October 2020

Myths about Face-To-Face and Online Education

Posted: September 2nd, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

As thousands of teachers all around the world are making their final preparations for our online courses, I would like to share a few thoughts on the biggest myth related to online and face-to-face education – the level of student engagement. Actually, I decided to do that after responding to an interviewer’s question on Spice Radio 1200 AM in the Lower Mainland. One of the questions that I am often asked is related to the lack of engagement in online courses. We often assume that in face-to-face courses the students are very engaged and in online courses the students are not going to be engaged. I think it is a myth. If we reflect on our experiences and be honest about them, we will need to acknowledge that very often we felt completely disengaged while being in a face-to-face class. It especially pertains to large lecture classes or small classes, where the teacher keeps lecturing or uses rigid PowerPoint slides while making little effort to engage the students.

I think the level of student engagement depends first and foremost on the pedagogy employed. I know teachers, who can teach in a very engaging manner online courses and unfortunately I also know instructors whose face-to-face lessons are as boring and not engaging as one can imagine. Some teachers use the medium of online education to its fullest skillfully blending synchronous and asynchronous learning environments, while others cannot engage a small group of students in a face-to-face lesson. So in my view, what matters is the pedagogy and how the instructor can use the advantages of the learning environment they have at their disposal.

I think sometimes we have to try and see the big picture and be proactive and resourceful in figuring things out instead of convincing ourselves that it cannot be done. We should not think that the educational challenges we are facing now are insurmountable, because we have the knowledge, the experience, and the technology to figure them out.  For example, while seeing the majestic Mt. Baker from far-away Vancouver one can feel that nobody can reach its top. And yet, we know of many mountain climbers who do it. These are amazing people who have high aspirations, train hard, work hard, respect the mountain, find fellow mountaineers who can do it with them, and eventually achieve their dreams by standing on the top of Mt. Baker.

I think the same applies to education: we should dream high and persevere to achieve our dreams – we can have very engaging online classes and we share our expertise and resources with each other. This is going to be a learning experience for many of us, but how will it feel when we finish the year and see how much our students have learned – this will be as exciting as standing on the top of Mount Baker.

I hope that this will be a positive year of learning and I would like to wish the teachers and students a very fruitful and successful year of learning.

Mt. Baker

Mt. Baker


A New Challenge or a New Opportunity

Posted: August 20th, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (Ulysses, Lord Tennyson)

Every year at the end of August many K-12 and post-secondary teachers like me feel excited and a little bit nervous. What will the next academic year bring us? Who will come to our classrooms? What interesting novel activities and experiments will we be able to implement? How will we face the new challenges? Will we be able to figure it out and to support our students? This year, we have lots of additional questions to ponder, such as the questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It might looks a little overwhelming and scary. However, I think we should put into a perspective…

I think this year is also an opportunity. As teachers, we rarely have time to pause, look at our classroom teaching and maybe consider reevaluating some of our teaching practices. Too often I think to myself: Oh, I should do this or that, but I do not have time now… And after all that, I revert to teaching the same way I had been teaching in the past. This year will be different because it will force many of us to reconsider our teaching practices. We all have realized that effective online teaching is much more than uploading your lectures online. The emergency remote teaching is as far from effective online teaching as a frozen dinner meal is from your favourite dish your mom prepared especially for you. Both meals are food, but what a difference in quality and in experience!

I hope that this year will allow us to re-evaluate our teaching, to see the big picture, to collaborate with our colleagues, and most importantly, to learn. I am confident we will be able to figure it out and at the end of this year will learn more about teaching and learning online that we could have ever imagined.

I would like to finish this post with the famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) “Ulysses”. 

