tablet apps to go a certain distance and rotate on a certain degree, all of which we had to calculate. Even though I cannot think of too many applications of non-speaking robots like these in English teaching, they had everyone engaged in calculations and motivated to accomplish the given task. So I can imagine the robots becoming a valuable part of the school routine, where of course they would not fully replace the teacher, but assist the development of certain logical and mathematical skills.

The digital learning symposium thus showed that the integration of technology in primary schools is a complex process and inspired the related departments and institutions to continue researching and contributing to the future of education.

What was your “digital” school experience?

Share in the comments and enjoy the last days of spring break!

Best wishes,


(Master English & American Studies, 4th semester)

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