I chose this poem for many reasons (click here). It is about adventure, freedom, taking risks, and living a fulfilling life when you are faced with big challenges – be these the old age, the loss of a friend, or a challenge of the pandemic… Tennyson was writing about the experience and the search for meaning while overcoming challenges, which are in my view at the core of teaching and learning. It is about the meaning of life that each one of us has to be pursuing when we are young or older. It is a poem that echos a famous ancient story by Homer that has been rethought by Joyce, Tennyson and many others. So big questions of life are eternal. I think the big questions of teaching and learning are eternal as well. So not surprisingly, this poem has been forbidden in the Soviet Union (where I grew up) for years. The first translation happen in 1970 (50 years ago) even though Tennyson wrote is in 1833. To read more about it click here.


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It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
         This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
         There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


Rocky Mountains, courtesy of V. Milner

Selected Media Interviews: Education in the Times of COVID-19

Posted: August 17th, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Dr. Marina Milner-Bolotin

This is a list of my recent interviews on the topics related to the education in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. CBC Radio Winnipeg, Up to Speed with interview with Julie Dupre, September 16, 2020.
  2. CBC Morning Live Show with Heather Hiscox, CBC News Network, Panel member on children’s return to school, an online education expert,, September 8, 2020.
  3. CBC Radio Charles Adler Tonight interview,  What you have to know about back-to-school amid COVID-19,, September 2, 2020.
  4. Spice Radio 1200 AM Lower Mainland, a radio interview on the topic of new academic year and how the parents can support their children, September 2, 2020.
  5. Vancouver Sun, interview, on outdoor schooling, , August 30, 2020.
  6. CFAX Radio interview on Adam Stirling Show, phone interview with Adam Stirling on online learning and parental involvement in children’s education during the pandemic, August 26, 2020.
  7. Sing Tao Daily Newspaper, phone interview with Amber Ni, August 25, 2020.
  8. Vancouver Sun interview with Randy Shore on the topic of schooling in the time of pandemic, August 25, 2020.
  9. CBC News interview with Jessica Wong: Return to schools in the times of COVID-19 – 25, 2020.
  10. Thinking Outside the Sandbox UBC Faculty of Education Podcast: (posted on August 18, 2020)
  11. CTV News interview with Meredith MacLeod on reopening schools in the time of the pandemic,  August 12, 2020,
  12. Vancouver Sun interview with Tiffany Crawford on outdoor education the time of COVID-19: July 31, 2020, .
  13. Cofactor Conversations  Lab an online interview about the educational implications of COVID-19 pandemic – June 19, 2020.
  14. Only one-third of the students return to the classroom despite assurances – Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020, The Globe and Mail, interviewed by Justine Hunter:
  15. Supporting children’s education during the pandemic –Wednesday, May 20th, 2020, UBC University Neighborhood Association (UNA). Click here to register and click here to see the summary of the event.
  16. Pique News Magazine in Whistler, BC April 24, 2020Educating during a pandemic: Experts say there’s valuable opportunity for unstructured learning during self-isolation. Interviewed by Alyssa Noel.
  17. One Hour @ UBC LEcture Series  April 23, 2020 – Free online Webinar for the community. Online lecture can be found here.
  18. Special Alumni Event UBC Family Matters: April 22, 2020 – Online panel. To watch the video click here.
  19. Kelowna Capital News – April 13, 2020: Learning from home may present challenges for young students amid COVID-19 Interviewed by Daniel Taylor.
  20. Vancouver Sun – April 10, 2020: interview with Patrick Johnston – Learning In the Time of the Pandemic.
  21. CBC Kids News – April 10, 2020:
  22. Global News Network, the National, Saturday April 4th, with Robin Gill:
  23. Noon Hour with Adam Stirling on iHeart Radio CFax1070 – April 3, 2020: Education in the times of the pandemic.
  24. Dramatic Rise in Online Learning, IT World Canada, interview with Suzanne Robicheau – April 2, 2020:
  25. CBC, April 1, 2020 with Michelle Eliot: A really weird new normal”: Parents, students grapple with learning at home amid pandemic.
  26. CBC Radio, March 30, 2020 with Rosa Marchitelli:
  27. Globe and Mail, March 26, 2020 with Caroline Alphonso:
  28. Maclean’s Magazine, March 17, 2020 with Jason Markussoff:  

Getting Ready for a New & Unusual School Year

Posted: August 14th, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta

It is the middle of August… Moreover, it is the middle of August 2020, which has been one of the strangest summer months in decades.  Most of us have spent this summer at home, or had a chance to do some small travels exploring our outdoors – such as nearby parts and campsites. If you were lucky you might even get to explore one of the greatest parks in Canada, such as Banff.

After all, it is the summer of COVID-19 – the pandemic that affected all of us, especially our students, teachers, and students’ families. For me, this time is the end of a very busy summer and unusual summer. It is also the time to get ready to the 2020-2021 academic year. Like many of us, I am thinking of the beginning of the new academic year that most likely will happen at least partially online for both secondary and post-secondary students. It is still unclear what will happen at elementary school. As I keep thinking about it, many questions pop into my head: Are we ready for it? How will we support our students? What technologies will we be using? What have we learned from the first months of 2020 and teaching online? How will we manage the increased workload with online education? How will we make sure that we offer high quality online courses and not just emergency “haphazard” remote teaching? What will be the challenges of this new academic year in the time of COVID-19 pandemic? What can we learn from other countries and how they deal with the pandemic? These are only few questions that I am trying to figure out or at least to get ready for. I am also thinking about our graduate students, as many of them were not able to come to Canada and will need to take courses while being outside of the country. So this is the motivation behind writing this post and collecting some of my thoughts on the topic:

In this post, I decided to collect a few of my recent interviews on the topic, as well as some interesting comments I found online:

CTV News Interview  – August 12, 2020 (interviewer Meredith MacLeod)

Presentation at the International LUMAT Symposium 2020

Posted: June 9th, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

I was honored to give an invited talk at the International LUMAT Research Symposium 2020 on June 3, 2020.  The goal of my talk was to consider the following questions: What does it mean to move from STEM to STEAM? What do we gain and what do we lose by expanding the acronym? What is the future of STEAM and how does it translate into STEAM teacher education? It was a great opportunity not to take things for granted but to try and understand why we decided to shift to this bigger more encompassing model. The other goal was to consider the lessons from the pandemic. More information can be found on the LUMAT web site:

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The Silver Lining of the Pandemic: Implications for STEM Teacher Education

Posted: May 29th, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

While it is clear that the pandemic wreaked havoc in many areas of education, there is a clear positive outcome of the pandemic – we realized that we can use technology to bring us closer, rather than to move us apart. It is very unfortunate, it took a disaster like COVID-19, to show us the possibilities and to convince us to consider using these modern tools to collaborate internationally. On Monday night, May 26, my colleague, prof. David Anderson and I were asked to give a talk to international STEM educators through the STEM Education Research Group: at the Queensland University of Technology. Prof. Bronwyn Ewing invited us to share our experience and research on online teacher education. As both David and I have been involved in multiple online graduate programs for STEM teachers, we were glad to participate. The presentation was recorded and we will share it with the community when it will become available online.

Supporting Children’s Education during the Pandemic: A webinar for UNA community

Posted: May 20th, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They came through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

– Khalil Gibran (Your Children, from The Prophet)

When my children were growing up and I was struggling with who I was as a parent, a friend of mine suggested to me to read a book of poems by Khalil Gibran – The Prophet. The book struck a cord with me, especially the poem about children… What did it mean “my children are not MY children?”. How do I support them, but let them become who they want to be. This is a question, I am still struggling with. I think each one of us has to find our own answer to it. This question is relevant to many of us today, when we are faced with the prolonged school closures and an uncertain future of public education.

So I was not surprised when I got an email from Vicente R. from the The University Neighbourhood Association  (UNA) who asked me if I could lead a webinar for the parents. UNA is an organization that oversees the major residential neighbourhoods at UBC. As a a UBC long-time resident, I very much use UNA services and appreciate our local governance. We  live in a beautiful place and I hope it will remain so. So I was very glad to be invited to participate in an online webinar for the parents in our community. It was organized by Vicente R., Angela L. and Silvia M. It was an opportunity for me to share with the parents my experience with teaching mathematics and science, and more importantly my experience as a parent and as a teacher. Here I decided to summarize a few resources and ideas I shared with the parents today in the hopes that other parents, who might not have been able to join us might find useful.

Marina’s 7 thoughts on teaching your own children and learning with them:

  1. Cultivate the Growth Mindset (see the work of a psychologist Carol Dweck) – focus on the growth and believe in the power of improving. Remember, that comparing your children or yourself to others is very unhealthy. Help them be the best THEY can be.
  2. Remember that learning is happening all around us – while being with your children you are teaching them how to live, how to learn, how to love. Lead by example. You are their foremost Teacher even if you have never gotten a teaching certification…
  3. Reach out to your extended family and friends – kids need mentors who are not their parents. While many of us are physically removed from our extended family, use the power of technology to build virtual bridges.
  4. Connect your children to your (their) roots – while we live in a transient society, help your children connect to their roots – you are their bridge to the past, be it the language, the cuisine, the culture… Enrich their lives.
  5. Create structure for formal and informal learning – having structure helps the kids feel accountable and teaches them time management. Structure is also directly linked to personal accountability. Another important issue is to use the resources that allow for instant feedback – so the children know what they have achieved (i.e., Duolingo, PhET, etc.)
  6. Learn with your kids – you are the role model for your children. Share your passions with them (music, sports, cooking, passion for nature). Don’t be afraid to learn with them. You are not supposed to know all the answers, but you can teach them how to figure things out for themselves. Also don’t forget to ask your children to share with you what they have learned.
  7. Be forgiving and kind – we all make mistakes, so forgive yourself and your children if some things don’t work out – show them resilience and perseverance.

Some useful resources I have been using are listed on my blog:

Out of them, I would like to choose three to begin with:

a) IXL Learning  – it uses BC curriculum, provide ample feedback and will help your child excel in mathematics and English.

b) PhET simulations – a wonderful set of computer simulations in mathematics and science for different ages.

c) Language learning – Duolingo. This is a fantastic free resource for basic language learning. It is a community resource and they have a special children’s version of the software.

Finally, on my blog, I listed a number of interviews and  community events I have given on the topic:

This is a very short video about a very inspirational scientist – Richard Feynman – whose father Melville Feynman was a unoform salesman and not a scientist, but he inspired Richard Feynman to keep asking questions and get to them bottom of things – and eventually win a  Nobel Prize in physics in 1965:

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Most importantly, have fun learning!

Supporting Children’s Education During the Pandemic | One Hour @ UBC

Posted: April 27th, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin
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Online education vs. Emergency remote teaching

Posted: April 23rd, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

I have been asked a lot lately to compare online learning our children are experiencing now with the face-to-face learning. I try not to do it for a very simple reason. It seems to me that what is going on now is not a well thought-off online learning, but a remote teaching that had to be arranged at a very short notice. The same way, when you are preparing for a dinner with guests in advance you have an opportunity to buy the groceries you wish, to decide what you will cook, to cater to their tastes and needs. This might be a very lavish and amazing dinner. But sometimes your guests might come on a very short notice and you don’t have the luxury of time to have the right groceries at home and the time to cook them. But despite that you can still make a great dinner and you will all enjoy it. I think the same is happening with online education today. I think the following paper speaks to that very nicely:

If Corona Doesn’t Kill Us, Distance Learning Will

Posted: April 16th, 2020, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

I have watched this video a number of times now and I realize that I do want to share it with you. I love the title and even more, I feel the plight of this mom of four who is actually a special education teacher in Israel. We need to support the parents during the pandemic more than anybody else.

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